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Spelling

"Hey, how do you spell…?" is a familiar refrain around homes with school-age children. Since correct spelling can be a roadblock to the creative process, teachers often allow invented spelling in the early grades. But the next step is to help children move from misspelling words (wud, kant, shood) to conventional spelling—all the while keeping their spontaneity and enthusiasm for writing intact.

The English language poses numerous challenges for learning spelling rules. It seems that for every rule there is an exception. Helping your child stick with it and feel confident in using the rules he or she is taught is a worthwhile activity. Relying on spell checkers at this age is much too early (despite your child's protests to the contrary)!

To excel at spelling in second and third grade, your child should be familiar with consonants, vowels, and the common combinations. In these grades, children will be studying word families (phonograms) or certain spelling rules. (Remember i before e except after c?) Words with silent letters, plurals, double consonants, tricky vowel combinations, and compound words will also appear on their spelling lists.

Weekly spelling tests are pretty routine at this age. The lists may come from a traditional spelling book, from the story vocabulary in their reading textbooks, or from other things happening in class (a play, a field trip, a science class).

It is time to mention homophones again—those pairs (or sometimes triplets) of words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings (like know and no). At some point during your child's education, you will probably find yourself contributing to the longest list of homophones ever written. Homophones can be tricky for children when they write, so it's good to help your young writer recognize which/witch, one/won, use/yews.

Apostrophes are important elements in spelling. They appear in contractions such as they're (they are) and in possessive nouns such as baby's. Teachers may count the spelling as incorrect if apostrophes are missing (or are present when they should not be). Often children see them as extraneous marks rather than parts of a correctly spelled word. This may be a good point to reinforce apostrophes with your young writer. While you're at it, remind him or her to use capital letters in order to spell proper nouns correctly.

Most of the time children need to spell out words when writing, but sometimes it's acceptable to use abbreviations—or shortened forms of word spellings. Here are the ones that your second or third grader will come across most often:

• Days of the week and months of the year (Mon., Jan.)

• Names and titles (Mr., Dr.)

They will often use abbreviations in writing charts, schedules, and letters.

Spelling relies on a variety of language arts skills—some reading, phonics, writing, and vocabulary. So, a few errors here and there shouldn't cause alarm. If you don't see improvements over time, however, be sure to speak up. With practice and proper instruction, most children can master the basic spelling rules. The more children can see words written, the more they will begin to develop an innate sense about spelling.

Phonics and Word Study

What is phonics anyway? When you tell your child to "sound it out," you are saying to use phonics–which means identifying the sounds that correspond to the letters in a word. Sometimes people also use the term decoding to describe this same process. Playing a simple game like "find all the things in this room that begin with b" provides a great way to practice phonics skills.

Here's a quick rundown of the phonics skills that are taught in the early elementary years.

• Short vowels—a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, as in bag, set, him, top, cup.

• Long vowels—a, e, i, o, u with new sounds, as in cake, seen, time, bone, cute.

• Consonants—all the letters in the alphabet except the vowels. They each have a single sound except c and g, which have hard sound as in cat and garden and a soft one as in circus and gentle.

• Consonant blends—two or three letters that blend together to make a sound, such as bl, sk, nd, spr as in blind, skin, desk, or sprain.

• Consonant digraphs—two letters that combine to make a new sound, such as th, sh, ng as in thing, shine, or finish.

• Vowel diphthongs—two vowels sounded so that both vowels blend together as one sound, such as oi and ou as in coin and loud.

• Vowel digraphs—two vowels that together make a long or short sound or have a special sound of their own, such as ea in steady,ie in piece, and ey in obey.

Very often beginning readers learn new words by practicing word families (the technical term is phonograms), such as pan, man, fan, and ran. This is a fun way to use words that rhyme. So many books can help you play with word families at home. Take any book by Dr. Suess, for example. Start reading and then let your child finish the rhymes.  

Once your youngster is able to read and write simple words, he or she is ready to tackle bigger ones. One way to pronounce big words is to divide them into parts, called syllables, and then say each part. A syllable is a word or word part that contains a vowel sound. Buzz has one syllable; buzzer has two.

