Spelling doesn’t have to mean Test


UPDATE: Very pleased to announce that this post won the British Council’s Blog of the Month Award for May.

Are bureaucrats dangerous?

I want to tell you about how I adapted my advanced students’ favourite spelling activity for lower levels –all the way down to beginner.  The original activity called Three in a Row is available free on Johanna Stirling’s spelling blog here.  The original version can be challenging – even for teachers. Just try thinking of ‘something dangerous’ with the spelling ‘eau.’  But the activity itself is great, which is why I created the lower level version.


Lower Level  ‘Three in a Row’

Time   45 minutes


  • The board with spelling topics is here. You’ll need 1 per four-six students. I recommend laminating them.
  • You will need 1 coloured pen and paper or a mini-whiteboard per team of 2.
  • For pre-intermediate students you can add vowel dice or cards.

Play   (these rules were created by my students)

  • Students play in teams of two or three with two teams per board.
  • One team chooses a topic square and then the other team chooses a word related to the topic.
  • Both teams try to spell the word without looking at each others’ paper.
  • The team which spells the word correctly wins the square and places a cross in the square. A draw means no one wins.
  • When a team gets three in a row they score 1 point.

*For pre-intermediate students you can add vowel dice to make it more challenging. The word they choose must also contain the vowel thrown.

*I have also played with three teams per board –just add an extra coloured pen.


Is spelling the mother-in-law of language learning?

Both teachers and students have their favourite parts of language learning. Few, when asked say spelling. A little like our relationship with a grumpy old relative – we try to make our visits brief.  Adding to that is the lack of spelling material for EFL students, which leaves us with few options – spelling tests at lower levels, correct writing with an ‘Sp’ code, or just acknowledge that English spelling is difficult and move on.

At Iatefl, I was lucky enough to meet Johanna Stirling, author of Teaching Spelling who was happy for me to post my low-level version. Those of you who regularly borrow her book from my desk won’t need an introduction –you know how good it is. In a few words, this book is the one I had been looking for before it even existed. It contains great photocopiable material along with the theory to back it up. I can definitely say that it has changed the way I incorporate spelling into my lessons. The book includes lots of activities and I know other teachers have their favourites. A real positive for the students is that they no longer associate the word spelling with test.

You can try out the other free resources that Johanna has on her blog but I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy of the book sometime soon. Every staff room should have one.

I’ve added a link to the spelling blog under useful sites because I know you’ll come back looking for it. You’ll also find a slightly less gushing review of the book in the eltgazette.  Laminated copies of both versions can be found above my desk.

If you’ve already got the book and have a favourite activity or can think of any other ways of adapting the Three in a Row game then please share your ideas with us.


5 thoughts on “Spelling doesn’t have to mean Test

  1. Oh, I like your version, Rachel. Another way to play would be to have the spelling patterns on the board, rather than topics.
    And I like the nice things you’ve said about my book too! If anyone does want to buy a copy, it’s usually cheapest for you to buy it from my blog, linked to in first para above.
    Thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Ann,

      Just finished playing this with my elementary students. I find pairing a stronger speller with a weaker one works really well. It was great to see lots of encouraging peer support.



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