Thursday, February 28, 2013

I'd Like To Buy A Vowel, Please

Every year there is a particular word or two that third graders, collectively, seem to have a difficult time spelling.  For example, last year it seemed the word 'beautiful' was the word that no matter how many times we spelled it together, or talked about it, or corrected it, not many could get it right.  Finally, we came up with some ways to try to remember it and ended up with saying, "Be - A - U - ti - ful", stretching out each letter part as we spelled it and that seemed to help some.   

This year the word different is "the" word.  Usually it is spelled  d-i-f-f-r-e-n-t.  Today, as  I was conferencing with the students on their "Michigan in the 1600's" writing piece, many of the students had the word 'different' in their draft.  Many of them had it misspelled.  I went to the board and turned to the class.

"How in the world do we spell the word "different"? I asked the busy group of writers.

Three cocked their heads and rolled their eyes to the ceiling, in deep thought.  Four or five stared down at their paper, clearly avoiding the question. One went to the bathroom.  Naturally, six brave, confident students raised their hands.   One little hand was waving urgently in the air.  

"I know! I know!" called out the hand-waver. And without waiting, he began. 
"d - i - f - f - r - e - n - t," he said, smiling proudly.  

Two little ones clapped and nodded their head in agreement. Others watched my face to see if they should agree or not.  

"Hmmmmm...." I began.  I picked up a purple marker and asked him to repeat the letters so I could write it on the board. 

Once the word was on the board, I asked them if they all agreed that it was correct.  They all started to go back to their writing, but were still watching me to see why I was making such a big production about a silly word.  They are astute enough to know that if I am still standing at the board, there must be something amiss.

"A lot of you are using the word different in your writing pieces, but you're not spelling it correctly.  The word on the board isn't spelled correctly.   Look at it carefully and see if you can find what's wrong,"  I challenged the class.

Again, many looks at the ceiling and a few attempts. There was a line at the pencil sharpener, as they attempted to avoid the question.

"I'll give you a hint," I offered.  "It's missing a vowel."

"D-i-f-f-E-r-e-n-t," one little girl announced.  "There is an "E" between the f and the r."

I wrote it on the board.  "Can anyone think of a way to remember how to spell this tricky word?" I asked them.  "Maybe if you think "diff-ER-ent"," I suggested, loudly emphasizing the "ER" sound.

"But the word is "diffrent" not "diff-ER-ent"," said one little one, now getting a bit upset about the whole thing.  "Why is it spelled that way?"  

"It's just like "Wednesday"! one little girl explained to him.  "Spelling is a tricky business."

Indeed. And then we all got back to writing.   I saw several students go back to their writing pieces and erase and fix the word different.  I heard a couple students say it out loud as they inserted the "e".   

Maybe tomorrow we'll tackle the word "which" and I'll remind them that "wich" is only used after the word sand.  

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