Prefixes can help beginning readers understand the meaning of words they may be seeing for the first time. Prefixes are word parts that are added to the beginning of a base word and that add meaning to the word. Re- is a prefix that means again; so write becomes rewrite which means to write again. Other examples of common prefixes are co-, meaning together, as in cooperate, and il-, meaning not, as in illegible.

 

Suffixes are word parts that are added to the end of a base word and that add meaning to the word. The suffix -ful means full of or having.Help becomes helpful which, predictably, means to be full of help. Other examples of common suffixes are -dom and -ness, which mean state or quality, as in freedom and kindness, and -ment, which means action or process, as in government or agreement.

Sometimes two words are combined to form a single word, called a compound word. Your second or third grader should be able to tell the meaning of a compound word by thinking about the words that make up the compound, as in the word rainbow.  

By the end of third grade, most teachers will have completed all formal phonics instruction. However, most teachers will periodically review phonics skills throughout fourth grade and beyond.

If you see that your child has difficulty learning these sound—symbol relationships, you need to talk with his or her teacher about ways to supplement learning at home. This is important, for these skills are fundamental to all reading success (and enjoyment). But remember also that all children, even siblings, develop skills at different rates, so don't be discouraged. Most children do a remarkable job of catching up when they have the proper support at home and in school.

Listening, Speaking, and Viewing 

Listening, speaking, and viewing have been a part of your child's language development since infancy—starting with the cooing and ahhing of friends and relatives and moving to song tapes, television, and videos. School experiences will help formalize the development of these important communication skills.

Just as they read and write, children speak, listen, and view for a variety of purposes (and ones that they don't always get to choose). Responding appropriately to these different purposes for communication is what children learn in school.

Listening

Is there a parent alive who hasn't had to repeat the words, "Did you hear what I said"? A common problem for children this age is following verbal directions. Keep in mind that hearing is different from listening. First the ears need to do their job, then the brain is in charge of follow-through.

Think about a typical direction you expect your child to follow—for example, getting ready for bed. It sounds like a single step, but how many is it really? Stop what you are doing, clean up, find your pajamas, brush your teeth, pick out clothes for tomorrow, and so on. For a greater chance of successful follow-through, try breaking up directions into only two or three steps at a time.

Ask your child, "Do you listen to an important phone message the same way that you listen to a joke?" Explain that he or she needs to adjust the level of attention, depending upon the importance of the message. Consider that your child may need to take phone messages for you in your absence. One way to ensure that you get the complete message is to instruct the child to always ask for certain information when taking a message. Having a model to follow makes the job easier for children to do well.

These are typical listening activities for these grades:

• listening carefully to oral reading, discussion, and spoken messages

• responding appropriately to questions, directions, or text read out loud

Speaking

Ask your child, "Do you speak to your friends the same way that you speak when you give an oral book report?" Explain that he or she needs to modify the speed of speaking for different audiences.

Here are important speaking skills for this age:

• reading orally with good fluency (expression, accuracy, phrasing)

• giving precise directions or accurate information (such as a book report)

• presenting convincing ideas ("But Dad, I need to stay up late tonight!")

Viewing

Ask your child, "Do you watch television commercials the same way that you pay attention to movies?" The point you are trying to make, of course, is that a viewer—everyone—needs to adjust the level of attention depending on what he or she is watching. It's also true that what people "see" when viewing the same program varies. A fun activity to do with your child is to watch a program together and then take turns describing it. What did you both see? The results could be quite interesting!

Your child needs to be able to do these two things:

• view programs in a variety of categories (news, documentaries, movies, magazine styles)

• evaluate and comment on what he or she sees

Remember the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words"? Print and non-print media each have their own kind of effect on people. Sometimes you can plan on a certain kind of effect, and sometimes you can't or don't anticipate the effect. Schools help children begin to understand how different modes of communication work and what the advantages and disadvantages are of various types of media. With this instruction (which can be reinforced by you), your child can start learning how to make both critical judgments about the quality of media and educated choices about how to use these media.

And remember, the most important thing you can do to help your child become an accurate speller, is expose them to words.  Volume of reading is the greatest indicator of student success with all aspects of language, especially spelling.

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