Spelling tests are boring, right? The teacher reads out a word, everyone writes it down, then it gets marked. Ho hum. Nobody really likes them except annoying pedants and teacher’s pets.
Quizzes, on the other hand, are fun. They have quizzes on TV and in pubs, board games and apps. Quizzes are about thinking laterally, friendly competition, and having a bit of a laugh. They can even be done in teams, if collaborative learning is the main aim. You can ham it up with a top hat and some pictures of typical quiz prizes (you win the steak knives!).
Here’s an example beginner’s quiz for a six-year-old. She is working on three-sound words with “short” vowels, and starting to learn about consonant digraphs like sh, ch and th. She was keen to write on a whiteboard rather than use pencil and paper, but whiteboards aren’t necessary. My questions were something like:
- I’m like a really big car that lots of people can fit in, and I drive on the road, and stop to pick people up, and I start with the sound “b” and I rhyme with “fuss”.
- The opposite of the bottom is the “t…”
- I am an animal that says “woof, woof” and I like to go for walks, and when I was a baby I was called a puppy.
- When I need to buy something, I go to a “sh…”
- I am a thing you can wear on your head to keep the sun off or keep your head warm, and I start with “h” and I rhyme with “cat”.
The other contestant in this quiz, her mum, obligingly got a couple of words wrong, allowing her delighted daughter to mark her down, win the quiz, and then magnanimously write “good try” on her mum’s whiteboard (I gave her moveable alphabet spellings and helped her assemble these words before copying them) before handing the board back. Because parents need encouragement too.
Quizzes can work at any spelling level. Imagine you’ve been working on the grapheme “ssi”, and thus want your student(s) to spell the following dozen words: mission, passion, discussion, expression, impression, profession, permission, possession, admission, depression, aggression, compassion.
Tell your quiz entrants that all words contain the spelling “ssi” for the sound “sh”, and/or that they end with “ssion”. Questions could then be:
- An important quest, usually involving travel overseas or into outer space. Starts with “m”.
- Strong and barely controllable emotion. Starts with “p”.
- A conversation or debate about a specific topic. Starts with “d”.
- Sharing one’s thoughts or showing one’s feelings to others. Starts with “e”.
- An idea, feeling, or opinion about someone, especially an initial one that isn’t based on much thought or evidence. Starts with “i”.
- A paid occupation, especially one that requires a university education. Starts with “p”.
- Consent or authorisation. Starts with “p”.
- The state of having, owning, or controlling something. Starts with “p”.
- Acknowledgement of the truth of something. Starts with “a”.
- Feelings of severe sadness and dejection. Starts with “d”.
- Readiness to attack or confront. Starts with “a”.
- Concern for the suffering or misfortune of others, starting with “c”.
Definitions from the dictionary can be used as quiz clues, if need be. If you keep an online dictionary like this one open on your phone or tablet, definitions can even be looked up as you go, leaving only target words to be chosen beforehand. My free spelling lists might help with this.
If quiz participants have quite different ages/skill levels, a handicap system could be used to give everyone a fighting chance of winning e.g. younger participants receive three points per correct answer, slightly older ones get two points and adults get only one point.
Do your students prefer a “spelling quiz” to a “spelling test”?