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TEFL Masterclass – Teaching Spelling to ESL Learners

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Sophie Cocault – CELTA/ CELT-P/ CELT-S Trainer, EAL & ESOL Specialist.

Sophie has over 15 years’ teaching experience and she has been training educators for 10 years. She has taught and lived in different countries and she has been researching multilingualism and how to use learners’ mother tongues in the classroom. She runs a multilingual story club called Tongues and Tales where people come and tell stories in various languages then all discuss in English. In her free time, she collect international children’s books, swim in the cold Irish sea and doodle!

What you will learn

How can we help our ESOL learners improve their spelling?

Spelling can be straightforward for some students, but others struggle and need help with it. As teachers, we often feel unprepared to support our ESOL learners with spelling, and sometimes we are not even that confident with our own spelling!

However, unresolved spelling difficulties can affect learners’ confidence and even hinder their language learning experience as a whole.

This workshop will look at aspects of English spelling that can be tricky for students, the relationship between reading and spelling, as well as strategies used by good spellers. We will discuss how spelling works in English and whether or not it is regular. Finally, we will take a look at practical activities we can use in the classroom to help our students improve their spelling.

Workshop Summary

The Complex World of English Spelling

English spelling is undoubtedly intricate, filled with challenges for learners. While many equate strong reading skills with adept spelling, this isn’t always the case. Various elements, such as silent letters and weak vowels, can pose hurdles. For instance, the similarity in pronunciation between ‘cut’ and ‘cot’ can confuse learners. Additionally, other complexities like apostrophes, homophones, and tricky letter combinations add to the challenge, often even for native speakers.

Interplay of Reading and Spelling

Despite the misconception, being a good reader doesn’t automatically make one a proficient speller. However, it’s observed that those with a knack for spelling exhibit a strong affinity for reading. Such individuals often dissect words into chunks or syllables, aiding their recall. By doing so, even if it doesn’t represent the true pronunciation, it facilitates accurate spelling. For instance, splitting “Wednesday” into “wed-nes-day” assists in getting the spelling right.

Delving into Spelling’s Polysystemic Nature

English spelling isn’t simply regular or irregular; it’s complex due to its polysystemic nature, stemming from five primary systems. These include the phonological system, where some words are phonetic, and the graphemic system, which stipulates that each word in English should contain a vowel sound. Understanding word origins, or the morphological system, boosts vocabulary and spelling. Furthermore, the etymological system sheds light on a word’s historical roots, and the lexical system addresses homophones.

Strategies for Enhancing Spelling

To improve spelling, various approaches can be adopted. Visual strategies, like recognising smaller words within larger ones and discerning the shape of words, prove effective. Despite English’s irregular spelling reputation, pointing out consistent patterns can help. Activities such as word detection, using word shapes, and interactive quizzes can also be beneficial.

A Spectrum of Teaching Techniques

Effective spelling is paramount for clear communication, and mastering it requires a blend of strategies. Auditory methods, like spelling aloud or associating words with rhythms, can be handy. Some even employ creative ways like rap. Kinesthetic strategies, although more hands-on, can be valuable depending on a student’s preference. Cognitive strategies, which link new words with existing knowledge, include mnemonics and maintaining a spelling log. Dictation exercises further marry comprehension with spelling.

Integrating Spelling into Teaching

While spelling may seem intuitive to some, it’s not the case for all. Recognising this, educators must weave spelling into their teaching regimen. Instead of solely dedicated spelling sessions, embedding it into regular lessons can be more impactful. By delving deeper into fewer words, students can better understand their meaning, pronunciation, and spelling. And while some adept spellers might not even be aware of their tactics, making them conscious can benefit peers.

The Imperative Role of Educators

There’s an unfounded belief that focusing on spelling is belittling. Yet, if positioned within a relevant framework, its significance cannot be overstated. It’s crucial for educators to acknowledge this, understanding that if they don’t address spelling challenges, it’s uncertain who will.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. How confident are you with your own spelling?
  2. How did you learn spelling in English? What worked for you?
  3. Do you think that English spelling is regular or irregular?
  4. Do you think that there should be a greater focus on teaching spelling during initial teacher training or in-service training?

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