Learning Center


Develop Independent First-Draft Spellers

May 20, 2019

An imperative facet of the writer’s workshop is the independent writing time that follows the daily mini-lesson. This is where students experiment with new skills, face challenges, and learn to persevere through them. However, one struggle point that has the potential to shut down emerging writers is spelling.

Although it’s tempting to help students by offering up the correct spelling on demand, it creates a dependency that is hard to break. It may also be instinctive to direct students to the dictionary. However, this tool (which is appropriate for final drafts) is a real momentum killer during first-draft writing.

Establish a list of stuck-spelling strategies
A better option is for teachers to equip students to be independent first-draft spellers by creating a stuck-spelling strategies list. With the students, create a list of writer habits based on what skills and procedures they have already been exposed to:

  • Sound out the word.
  • Ask a peer for help.
  • Look around the room. The word may be on the wall.
  • Look for the word on a related handout/book page.

When first introducing the Stuck-Spelling List, model how the anchor chart is used. Begin writing a new piece in front of students. During the Think Aloud, utilize strong word choice but question how to spell it. Then apply various strategies from the Stuck-Spelling Chart to demonstrate how writers use it to persevere.

Initially, brainstorm this list and put it on chart paper or something that is a permanent fixture in the classroom. As the year progresses and more writer habits are revealed, add them to the chart.

  • Think of a rhyming word. Spell it similarly.
  • Write out the word parts you know (e.g., prefix, suffix, root, etc.).
  • Draw a rebus/simple picture as a placeholder.
  • Try your best and mark it with a squiggle line.

Remember, the goal is to build independent first-draft spellers. Consequently, as the year continues, continually clarify that the teacher does not spell words for students. Rather, she shows students many ways to become independent writers and spelling risk-takers.

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