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Book Review
Teaching English Spelling cover

Teaching English
by Ruth Shemesh
& Sheila Walter

Review written by Scott Shelton

If you have ever wondered at the complexity of English spelling and felt less than adequate when faced with the “awesome mess” of teaching it to non-native English students - many of whom also have to deal with the challenge of a new script and sound code, a new language direction or very possibly, dyslexia, or simply a short term memory problem - then this book it just what the doctor ordered.

Teaching English Spelling is a high caliber response to this all-too-common-situation for English Language Teachers, which the authors themselves had faced as practising teachers. Turning to action research, this book is the fruit of a trial and error response, systematically applied, in an attempt to address their own learners’ needs while at the same time providing an overall framework for other teachers in a similar situation. The final result is this wonderfully designed and carefully researched collection of practical lessons dedicated to the conscientious end of developing better non-native English spellers.

As a teaching tool, this collection of detailed, easy to follow and ready to use lesson plans is an indispensable addition to any staffroom resource library. I believe this is due not only to the way it breaks down the spelling conundrum into manageable chunks and presentable patterns, but also because of its integrated skills approach and decidedly ingenious practice activities. An approach which allows for plenty of fun, while at the same time not only providing meaningful learning opportunities, but also valuable consolidation time for the learner to identify and digest the new patterns, transforming input to intake.

The book is tidily divided into ten units, each which isolates a new sound (or phoneme), followed by presentations of various letter groups and spellings which the sound may be represented by. Among the patterns focussed on are the sound and spelling relationships of long and short vowel sounds, the hard and soft sounds of several consonants and consonant clusters, and the sound and spelling patterns of several single vowels and diphthongs. The final chapter deals with the orthographic ins and outs relating to silent letters and suffixes, and the spelling generalizations related to these.

The genius of the book and the material presented lies in its consistently teacher and learner friendly approach. The step by step lesson outlines provide a consistent framework to aid with continuity, while at the same time incorporating numerous active teaching techniques which will engage the learner on many levels (and which address a plethora of learning styles as well). Each and every lesson plan includes a warmer activity, a presentation period in which the learner is drawn to an important spelling pattern either through aural and/or visual discrimination exercises, inducing active cognitive participation on the part of the learner, and include several practice activities, all happily photocopiable exercises and activities.

The authors have included a wide range of heterogeneous puzzles, trivia quizzes, wordsearches, picture identification and stories, and much more - carefully graded to the three general levels of beginner, intermediate and advanced, and which are sure to aid in motivating your learners, as well as providing the additional wash-back bonus of contributing to the learning of new vocabulary items and even grammar, as learners engage with one another while working through the tasks. Thoughtful tips and ideas for testing are also a regular feature and there are additional global teaching tips included in the introduction.

So, if you are keen to help your students with an important area of their learning that is often left to its own devices, believe that a teacher’s role is to help reduce the chaos and point out the patterns, and want to have fun while providing your learners with a new understanding of how English works, then I can happily recommend this book as your new best friend.

To read articles by Scott:
Profile of a language learner by Scott Shelton

Designing a twenty-hour course by Scott Shelton

Making a Case for Beginning with Suprasegmental Features in Pronunciation Teaching by Scott Shelton & the accompanying lesson plan

Teaching Listening to Advanced Learners: Problems and Solutions by Scott Shelton & the accompanying lesson plan

Promoting fluency and accuracy through planning, telling, transcribing and noticing by Scott Shelton & the accompanying lesson plan

Encouraging Extensive Reading by Scott Shelton & the accompanying lesson plan

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