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  • Lucy Neuburger

Five things we learned about... Spelling Shed and Teaching Spelling Effectively

Updated: Apr 1

How to teach spelling effectively with Spelling Shed

Lucy Neuburger spoke with Spelling Shed founders Rob Smith and Martin Saunders. The show delved into what challenges teachers face regarding spelling, how to teach spelling effectively and technology's impact on education. 

Spelling Shed is part of Ed Shed and offers a spelling scheme that can be used throughout primary school. It also provides games to support children with their understanding. 


  • The importance of teaching spelling effectively

The question Lucy asked was, ‘In the digital age, why is it still important to teach spelling effectively?’

Rob explained that we are judged on spelling immediately whether is via our posts on social media or when we are reading menus. To be able to read and write words is instrumental to our day to day to life and without this ability, day-to-day life becomes far trickier to navigate. It is also the basis of everything children do in school, so without developing reading and writing skills, school can become very hard for children. 


  • Make it interesting!

In many schools, teachers are still giving children lists of 10 words that follow a particular spelling rule.  These lists are taken home to be memorised through any means necessary e.g. chanting out loud, or ‘look, say, cover, write, check.’  Children are then tested on those words and for those who do well, it can be rewarding and exciting. Yet for those who do not do as well, it is frustrating and disheartening. Often these words are forgotten as soon as the test is complete or never used in a child’s writing. 

Spelling is more than just understanding which order letters go in to form words. Rob wants children to learn the science of spelling and where words originate from.  His son has taken a particular interest in etymology, something Spelling Shed also explores as part of its programme. 

‘Disaster and asteroid come from the same root word. Astro - means ‘from the stars’ and ‘dis’ means bad so disaster means bad things happen under the stars! ‘Oid’ means form so asteroid means star form!’  - Rob Smith

By giving spelling context in the wider curriculum or taking time to learn about it in more detail, it can become far more interesting for children. 


  • Reading and spelling go hand in hand

Rob explained that reading supports fluency and understanding of many words but also gives children a chance to apply their knowledge. For example, children may have learned to read the word ‘happy.’ Even if they have not been explicitly taught all the words that derive from happy, they can use their knowledge of suffixes and prefixes to understand words e.g. the prefix ‘un’ means not so ‘unhappy’ means not happy. 


  • Spelling and technology

Lucy asked Martin whether Spelling Shed would still have a place in education given that spell check is readily available to check written work.

Martin explained that until children are using computers in every single subject every single day, there is still a need to learn how to spell correctly. To be a proficient writer, it is still vital to be able to identify how to spell words as spell check technology can offer alternatives in many cases but may struggle if you are trying to spell ‘something’ as ‘summat.’  Homophone misuse isn’t always picked up by technology either so it is important to know when to use ‘there’ and when to use ‘their.’ 

Ultimately technology is a tool and you need to know how to use a tool in the right way for it to operate in the manner in which you need it to. How you choose to use language is quite subjective and personal and technology does not necessarily understand that. However, one day it may become more sophisticated but it is not there yet!


  • Gamification 

Lucy shared her thoughts on gamification. On the one hand, it is great and can engage children who otherwise might find a particular learning concept difficult. However, on the other hand, is it taking away from ‘proper’ learning?’

Martin explained that gamification is a buzzword and all that is happening is children are playing and discovering how to do something in a fun and engaging way. Exploring through play is vital, particularly in the early years.

When you gamify something or give it a rewards system, it gives a dopamine hit when you are doing well. Apply this to something like Spelling Shed where children have a platform to turn spelling into a game that rewards them, it has a positive impact on their learning. If children are going to be using screens, time must be used productively and enhance their learning rather than simply being used as an add-on.


Listen to the whole podcast here:

Explore Spelling Shed here!

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