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Spelling Tests for First Grade

Have you ever wondered why you need to give spelling tests or assessments in first grade? Is it really necessary? They sure can be a pain in the butt to grade. 

I know that spelling tests have a bad reputation. Just because a student can spell a word correctly on a spelling test, doesn’t always mean that it translates into their daily writing.

I get it.

But I think spelling tests can still be very effective if we change our mindset around them. They don’t have to be traditional to be effective. 

In my own classroom, I found spelling tests to be highly effective when: 

  • I focused on the progress, not the grade
  • Had students study the spelling pattern, not the words
  • Used this data to drive my small group instruction

So instead of using a spelling test as a one-time snapshot of a student’s performance, I used it as a very small data point to help me understand the student’s spelling knowledge. 

So what does this mean?

It means that spelling tests are not a one and done. Spelling tests in first grade are just part of the process of helping students decode and encode (or spell) words.

Spelling Knowledge in First Grade

So what kind of spelling knowledge should a first grade student really have?

Here are a few foundations of spelling knowledge: 

  • Sounds can be represented by a single letter or a combination of letters (digraphs, blends)
  • Letters may have more than one sound
  • Some sounds can be represented by different letters
  • When spelling, words can be separated into single sounds or a combination of sounds
  • Knowing the 6 syllable type can help students spell
  • Some words do not follow typical spelling rules/patterns, BUT you can match letters to sounds in at least part of those words
  • Asking yourself “Does the world look right?” after spelling a word

Spelling words (encoding) and reading words (decoding) go hand and hand! They should be taught together, NOT in isolation!

First grade students are also expected to spell high-frequency words (sight words) without sounding out letter-by-letter.

How to Give a Spelling Test in First Grade

This may sound simple. But there are actually several different ways that you can give a spelling test in First Grade. So, let’s go over a few.

#1. Say the word. Say a sentence USING the word. Repeat the word.

#2. Same as above

And so on.

FAQ: Do you repeat the words? 

I say yes, if needed. Some say no. I think the key is to get a system down where students raise their hand and ask you to wait if they need extra time. If a student gets too far behind, you aren’t going to collect accurate data from their test.

FAQ: Does a spelling test need to have handwriting lines? Or are regular lines fine?

People with dysgraphia have trouble getting words on paper. Handwriting lines will help these students tremendously! 

FAQ: Do you give a bonus? 

Totally up to you! The best advice I ever got was to use the bonus as an open ended dictation sentence that the students have to finish on their own!

For example, if the bonus word was “eat”. Then my dictation sentence would be “I like to eat hot ______”.

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Kristen Sullins

Kristen Sullins

I am a current Elementary Librarian and
Enrichment Teacher, mother of two, follower of Christ and Texas native. In my own classroom, I love to save time by finding unique ways to integrate writing, social studies and science into all parts of my day. I also love all things organization!