Updated: May 2021
As an author for the Times Educational Supplement teacher resources site, I was very excited to receive this month’s Author Newsletter. In it was a breakdown (the first of its kind), of all of the resources that are in the highest demand at different points in the year. For April, SPaG (meaning Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) resources were listed as being bestsellers, indicating that demand for SPaG tips is high at this time of the year. I thought, therefore, it would be helpful to begin May with some great SPaG review tips and tricks.
For those readers who are teaching a non-British curriculum, you may not be aware that SPaG tests are now compulsory in England at the end of Key Stage 1 (Ages 6-7) and Key Stage 2 (Ages 8-11).
However, as a teacher who’s teaching Science and Mathematics through the medium of English, I vehemently believe that good SPaG teaching is the responsibility of all educators, whether you’re teaching small children, teens or adults. SPaG can be effectively reinforced in any subject area, and I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve actually been doing this for years, without calling it SPaG!
Here are my top tips for teaching and reviewing SPaG, which are all tried and tested and highly effective.
Play vocabulary games
The following vocabulary games are awesome! I’ve used them for years, and my most popular blog post ever provides 7 of the very best games you can play with your students. Try these for SPaG specific benefits:
This quick game is so easy: all you need is a whiteboard, whiteboard markers and class of kids. It’s a great game for consolidating key vocabulary, and is perfect for E.A.L. learners.
Here’s a short video showing a quick clip of me playing ‘Splat’ with my students (I will include some more lengthy clips soon, but this is a good start):
Another easy game. This time, students randomly pick out written words from a hat (or cup, beaker, container, etc.), and then they have to explain their word to the class (without saying the word). The students who are listening have to guess what the word is.
Who am I?
A very simple game. All you need are post-it notes and a class full of energized students! Great fun. Perfect for reinforcing key vocabulary and concepts. I just played this last week with an AS-Biology class and they loved it!
I love this one! It gets very competitive so be prepared for a noisy lesson!
Use vocabulary journals
These are very powerful learning tools, but they are so underused in the teaching profession!
Take two weeks ago for example. My AS-Level Biology students had just finished their mock exams and I sat down with one young lady to provide feedback to her. She had great subject knowledge, but had used incorrect adjectives in some of her answers. For example:
Student’s answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disappears‘
Model answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disintegrates’
Any AS-Level examiner will tell you that this is a common way in which international students lose marks in exams. So, how can I help this student now?
The solution is simple and effective: she’ll have a special notebook in which she writes down all of the model answers to questions she gets incorrect in the intense past-paper practice we’ll be doing for the next month and a half. She’ll be keeping a ‘vocabulary journal’, and I’ll be checking it and sitting with her to discuss it each week.
Journals are a great way for students to constantly review their understanding and knowledge of key vocabulary. With students who have very low English proficiency, you may wish to use journals from day one. With others, such as my AS-Biology student who only needs some ‘fine-tuning’, they can be used at specific points in the academic year.
Elocution simply means modelling good speech.
Speak your key words and key vocabulary clearly, and get your students to repeat them! I used this technique only three days ago in a KS3 Science class. One of the key words was ‘species’. The dialogue went something like this:
Teacher: “Say spee-shees”
Teacher: ‘One more time. Listen carefully: ‘speeeeeeee-shees”
Teacher: “Perfect, ‘Speee-shees’ Well done.”
Elocution might seem like a silly way to review concepts that will be tested in a written exam paper. However, many studies have shown the remarkable benefits that elocution can have on spelling proficiency, as well as conceptual understanding.
Many school subjects require students to read and analyse paragraphs of text. Whether it’s a description of freeze-thaw action in geography, or a synopsis of the rise of crypto currencies in ICT or economics: blurbs, descriptions and essays confront our students with unique challenges.
Sometimes our students don’t yet have the reading level to cope with the text. Sometimes they just simply get switched-off or disinterested, and this may or may not be related to their English language proficiency.
Have you ever stopped reading a book, or a short article, because it just didn’t interest you enough? I know I have, many times.
I can read but if I’m not interested, I’ll switch off.
Thankfully, there are a number of methods we can use to make texts more digestible for children and young adults. I’ve written a separate blog post outlining these strategies here.
Follow Me cards
This is a classic technique, which can be applied to many subject areas. Share a large number of cards around your class (e.g. 32). Ask one child to read the definition on their card. The child who has that definition then has to read their word and also the definition on their card. This continues until all 32 words and definitions have been shared.
If you complete it correctly, the game should end with the person who started it!
More SPaG resources
For tailor-made made SPaG tips and resources, try these links:
Times Educational Supplement SPaG site
Just filled to the brim with superb resources! Check it out!
AQA Education Teachit English site
Brilliant all-in-one holistic resources, as well as specific items for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Well worth a visit!
Twinkl Literacy site
Some very fun and creative resources. More tailored for younger children, but well-worth a try with older kids too.