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A sensual approach to spelling

Searchlights for Spelling

Spelling practice is an important activity, if not a favourite one for many young children. Pie Corbett, co-author of the multi-sensory spelling scheme Searchlights for Spelling, says: "When you're seven and want to write something, it slows you down to have to stop and think about spelling, so you need strategies that will help make the spelling automatic."

The book, and now CD-Rom series, written with Chris Buckton and published by Cambridge University Press, aims to make spelling fun and meaningful for Years 2 to 6.

Searchlights for Spelling arose out of Chris Buckton and Pie Corbett's belief that existing spelling schemes, though worthy, were dull.

"We thought we could put together something much more adaptable and interesting, based on the different ways individual children learn," Corbett explains.

At the heart of the scheme is the idea that children should be encouraged to use their senses to help them to become better spellers. Your eyes help you check whether a word "looks" right, your ears tell you how it sounds when you say it out loud, your hand can be used to write, trace or sky-write the word to see if it feels right, and your brain tells you whether what you've written makes sense.

The programme uses big books with write-onwipe-off pages (Years 2 to 4) and overhead transparencies (Years 5 and 6) for whole-class teaching. These are supported by teachers' books and a range of lively follow-up materials, including pupils' books and masters for photocopying.

There are also four (one for each year group) newly-released CD-Roms, which will be demonstrated throughout the show at the publisher's stand.

Pie Corbett says: "We feel this is a scheme which puts the teacher in charge, because it's easily adaptable to the needs of different groups. For example, some pupils wouldn't need the workbooks and could go straight from a whole-class session to something more creative."

The emphasis is on fun with words: words that sound alike but do not look alike, or look alike but do not sound alike. Each unit is peppered with quick-fire games and challenges called "snip-snaps", and examples of "oddbods" - words such as "sure" that break all the spelling rules.

"It's a scheme which is meant to be used little and often, and always in the context of writing," explains Pie Corbett. "The problem with the old custom of giving children spelling lists is that you tend to lose sight of the main objective of teaching spelling, which is to help children write some good stories."

Pie Corbett is a children's poet and anthologist, as well as a former primary headteacher and English inspector for schools in Gloucestershire.

He will give an illustrated talk about his multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling in the Publishing Village Square of the Education Show at 1pm on Saturday, March 15.

Stand PV310

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