Tag Archive: spelling


By Sarah-Ann Binning

Upon my move to Boston, summer 2009, I wasted no time in getting a library card, because “having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card.”

The block-long building on Copley Square became my home away from home. Never-ending rows of bookshelves and the smell of well-loved and worn book pages soothed my fears of moving to a new and unfamiliar city. Among a city of strangers, the Boston Public Library offered me the comforts I most longed for: friends, adventures.

Growing up, I never had many friends. I went through an awkward transition from elementary school and middle school. From first to fourth grade, I had a best-friend move away each year. I hid myself in books. These fictional characters would never abandon me. Page after page the characters let me into their lives and it built a wonderful love for reading.

It comes as no surprise then (seeing as though this is my last entry for spelling week on ‘ispy’) that reading is another way to improve your spelling. (Editor’s note: I meant to post this on Friday, but I got carried away with a writing test for a job application.)

Reading causes you to focus on words that you might not come across during everyday conversation. This helps you increase your vocabulary. Yet at the same time, while you’re reading these words, you’re seeing them in their correct form/spelling. If you’re consistently seeing the word, you can pick up how to spell the word too.

Part of the challenge is to step outside your normal comfort zone and to expand your basis of reading. Rather than reading Joe Schmoe’s personal blog every day, why not also read a few articles on nationalgeographic.com or cnn.com? Reading meticulously edited and revised publications will help you see/read correct grammar and spelling in action.

That being said, I don’t want you to read something that makes you want to stab your eyes with pencils, either. You need to read something you ENJOY. I promise reading can be (and IS) enjoyable.

We all advance through various stages of literary appreciation at our own pace. Being forced to read something you dislike only slows the process of literary appreciation.

While taking a “Young Adult Literature” course last quarter, my professor had us read Chapter One from a Nilson & Donelson textbook. Nilson and Donelson described the stages of literary appreciation as thus (39):

1. Understand that Pleasure and Profit can come from literature. What N &D illustrate is that small children learn to read “signs.” Take the McDonald’s arch, for example. Children learn to read the sign as a symbol for food and/or happy meal. This association is pleasurable and they profit from enjoying the food.

2. Learning to Read. This is the elementary stage of learning how to sound out words and spell.

3. Losing oneself in a story. Here the reader forgets all else and allows him/herself to be consumed by the story. We lose track of time and get carried away with the adventure. I would say this is my natural state of reading, especially when I’m reading Harry Potter.

4. Finding oneself in a story. Here we begin to shape our values and morals based on what we’re reading and what characteristics we value in the text’s heroes.

5. Venturing beyond themselves. This stage typically involves asking our friends for reading suggestions. We’ve read everything we like and love and now we crave new authors and new story plots.

6/7. Develop Aesthetic and analytical appreciation. For me, this didn’t really occur until college. I never understood that each WORD is chosen for a specific reason in every book. Form has meaning. The author chooses to write the book this way intentionally.

My 2010 new year’s resolution is to read for at least 15 minutes everyday. With the exception of 7 days this year, I’ve kept my resolution. While I’m still a chronic misspeller, I seem to be more aware of what words I struggle with and I’m working on improving.

I also created a book “bucket-list” of 200 classic books I want to read before I die. I figure I should branch out and see what all the fuss is about. These books are famous for a reason, right?

Side Note: Upon researching this topic, I stumbled upon a blog posted June 1, 2009 by glen. “8 ways reading makes you better at life” speaks right to my heart. It helps that the author is cleaver and witty writer too.

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By Sarah-Ann Binning

Weekly spelling quizzes in elementary school were my kryptonite. My mom, being the innovative school teacher she is, came up with all types of “games” to help me pass my spelling quizzes.

At first, we tried having me practice verbally spelling my lists to my mother. But when it came time to take the test, I had difficulty writing the words on paper. The words look differently in manuscript form than how I pictured them verbally. This difference always seemed to throw me off, and I second guessed myself to the point where I’d change a correctly spelled word to an incorrectly spelled form.

So my mom turned study time into these hands-on activities:

1. Carpet Spelling. Write the word with your finger into thick lush carpet—the kind that you can see your finger markings in. Not only did touching the carpet stimulate my senses and make me more aware of the words I was spelling, the exercise also allowed me to practice writing out the words.

2. A touch of salt. Dump salt onto a baking sheet. Trace the spelling word into the salt. When I you get a word correct, smooth out the salt and start again. This activity also can be done with sand rather than salt. But I grew up in the flat lands of northwestern Ohio, where sand is found only in the local park sandboxes, so we used salt.

3. Skate it out. I loved being outside and I loved riding my bike and rollerblading. We were fortunate to have a large driveway for me to skate my spelling words out. My mom would call out a word, and I would shout each letter and then skate the shape of each letter

I’m almost positive that my mom played other spelling games with me as well, but I can no longer remember what they were. Obviously the games I do remember made an impact on my life. As I celebrate my 22nd birthday (today!) I can still retain vivid memories of tracing my finger in the salt and rollerblading in the driveway. Something my mom taught me must have worked because I graduated high school top of my class and finished my undergraduate Summa Cum Laude.

