My first grader has had only one list of spelling words to learn so far this year. They seemed pretty easy to me: I, we, here, like, play, school, little. But spelling is not something that comes naturally to Johnny, and he resented having to practice his words repeatedly.
Until we got out our Bananagrams set.
Any set of letter tiles will do, but Bananagrams tiles work well because there are so many of them that you're less likely to run out of the more frequently used letters.
Since Johnny was having a particularly hard time with the words play and little, I wanted to target those without inducing boredom and frustration.
First, I challenged Johnny to unscramble the word play.
Once Johnny could unscramble those letters with ease, I added distractor letters. I tried to use letters that might actually fool him into thinking they're part of the word. I started with one extra letter, then worked up to something like this:
We did the same thing for little.
Notice that the distractor letters below give Johnny plausible ways to misspell the word. Littil, lettle and littlle almost look right. (You could, of course, throw in something obviously out of place, like a Z or a K just for fun.)
This repetitive practice felt like play — no, it was play — and I was surprised at how well it worked. Johnny loved being challenged to unscramble the letters faster, or with even more distractor letters. He loved boasting that spelling was becoming "too easy." And when I brought out the bananagrams several weeks later for a spelling review, he was excited.
When we got tired of unscrambling letters, we also liked doing this:
But we liked this even more:
Trying to fit as many of his spelling words together as possible, Scrabble style, turned out to be a big hit. Johnny was fascinated with connecting the words, and I think that I may have a future Scrabble player in the family.