Spelling can be super tricky for English language learners. There are plenty of examples of English words with silent letters or sounds that can be spelled in a multitude of ways.
In class, it can be helpful to draw attention to spelling patterns and irregularities as they emerge. You could also use Ellii's Phonics Stories to focus on certain sounds and spellings.
In order to practice each word and commit it to memory, it’s important to give students plenty of chances to spell in class.
In this post, I’d like to explore six of my favorite spelling games and activities that make learning English fun for students at all levels. I've effectively used these spelling activities with adults and young learners. You may need to adapt them slightly for your class.
Let's get started!
1. Spelling relay
This spelling relay activity is a great way for students to work together and support each other.
Put students in teams and ask them to line up at the whiteboard. Make sure to give them one marker per team. Then tell students they must spell words by writing only one letter each before passing the marker to their teammate. The team that spells the word correctly first (and doesn’t cheat) is the winner.
Shout out the word you'd like them to spell (or ask a student to do this). Ensure each student only writes one letter before passing it to their teammate. Encourage teams to work together to help each other to spell the words correctly.
Multiple ways to adapt
You could adapt this spelling activity by having students pass one piece of paper or a mini-whiteboard and one pen around their group’s table.
Younger learners may also like to run from their team to the whiteboard and back from a particular point in the classroom.
2. Spelling circles
This fun game is a great way to improve spelling and pronunciation.
First, ask students to stand in a circle. Then shout out a word and ask them to spell it out loud as a group. Moving from one student to the next, each student says a letter until the word is spelled.
For example, to spell "pin," the first student says the letter "p," the next student says "i" and the third student says "n." You could ask the fourth student to say the word "pin." The fifth student could then suggest another word, and then the activity continues.
If English learners choose the wrong letter, you could ask them to spell the word from the beginning. Ask the class to support them as they do this and make the circle as collaborative as possible.
Want to up the engagement level?
Passing a ball between the students as they spell can add an extra element of fun!
3. Phonics spelling scrunch
If you've been practicing a few different sounds in class, write each on a piece of paper and scrunch it into a ball. For example, you might have sounds like /ay/, /sh/, /ch/, /th/, /ee/, /oo/, etc.
Give each student one of the balls (you can have duplicates of the same sound). Then ask one student to throw their ball to another student. That student picks up the ball, opens the scrunched paper and has to say a word with that sound (e.g., If /ay/ is written on the paper, they could say the word "day").
Add an extra challenge
To make the phonics activity more challenging, you could ask students to say a sentence with their chosen word.
When that student says the word, write it on the board to add additional support and opportunity to read the word. Then ask them to throw their ball to another student.
Continue this activity until all students have thrown their ball of scrunched-up paper and said a word or a sentence.
4. Full-body spelling
I got the full-body spelling activity from Johanna Stirling’s wonderful book, Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners. She demonstrated this activity at the IATEFL conference many moons ago, and it still stands out as the most fun session I’ve ever attended. I do it every year with my adults, so don’t let anyone tell you it’s just for kids!
Ask students to work together to spell each word. You can do this in groups or as a whole class.
In groups: You’ll need at least one person for each letter of the word you want to spell (e.g., If you want to spell "house," you’ll need five students).
Ask students to use their bodies to spell each word. For example, a student might make the letter "i" by standing up straight and reaching their arms to the ceiling with their palms together. For "n" a student may stand facing to the side of the class and touch their toes.
As a whole class: Shout out a word and ask students to work together to spell it.
Try this alternative
In teams, you could whisper a word to each team and ask them to spell it. The other team then has to guess what the word is.
5. Missing letters
For this spelling activity, write some of the letters from an English word on the whiteboard. Leave spaces for the missing letters. For example: _nsw_r.
Students can add the missing letters in their notebooks or directly on the whiteboard. Encourage students to help and support each other.
This spelling game works particularly well when removing vowels and leaving consonants.
Try this alternative
Scramble the letters and ask students to put them in the correct order.
6. Tactile spelling
This tactile spelling activity is great for learners who are developing their handwriting skills. There are two options:
Option 1: Bring some sugar, salt, or flour to class. Give each student a plate and a pile of your chosen powder. Ask students to spell words in English using their fingers.
Option 2: If your students are comfortable with each other, you could ask them to work in pairs and spell words on each other’s backs. One student writes a word on the other student’s back, and that student has to guess the word.
Thank you so much for these wonderful games and activities!! I will definitely try some of them with my Literacy students and I believe it will add extra fun and excitement to the lesson.
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