Every student is different. (Yes, I used the biggest cliché I could think of. But hey, clichés have to stem from some basis of fact, right?) The Internet can be a helpful tool in teaching your child or teaching yourself how to spell.  While these games worked for me, they might not work for others.

I recommend ilovethatteachingidea.com for more ideas on spelling games. Some of my favorites listed on the site are:

1. Rainbow Spelling (sent in by Kristen Lamsfuss, Texas). Give students a set of crayons in the colors of the rainbow. Trace each spelling word once with each color. This allows the child to trace the word seven times.

2. Board Game Spelling. This project is intended for students in fourth through sixth grade. Bring in ordinary board games and break a class into small groups. Group members collaborate to create new rules for the game that incorporate weekly spelling words.

And let’s not forget about the plethora of word games that already exist: Boggle, Scrabble just to name two. The point is spelling can be fun. Spelling bees are nerve breaking, especially for students who are embarrassed or afraid of their classmate’s ridicule. The purpose of this blog’s activities is to take the student out of competitive, embarrassing situations while still helping him or her learn how to spell. Making spelling entertaining, inviting and plain old fun is the key to helping students grow and learn

Does Spelling Count?

By Sarah-Ann Binning

Queue Cue spotlight, front and center. The white light blinds my eyes as I step to the microphone. Beads of sweat form at my brow, threatening to drip down my face and stain the collar of my freshly pressed blouse.

I find my place in front of the mic and the pronouncer calls out my word. “Ms. Binning, your word is liaison.”

“Liaison?” I say it slowly to buy myself the extra millisecond to think. “May I have the definition please?”

The pronouncer reads the definition. Not that it helps me figure out how to spell liaison. I scribble a guess on the back of my name tag. Looks good to me.  I begin to stammer out the letters “L-I-A-I-Z-O-N.”

A moment of complete silence before the pronouncer utters those dreaded words, “I’m sorry but that is incorrect.”

The auditorium fills with laughter. I drop to my knees, arms stretched to the heavens, “NOOO!” I scream. I bolt upright and awake from the dream, still covered in the sweat from the spotlight on my spelling failure.

Spelling Bees were my biggest nightmare as a child. I was (and still am) a horrible speller.  I worked hard for my grades in school. But when someone found out how atrocious my spelling was, I could feel him or her instantly judging me … thinking less than me.

My inability to spell is a problem. I was the student who raised her hand before a fill-in-the-blank exam to ask, “Does spelling count?”  But I had to face my fears, and face the problem head-on, and nip it in the butt before it could nip me. My experience throughout my undergrad studies taught me, YES, spelling always counts.

To hammer home my point that spelling correctly IS important, I’ve dedicated all of this week’s blogs to Spelling! Look forward to tips and tools for improving your own spelling skills, as well preview information about the upcoming 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee (held in Washington DC).

To kick off Spelling Week, let’s discuss commonly misspelled English words.

Does anyone else find it humorous that “misspell” and “definitely” are among the list of 100 most misspelled words?  Seems to me that misspell is just destined to be spelled incorrectly. It’s that darned double “s” that trips people up. Is there anything more embarrassing than misspelling the word misspell?

Below I’ve selected a few more commonly misspelled words and I’ll give my two cents for remembering how to spell them.

Accommodate: The word is long because you need to accommodate the double ”c” and double “m.”

Changeable: Just remember that you are ABLE to CHANGE. Or … that your mom is asking you to CHANGE ABLE’s diaper.

Grateful: Those tricksters! This word gave me so much trouble. I kept thinking grateful is a happy word, so shouldn’t it be great. WRONG. Grateful is NOT GREAT.

License: I rarely used this word until I was hired as student coordinator at Jefferson. I had to help students complete their payroll paperwork and I could never remember how to spell license. I knew there are an “s” and a “c” but I couldn’t remember which came first. Then I realized, they’re alphabetical. “C “comes before “S” in the alphabet.  liCenSe

I am a musical and linguistic learner. For me personally, the best way to learn how to spell is through a cute little riddle, poem or a sing-song. The perfect example of this is the “Difficulty” poem Miss Honey teaches her class in the 1996 movie “Matilda.”

The scene unfolds like this:

Miss Trunchbull: [pointing at Amanda] Can you spell?
Amanda: Miss Honey taught us how to spell a long word yesterday. We can spell “difficulty”.
You couldn’t spell “difficulty” if your life depended on it.
Amanda: She taught us with a poem.
Miss Trunchbull: [mimicking Amanda with a high-pitched tone] A poem? How sweet. What poem would that be?
Amanda: Mrs. D, Mrs. I…
[students join in]
Amanda: [chanting with the rest of the class] Mrs. F-F-I. Mrs. C, Mrs. U., Mrs. L-T-Y!
Miss Trunchbull: [strikes a desktop with her riding crop and all the children instantly face forward] WHY ARE ALL THESE WOMEN MARRIED?
Miss Trunchbull: Mrs. D? Mrs. I? You’re supposed to be teaching SPELLING! Not poetry!

I love that movie … and the book too. My sister and I still chant the poem (and various other memorable quotes from “Matilda”).

What about you? Do you have a favorite poem or song that helped you learn how to spell a word? Post a comment or send me a tweet (ispygrammar) and I’ll post or discuss them later this week.

For more information on commonly misspelled English words I suggest looking here and here.