Creating an Individualized Spelling Program

Many teachers desire to create individualized spelling programs. There are several good reasons for doing this. Most commercial spelling programs allow for the learning of 16-20 words per week. These programs are often arranged in 36 units, of which six are review. This means that children are expected to learn to spell somewhere between 480 and 600 words per year. Many children come to the classroom already knowing how to spell most of the words on the list and others may still not know them at the end of the year. It makes much more sense to meet a child at his/her personal spelling level and move forward from that point.

To create an individualized spelling program, the first step is to establish a basic list of words which might be a reasonable expectation for your students. At the first grade level, this might include the first 50-100 words on a high frequency list such as the Dolch list. These would be the basis for an individualized program. In addition, one would need to implement some other strong developmental program such as that in The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots. Any such program should respect Levels of Spelling Development , the sequence in which it has been demonstrated that most students learn.

An individualized spelling program also allows for the learning of high-frequency words. Included here is a list of 140 High Frequency Words that have been arranged according to levels of difficulty -- or levels of spelling development. This list can be the basis for an individualized program or the teacher may choose to add other words. The words are encased in grids which offer five spaces in which to record mastery of the words. If the students can spell each word correctly on five separate occasions, one may assume the word has been mastered. The teacher may prefer to pencil in the date the words are given to a student, then use ink to note the date the words are mastered. Print these pages to use in your classroom or use them as a model to develop your own program. Print one set of high frequency words for each student and put these in a three-ring binder (your spelling notebook).

Steps in the Process

1) Begin assessing the whole class, presenting 15-20 words daily and starting with the lowest level words. Record mastery on each student's sheet in your spelling notebook.

2) Make a copy of the Individualized Spelling Master Sheet for each student. Place each student's Master Sheet inside a vinyl page protector. When any student has missed five words, these become his/her individual words. Print these on one of the Insert Strips and insert the strip over the left side of the Master Sheet. Students may use crayon, white board markers, or Vis a Vis pens to practice printing their words on the page protector, erasing them after each attempt.

3) Student may give spelling tests to each other but should not grade the tests. This testing may also be done by parent volunteers or classroom aides. Test papers should be given to the teacher to grade and record in the spelling notebook.

4) As soon as a word has been spelled correctly on a test, a new word should be added to the individual's list.

5) Students who are able to spell all of the words on the high-frequency list should be given additional words of the teacher's choice. Always keep in mind the developmental nature of spelling, choosing words with higher level vowel patterns, affixes, compound words, contractions, etc., before proceeding to more difficult polysyllabic words.

6) Email me if you have questions or concerns.


At the second grade level, if students have had a good developmental spelling program in first grade, one can reasonably expect that all students should be able to correctly spell all two- and three-letter short vowel words. At this level, these words may or may not be omitted from the master list. Words with beginning and ending blends may still pose problems for some of these students. To create a master word list at this grade level, one needs to add more words from high-frequency lists such as the upper level Dolch words or words from published spelling programs. Short-vowel words with beginning and ending blends, words with common long-vowel patterns, color words, number words, and a limited number of homophones (homonyms) are also good additions. When choosing content area words from science or social, one should choose only those that are at a developmentally appropriate level. Higher grade levels simply choose words from higher levels of difficulty, omitting the short vowel words. Total mastery of these should be expected by third grade and can be assessed through regular process writing. Again, in addition to the individualized program, there is a need for a strong developmental program for the whole class such as The Spel-Lang Tree: Trunks.

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