I had the pleasure of working virtually with the family of a 7-year-old over the past week, introducing them to Spelling to Communicate and giving them all the information they needed before their first session. One of the things that I will often talk to families about what we call “Littles” in S2C is taking a book*, and turning it into a lesson. Instead of having this conversation over and over again, it would be wonderful to share the information in written form, so the idea for this blog was born. I hope many will find it useful as you begin this journey for your little one!
*Just a note: books for ALL ages can be turned into lessons; however, in this lesson, I will focus on specific question types for new spellers!
When I went into my daughter’s room to find a book, one of my favorite books from my childhood popped out at me, so today, we will be taking the first several pages of The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss and turning it into a lesson.
I do encourage you to take some time BEFORE you sit down with your speller to come up with your questions, which will help support your regulation as you get on the letterboard with your new speller! You can write these down on a Post-It Note and stick them to the pages, so you’re ready to go when you get there! Having your questions prepared ahead of time means you have one less thing to worry about and more mental energy to focus on all the other ways you’ll support your speller as they begin the acquisition phase of S2C.
Let’s take a look at the first page of the book…
The first thing you want to do is identify your keywords. Keywords are used to emphasize and explain important information you are teaching, and I’m usually going to spell more words to someone who is younger. Keywords include main idea words, hard-to-spell words, new vocabulary, names of people and places, and numbers and dates. Here, I would make the following words keywords, write them down on my keyword sheet and spell them aloud as I went. Aiming for 3 – 6 keywords per chunk or page is a good number!
STAR BELLY SNEETCHES
THARS (I might point out this was incorrectly spelled for the rhyme!)
The next thing I would do for a BRAND new speller who was just having their FIRST lesson is to identify a couple of SPELL WORDS and tell them the words to spell. Here, I might have them spell STARS and PLAIN.
From there, I want to move to KNOWN questions (with only one possible answer) so that my speller is thinking about that answer because THINKING and DOING are crucial to making the motor of accurately poking at letters automatic, and from then on, I would only do SPELL words for regulation, or as a brief warm up. For more information, see my blog on CRP best practices which talks about SPELL words.
Now my challenge is to come up with questions where there is only one possible way to answer. I have to know which board to hold when we are on the 3 boards, and there cannot be any confusion about what word or answer I am looking for. Fill-in-the-blank works great if you are unsure! For this first page, here are some possible KNOWN questions that I could ask.
What kind of creatures are we talking about? SNEETCHES
The stars weren’t big; they were really so _____. SMALL
How do they spell “theirs” in the story to rhyme with stars? THARS
You could do one question per page, or more, depending on your speller’s stamina and their need for motor breaks! I often find shorter chunks of information with fewer questions work well with my younger spellers, so feel free to play around with this and see what works best with your speller!
Now on to the next page!
Here, my KEYWORDS could be as follows.
BRAG, BEACHES, SNOOTS, SNIFF, SNORT
And some possible KNOWN questions could be…
The Star-Belly Sneetches would ____ that they were the best. BRAG
They put their what up in the air? SNOOTS
The Sneetches would sniff and do what else? SNORT
They would hike right past the Plain-Belly Sneetches without even doing what? TALKING
On to page 3!
Here, I think that CHILDREN and BELLIES would be good keywords, and I could ask the following KNOWN questions.
What game were the Star-Belly Sneetches playing? BALL
They could only play if there were stars on their what? BELLIES
The Plain-Belly ______ had none upon thars. CHILDREN
One more page? I have to admit that I’m likely to read the rest of the book on my own after I’m done writing because it has been way too long since my own daughter asked me to read this one to her, and it truly was a favorite!
We’ve got some great keywords on this page! FRANKFURTER ROASTS, PICNIC, MARSHMALLOW TOASTS, INVITED, and TREATED would be my choices! I might take the time to explain that a frankfurter was another word for a hot dog, we don’t hear that word thrown around very much these days, and definitions can be important! When we are reading a book, we can stop and look it up in the dictionary, so feel free to insert some definitions if you think it might be a new word for your speller. You’ll see this done in our written S2C lessons all the time!
With this page, you have the chance to push for some longer responses and start to work on building stamina!
What kind of roasts were the Star-Belly Sneetches having? FRANKFURTER
What treat were they toasting? MARSHMALLOWS
They never _____ the Plain-Belly Sneetches. INVITED
I won’t keep going but will let you in on a little secret. SYLVESTER MONKEY MCBEAN (keyword) shows up, and he puts stars on all of the Plain Belly Sneetches at the price of $3 each. The still snooty original Star-Belly Sneetches get a little miffed because they STILL think they are better, and now they can’t tell themselves apart from the rest of the Sneetches, so Sylvester charges them a whopping $10 to get their stars removed. The former Plain-Belly Sneetches, now sporting stars felt a little cheated, so they began what then became an all-day backwards and forwards star application and star-removal for ALL of the Sneetches involved in this unfortunate popularity contest…and at the end of it, NO ONE KNOWS WHO WAS WHAT anymore! McBean drove off with his huge pile of money, and The Sneetches learned an important lesson. They decided that Sneetches are Sneetches – and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches. And what do you know…we’ve got a metaphor there for communication methods and speakers and nonspeakers, don’t we?
26 letters are all you need, no matter how you use them.
Kelly began working with individuals with complex communication and sensory-motor differences in 2019 as a Spelling to Communicate Practitioner at Growing Kids Therapy Center, where she also teaches the Parent Cohort for families of new spellers. In addition to her work at Growing Kids, Kelly is a member of the Leadership Cadre at the International Association for Spelling as Communication. Four decades after reading The Sneetches for the first time, she finds the message all the more meaningful.