Spelling in the Upper Grade Classroom

Raise your hand if you had spelling lists as a student.

Me! I did!

Raise your hand again if you feel like they either didn't help you grow as a speller OR you just generally disliked them.

I tend to love all things school-ish (I'm biased) but I do remember memorizing lists of words.

What truly helped me, personally, to grow as a speller is the authentic application of words and spelling patterns in my own writing and the pieces of others.

And so, that has always been wiggling around in my brain and over the years of teaching fifth grade, I knew I had to finally listen to what I already knew:

All kids, even your upper graders, need both explicit spelling instruction and practical application that is meaningful.

Super easy, right?!  Ha!

Today, I'm going to share our system because I believe in it and I've seen how it greatly impacts my students.

We do spelling every day and we start the second week of school.  I have a 45 minute uninterrupted block of time in the morning that is devoted purely to language and word work.  I spend the first fifteen minutes of that covering our mentor sentence (click HERE to read), the next fifteen minutes on Greek and Latin roots (click HERE) to read, and the final fifteen minutes on spelling (click HERE for the entire year of word lists).

I will preface that our transitions are tight because they have to be.  We start this head on with the first weeks of school because part of it is learning the procedures needed to have materials ready to roll.  It starts sloppy (I always have to remind myself!) but gets better and more efficient with each passing week.

With that said, let's take a look at each day.


I always tell students what pattern or spelling rule or word structure we will be learning about.  It shouldn't feel like a pop quiz.  Every moment is an opportunity for a teachable moment.

If we are covering long u that week, we brainstorm some patterns that we know can be used to spell it.  If we are covering suffixes, we discuss where that word part goes and what might happen to the final consonant.  I do this quickly under the document camera or on the white board, letting students guide with what they know.

We build many, many anchor charts all throughout the year!  I make them small so that we can keep them up and accessible.
Then we take the pre-test.  

Once done, they self correct because I put the list on the board.  We model and practice a growth mindset and share out things that surprised us or things we definitely knew.  They track how many they got correct (our tracker is in volume five) and then they turn them into the In Bin.  I do this because I like take a glance at each one and get an idea for word work points and potential mini-lessons.  I pass them back after lunch as they're reading to self.  If I want to go over any of it with individuals, I pull them during read to self and integrate into their 1:1 reading conference.

Each volume of spelling contains so many activities.  You can use what works for YOUR schedule and group of learners!
TIP: Make sure they rewrite the word correctly if they missed it.  They can squeeze it right next to their initial attempt but don't let them just edit their original.  Rewrite next to it.

And regardless, they go home with the pretest that day.


This is where differentiation comes in.  Students are grouped in fluid language groupings, meaning that they can change as needed.  In my resource, I include daily activities and you have to use what works for you and your students.  On Tuesday, I pass out the worksheet where students are writing each word twice, highlighting the commonality or pattern being covered that week.  If they finish, they turn it in and do other must do or may do activities.  

I have to be planned and ready to go so that I can use every moment of small group time!
But, while students are working independently, I'm pulling groups.  Some students have a different amount of the words, some need me to check in with them, some need a quick mini-lesson but are capable of handling all the words.  I typically can pull two quick groups (each group being anywhere from three to six students) during this time.

If I don't pull a student (I have anywhere from 30-34 students each year), they know they're responsible for the entire list.  Again, these are fluid groupings based off their pre-test performance and what I know about them as writers and spellers.

TIP: By the end of Tuesday, students need to know exactly what words they are responsible for learning.  All students attempt all words on Monday (give them a chance!) and by Tuesday, they know which words they'll be practicing.

On Wednesday, we dig into word patterns and structure and tie it into language wall.  This week, we were learning prefixes and were able to find it (and discuss it) in our mentor sentence.

We do direct instruction with a mini-lesson.  Typically, they come to the rug with their whiteboards and pens.  We discuss patterns, practice examples/non-examples, sort and classify words.  For me, it's important to get the kids playing with the words.  This is also a prime time to integrate what you're covering with your mentor sentence, too.  Tie as much together as you can!

If there's time, I have students use the words in sentences, either verbally or written (I include all this in each spelling volume).  This can also work as a great must do for the week; I always let students know that it isn't due until Friday.

TIP: If you have students write sentences, link it with your mentor sentence!  Have them write sentences that are all complex or sentences that have commas in a series, or whatever it is you are covering that week.  Practical application and connection!

SO much of the work you do on language wall can be revisited and reviewed (or even previewed!) via your mentor sentence and language wall!

We get hands on!  We play games, we have worksheets (again, included in the resource) that gets them cutting and sorting and highlighting, or we do quiz-quiz-trade.  We make it FUN.

Letters are included (with some varieties) in the spelling resources.
They LOVE the giant crossword, where each student is assigned a word to build and connect.  It's all about teamwork and they can help each other (but if they choose to just build their word and not help, they have the option to do another word work must do). 

We lay out the letters (I print about 24 of each, with the exception of letters like x or q, in which case I make about 12).  As they go to spell a word, they grab what they need.
TIP: Switch things up!  Try a Kahoot or Quizziz to integrate technology as a means of review.


They take a spelling test and we celebrate a week well done!  Sometimes students will trade with their writing partner to grade, in which case they track their final score immediately and discuss progress.  Otherwise, I will grade and they track once I pass them back.

TIP: Collect all final tests regardless and record. I do take grades on these!


I encourage students to practice their words throughout the week.  It is a must do.  If their partner is also available, they can quiz each other during independent work times.

You CAN print out mini-lists (included in each volume) for students to glue into planners or staple on homework.  This ensures that they have the correct spellings. I typically don't because I try and cut down on my time with the copy machine but it's a great option!

Also, these words can be added to a word wall!  Anything displayed becomes a tool that they can constantly and easily access.

Even distance learning hasn't slowed our spelling down!  We are making it work so that they keep learning and practicing!
And that's a wrap!  If you do spelling, I'd love to hear from you!  Ours is concise and powerful and something we refer to all throughout the year!


  1. Why do you say, They know which words they are responsible for? Are they not responsible for all of them?

  2. Hi,

    Are you able to explain in more detail how you differentiate the spelling list ? I know that 30 words for some of my students will definitely not work. I always have a difficult time staying organized with spelling/ vocabulary words and remembering which students have what words.

  3. Thank you for sharing the details for each day for all of the subjects that you teach. It is so helpful to be able to picture how others set up their schedules! I am moving from 3rd to 4th this year and am excited to keep using your resources with my students! I love everything that you create!

  4. The normal suggestions for a child to learn spelling are as follows: https://wordigg.com/scrabble-word-finder developing the habit of reading a lot; writing as much as possible while concentrating on correct spellings.