Teaching Spelling in 1st Grade: Simple & Fun Ideas

Updated December 15, 2020
first grade boy practicing letters
    First grade boy practicing letters
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    Used under Getty Images license

By 1st grade, students are just learning how to read and write, let alone spell. But this year is a foundational spelling year because it transitions 1st graders into different spelling strategies. If you do right by your first graders, they'll be on their way to being grammarians and spelling bee champions in no time. Keep reading for conventional spelling and phonetic spelling ideas on how to teach spelling words in 1st grade.

Phonetic Spelling Ideas

In kindergarten, students use invented (or inventive) spelling to express themselves. This allows beginning writers to connect phonetic sounds with their roles within words. First graders can still use invented spelling to get their point across, but now they are starting to hone their skills. Keep reading for ideas on fostering phonetic knowledge while moving into correct spelling.

Editing Invented Spelling

Once 1st graders have written out their sentences, they can apply spelling knowledge to what they have written. Work through these steps to help 1st graders fix their invented spelling words.

  1. Read a simple sentence out loud for students to write down in invented spelling. (For example: My dog is nice.")
  2. Go through each word and write the different versions the children spelled on the board. (For example: "My" might be "mi," "me," "mai," and so on.)
  3. Circle the version that is correct on the board. If no one got the word right, write the correct one on the board and circle it.
  4. Have students write the correct version of the word underneath their own writing.
  5. Do this periodically when students write the same words, sentences or paragraphs.

Stretch the Word

Telling a 1st grader to "sound something out" makes sense if they can already do that with simple words. But for struggling readers, sounding words out is just as difficult as reading it in the first place. The solution is to encourage 1st graders to "stretch" the word so they can hear every sound.

  1. Read a spelling word in front of the class. (For example: "flower.")
  2. Model "stretching" the word by reading it again, very slowly, so students can hear every vowel and consonant sound. ("fffffllllloooowwweeeeerrrr.")
  3. Ask for volunteers to say the first sound they hear. Write it on the board when someone gets it right.
  4. Go through every sound, spending more time on the vowel sounds.
  5. Give students another word and encourage them to stretch it out. Do this whenever a new or difficult word comes their way.

Block Spelling

Kids love blocks — and soon, they'll love spelling! Use blocks from your classroom to reinforce phonics and phonetic spelling.

  1. Set up a center with at least 52 wooden or plastic blocks.
  2. Using a permanent marker or paper labels, write each letter of the alphabet on two blocks.
  3. Have either an aide or a recording slowly read spelling words from a list.
  4. Students can find the correct letters based on the sounds that they hear.
  5. Differentiate the activity by having beginning readers listen only to phonetic sounds rather than full words, and require advanced learners to create longer words.

Syllable Match

Learning the syllables of a word combined with a strong phonetic awareness is a great step to learning how to spell. All 1st graders need are their hands or percussive instruments.

  1. Read a one, two or three-syllable word.
  2. Instruct 1st graders to repeat the word and clap back with the matching syllables. (For example: you read "dinosaur" and they clap three times while saying "di-no-saur."
  3. Spell the word on the board, putting a small space between the syllables.
  4. If kids are getting the hang of it, try longer words. If some kids aren't clapping correctly, stay with one-syllable words before moving on to longer words.

Conventional Spelling Ideas

The Common Core state standards for language expect that students will be able to use conventional spelling for regular and irregular words by the end of 1st grade. Many 1st grade spelling lists include words with spelling patterns that students should know. Take a look at these simple and fun ideas to reinforce conventional spelling rules in your 1st grade class.

Consonant Blend Fishing

First graders know their ABCs, but how are their consonant blends? Put them to the test with a fun fishing game! You can use a list of CCVC words in your preparation work.

  1. Set up a large barrier of some kind, such as a table on its side or hanging bulletin board.
  2. On one side of the barrier, fill a bucket with fish-shaped pieces of cardstock that have different consonant blends (for example, sp- or pl-) on one side and magnets on the other.
  3. On the other side, have students line up with a "fishing pole" (a stick with yarn tied to it, and a magnet on the other side of the yarn).
  4. Have them cast their lines over the side of the barrier. If the yarn doesn't reach, have a student attach a fish to the fishing pole magnet.
  5. The student reads the blend and says a word that starts with the blend.
  6. Write the word they say on the board and move on to the next student.
  1. To make the game more challenging (and competitive), challenge 1st graders to list at least three words that begin with the blend. If they can, they keep the fish. The 1st grader with the most fish at the end of the game wins!

Shhh: Silent "E" Practice

First graders are starting to learn that their familiar CVC words can be changed with a simple vowel. Practice words that end in a silent "e" as a foundational 1st grade spelling list.

