Article #44
Helping Parents Understand
Vocabulary and Spelling
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Teachers tell me that parents have a difficult time understanding the differences in the way that the 4-Blocks Model approaches word level study versus the traditional way we once taught vocabulary and spelling. At Open House, many teachers take the opportunity to explain some of the major philosophical differences. Often that's all it takes for parents to accept why the long lists of spelling words won't be coming home weekly. However, sometimes it takes a bit more in the way of explanations and examples before parents are convinced that we are still emphasizing spelling and vocabulary.

As we talk to parents and as we model for them how the theory is put into practice in the blocks, a couple of points are paramount:

  1. With the traditional method of teaching spelling, we thought that telling students WHAT to spell was important. Now we realize that our instruction should focus on HOW to spell. We are now teaching patterns and skills that will truly enable kids to be better spellers and decoders as they apply what they have learned to words that they encounter or that they need to write.
  2. Basically, vocabulary is a reading skill and spelling is a writing skill. We will mostly be teaching vocabulary in our Guided Reading Block and spelling in the Words Block. The spellings of vocabulary words are not what is most important. With vocabulary words, we will be concentrating on the meanings. Meanings of critical words will aid comprehension in the texts we read during Guided Reading. We will not spend a disproportionate amount of time memorizing the spellings of all of our vocabulary words. We will want to recognize them by sight and know what they mean as it applies to what we're reading.
  3. The wonderful games and activities that children will tell parents that they are "playing" in class are certainly instructional. Guess the Covered Word is an excellent example--one that is easily modeled for parents. When we use this simple activity, we teach kids some practical strategies that we expect them to apply to their real reading:
      • When we come to a difficult word--a word we can't decode quickly--in our reading, we first guess what makes sense in the context of the sentence.
      • After we make a reasonable guess, we see if that guess also starts with the beginning chunk (the onset--letters before the first vowel) of that word.
      • If that doesn't reveal the word, we make another reasonable guess by studying the configuration of the word and its other letters.
Rounding Up the Rhymes, Reading and Writing Rhymes, Wordo, Be A Mind Reader, and many other "games" are equally instructional. Parents need to be told this, though, so they won't feel that we are spending our days merely "playing games."

There are many ways that we can help parents make the transition and ways to garner their support in a meaningful way. One of those ways might be the take-home sheet that follows (see note below). This is a way that parents can be involved constructively in their children's education, especially with spelling and vocabulary. The template can be filled in weekly by teachers and sent home with students. In the first column, the teacher would list vocabulary that will be covered each day from the Guided Reading selection. In the top half of the second column, the teacher would list the five Word Wall words for the week. In the bottom half of the second column, the teacher would include some words that represent the patterns that were being taught in Making Words, Reading and Writing Rhymes, etc.

We need for parents to be our partners as we teach their children. However, we need to offer some guidance so that our efforts are not counterproductive. Together we can accomplish so much this year!

(This take-home sheet is an adaptation of one used in some Lexington School District 2 classrooms in the Columbia, SC area. Thanks to these teachers for their creative idea!)

Note: Adobe Acrobat Reader is needed to open the take-home sheet. If you don't have it, get it here 

4 Blocks Goodies