Learning to spell is treated as a group activity in its own right, involving the hand as well as the head and the heart (to quote Pestalozzi). Quiet reading, which isolates a child from the world and is more of an eye-and-intellect activity only, is postponed until a lot of inter-active writing exercises have been carried out that teach the skill of reading before we give out story-books to read (i.e. readers).
When we begin writing in the foreign language, children will have more or less mastered spelling in their first language and now they have to learn to spell all over again, not an easy task for all children. Some may stubbornly insist on writing the way they have just learned to write in their first language, whilst others take it in their stride and cheerfully adopt new spelling systems. We may see a pained or even frightened expression in some children’s faces when there is something they cannot understand, but at least this is more encouraging for us than a blank look. Children who are still in a ‘dream world’ of their own will simply refuse to make a real effort to get spelling right, so we should have a little patience, especially when they participate actively when we do more imaginative work!
So it is essential to leave enough time for children to be able to build up confidence, each in their own time. If we notice that a child is showing little or no progress we should check whether there are similar problems in the other language lessons. A class conference or a team meeting may cost us valuable time but it’s in the interest of the child.
If we take the case of Russian children, there are new letter symbols to be learned as well: printed ones and handwritten ones, uppercase and lowercase. They do not know the letter symbols D, G, J, L, N, Q, R, S, V, W and Z; they recognize uppercase K, M and T but not lowercase. B, H, P, X and Y are well-known letter symbols but maddeningly represent totally different sounds. To make matters worse, the printed versions can be quite different from the handwritten ones as well. I owe the idea of the Alphabet House to Larissa Terekhova (Voronesh) where each letter lives in its four forms on a certain floor in a specific apartment (printed upper- and lowercase, handwritten capital and small letter). They each have differently coloured windows that are opened when the new letter is introduced. The children learn very quickly which letter lives where (as in the game Memory). They can say sentences like A lives on the second floor on the left.
In English the following letter symbols are the same in lowercase as well as uppercase: C, O, S, T, K, P, U, V, W, X and Z.
We have to practice lowercase writing of A, B, D,E, F, G, H, I, J, L, M, N, Q, R, Y.
We could use a tongue-twister-type sentence that has many examples of a particular consonant:
Betty blows beautiful blue bubbles.
A gentle giant gazing at geese grazing green grass.
Jolly Jack and joyful Jill jumping down a hill.
They kept the key in a kettle.
A pretty pale pink pelican near the pool.
A quaint quail quavering for the queen.
A slick and slimy snake sliding slowly saying ‘sss’.
Two noble knights nattering during the night.
Velvet violets in a violet vase.
A young yachtsman in a yellow yacht.
composed by L. Terekhova