Alternatives to Spelling Tests


Yes, spelling or at least vocabulary is important. But spelling tests are deadly dull and have no educational value – all they do is tell you which kids got the letters in the right order in that particular contrived circumstance. They don’t teach anything themselves except panic.

I do think there are circumstances where rote learning is valuable, my daughter is currently learning sight words. But you need to balance the usefulness of the activity against the time it is taking and make a decision on what is the best way for a particular class.

And never forgetting that outcomes need to be demonstrated in a variety of ways in a variety of contexts. Have you checked that the student who got 100% on the test is actually using the words correctly in everyday writing?

Assessment is not a mystery story – we are not trying to trick kids but allowing them to show off what they have learnt. So here are a few quick alternatives for assessing both spelling and the related knowledge. Every single one of them is open-ended, which means they will work for every kid in the class to have success at their own level.

  • Hangman
  • Each student spells a word of their choice and tells you what it means before they leave the classroom.
  • Use the words you’ve been learning to create a mind-map summary of your topic.
  • Have students find ‘families’ of words. This could be rhyming or blends families for younger kids or related words such as pentagon, hexagon, octagon.
  • Create their own crossword then exchange them.
  • Create acrostic poems using words you have been using in class.
  • Use Wordle┬áto analyse your text or a student’s own work and use that to generate their own spelling list.
  • Either individually or in teams have students write as many words as possible they’ve learnt in the class and turn them into posters that can be displayed or added to.
  • Use the posters to divide the words into nouns, verbs, adjectives etc. Colour code them or create new posters.
  • Interactive posters, for example a poster with a large diagram and the labels are laminated, students put them on with string and bluetac.
  • Students complete a table with words in one column and the definitions in the second column then cut them out. Swap them with another student and unjumble them.
  • Have a round robin game where a pair of students give each other a word to spell then move to a new partner.
  • Give students the correct letters in scrabble pieces/magnets/blocks/cards to spell a list of words given orally, automatic self-checking if they have ones left over or run out of something.

How many more can you think of? Rather than a book full of spelling tests, why not a portfolio of individualised vocabulary activities?

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