Sunday, June 03, 2007

PTSW: Spelling is Tough Stough!

Each year I choose one week as the One Word Spelling Test Week. I announce to my students the good news that there will be only one word on the Friday spelling test that week. And then I hit them with the bad news that the one is the "Longest Word in Webster's Third":

That's a good time to discuss the absurdities of English spelling with Eve Merriam's little verse:

One, Two, Three -- Gough!

To make some bread you must have dough,
Isn't that sough?

If the sky is clear all through,
Is the color of it blough?

When is the time to put your hand to the plough?

The handle on the pump near the trough
Nearly fell ough.

Bullies sound rough and tough enough,
But you can often call their blough.
by Eve Merriam

Or ( a twofer again this week) Margaret Fishback's "Spellbound":

It's true, I do not like to spell,
Nor do I do it very well.
If "handle's" "le", why not "travle"?
Such mysteries I can't unravle.
There's also "pare" and "pear" and "pair,"
Though which is which, I've ceased to cair.
I master demons such as "guide"
And "guard" with pardonable pruide,
But when it comes to "hear" and "here,"
I can't decide which way to stere.
And then I'm faced with "hair" and "hare"
To plunge me further in despare.
Indeed it seems to me absurd
To grapple with the written wurd --
I'd better throw away my pen
And never, never write agen.
by Margaret Fishback

Many students from before 1999 and every student I taught from 1999 to 2006, with exception of one little fellow who did not speak English, learned to spell the "Longest Word in Webster's Third*." I break it into lots of parts. I tell them that if they can:
• learn to say the word, and
• learn to spell the first syllable
they can learn to spell "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis". Even though English is a notoriously quirky language to spell, all but the first syllable of "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" is pretty straightforward. We discuss the meaning of each word part and learn other words that contain those prefixes, suffixes, and roots. And, of course, I have designed a little worksheet for the students to complete as they learn. And we sing it. It rhymes nicely with "halitosis" and "Mrs. Moses" (another teacher) and OK with "the Mostest" and "closest", so write your own -- or send me five bucks and I'll give you our verses!

One year I taught a great kid who had a classic learning disability. He just plain could not process words on paper in the way that his classmates did. But he could learn orally. He could not spell "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" on paper (or "cat" for that matter), but he spelt the longest word in Webster's Third - loud and proud - before the whole class and received an "A" in spelling that week. I have rarely seen a more happy ten-year-old. I guess Blake was a great example of the True Champion Long Word of All Time ---
--two 'esses' with a 'mile' in between!

* There is great disagreement over which is the longest legitimate word in the English language. When I was a kid I thought it was "antidisestablishmentarianism". Some would argue that that word had legitimate usage, whereas "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" is used almost exclusively as an example of a very long word and may have begun its life in our language as a hoax. Most folks would be much more likely to call the ailment "black lung disease".


The series of posts, A Poem to Start the Week, is my little anthology of poetry, many of which I have used with my students in elementary schools during 27 years of teaching.

Previous Poems to Start the Week:

Blue Marble
Tacks, Splinters, Apples and Stars
Oh, Captain, My Captain!
Introducion to Poetry
Loveliest of Trees
Flax-Golden Tales
The Dinosaurs Are Not All Dead
Owl Pellets
Mummy Slept Late
Just My Size
The Kindest Things I Know
Miles to Go
Love that Brother
Oh, Frabjous Day!

Other Posts about Children's Literature:

The Lion's Paw top kid's OOP book!
Aslan is Dead!
A Teacher's Life

You can read some of my own efforts at poetry here.
And then there's Alien Invasion.

A weblog dedicated to Poetry for Children.
Watch Sonja Cole's reviews of children's books at

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