  1. Have students create paper signs to hang around their necks.
  2. Split the class in half. Have one side write CVC words (for example: tin, cap, pan) on their signs, and the other side write "E."
  3. Take the class outside with lots of space to run.
  4. The "E" team is "it." They chase the CVC word team around until everyone has tagged someone.
  5. The pairs of "E" team members and CVC word team members discuss what new word they have created. (For example: a student with rat on their sign has made rate with the "E" team member.) Some CVC words may not make real words, such as lap or bin.
  6. Split the partners up; the game starts again. Continue matching partners until students are tired or have thought of all possible words.

Grouping Vowel Teams

There is no "I" in team — unless you're talking about a vowel team! Understanding how vowel teams or vowel digraphs work is an important conventional spelling skill.

  1. Write three to four vowel teams on the board (for example: "ei," "ea," "ou," "oa").
  2. As a class, discuss several words that go into each group.
  3. Examine the list of words and see how they change if you take out the first vowel. (For example: "neigh" becomes "nigh" and "team" becomes "tam.")
  4. Have partners or small groups come up with as many words as they can for each team.
  5. If 1st graders need more help, create a word bank of words for them to sort into the correct vowel teams.

Reinforcing FLoSS(z) Rules

If your 1st graders are ready for the FLoSS(z) spelling rule, they'll enjoy this activity. Soon, they'll understand how to spell almost all words that end in "f," "l," "s" or "z."

  1. Create a bin full of alphabet magnets, cards or tiles.
  2. Put a list on the board of 5-10 FLoSS(z) words.
  3. Split the class into small groups.
  4. Have each group choose one person to be the letter retriever.
  5. When you start the timer, the retrievers from each team run to the bin and pick up 20-40 letters (depending on how many words you're having them spell). You can also spread the letters out on the floor to prevent shoving.)
  6. The groups spell as many words on the board as they can with their letters. They spell them out on a piece of paper and can write the final letter on the paper if they're missing it (so if a team is missing an "s" in "hiss," they can spell "his" with letters and write in the final "s").
  7. Teams can also trade letters if needed.
  8. The team with the most correctly spelled words wins!

Sight Word Spelling Ideas

Many of the words on a 1st grade spelling list will be Dolch words, also known as sight words. Students need to know these words to begin the basic spelling concepts required for more advanced reading. Here are some ideas for teaching sight words in the classroom with correct spelling.

Sing and Spell: Sight Word of the Day

Kids love to sing, making catchy educational songs a great tool in a 1st grade sight words activity. And what better spelling song is there than "B-I-N-G-O"?

  1. Assign a sight word of the day or week. For example: school.
  2. When class begins, start singing the following song to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O:"
    There is a sight word of the day (or week)
    And SCHOOL is our sight word!
    And SCHOOL is our sight word!
  3. Go through the "B-I-N-G-O" song, where each letter gets replaced by a clap, until students are clapping the entire word.
  4. Sing the song at various transition points during the day.
  5. Assess the sight word at the end of the day to see how many students can spell it. If they can't, make it the sight word again tomorrow.

Sight Word Spelling Bee

First graders are too young for a formal spelling bee. However, they've learned so many sight words in kindergarten that they could definitely handle a sight word spelling bee!

  1. Write a list of kindergarten and 1st grade sight words on the board. Give students a chance to look it over.
  2. Using name sticks or paper slips, call on two students to come to the front of the class.
  3. Ask each student to face away from the board.
  4. Have them spell the first word on the list.
  5. Behind the spellers' backs, point to the word on the board so that other 1st graders can follow along.
  6. Keep going through words until one student misspells one.
  7. Call up another student to challenge the winner.
  8. If the winner is winning too many rounds without mistakes, give them a reward and call up someone new.

Sight Word Decor

Your 1st graders absorb a lot of information from their surroundings. While it's fun to put up posters with inspirational sayings and animals, it's a lot more helpful if those classroom decorations include sight words.

  1. Assign one sight word to each student or pair of students.
  2. Give students small posterboards or construction paper.
  3. Have them write the word very clearly on the paper. (You can also print up each word in large letters, have students cut them out, and instruct them to glue the letters on a larger piece of paper.)
  4. Tell students to decorate the posters as long as the word is still very visible.
  5. Hang the posters all over your classroom.

Sight Word Treasure Hunt

Learning sight words in isolation is a valuable spelling skill, but finding them in context is the next step. Challenge 1st graders to examine their reading closely for any familiar sight words.

  1. On the board, write a short list of sight words that your class is focusing on.
  2. Pass out copies of a story that contains lots of sight words as well as highlighters.
  3. Read the story once with 1st graders following along.
  4. Ask students to identify and highlight any sight words that they see.
  5. Discuss the sight words and ensure that students have highlighted them all.
  6. Read the story again. Have students read the sight words in unison as you arrive at them.

Setting Up the Building Blocks

Proper spelling skills are a key part of 1st grade language arts. Once they have mastered the basics of spelling, they are ready to apply their knowledge to 2nd grade spelling lessons. Keep the learning going with a 1st grade lesson on compound words, which allows students to create larger words with small words they can already spell.