Save the Endangered WORDS!

By Carol Barnier


What’s up with all that? Is this a rare Aztec dialect? Has my computer contracted a virus that reveals only two out of every five letters in a word? Perhaps I just missed hitting the home keys when I placed my fingers on the keyboard.

Oh, no, good parents. Nothing so accidental as that. This … is text speak. And if you’ve chanced upon any messages written in current text-messaging lingo, this is exactly what you would find. In fact, these are but a few of literally hundreds of acronyms permeating the writing amongst texters. I’ve passed these citizens of Text-topia in the mall, on the sidewalk, and at McDonald’s, their faces bent over a small, glowing electronic box, their agile and overly muscular thumbs flying. They seem held in a trance, pressed nose-down over this box by some hypnotic force . . . till they apparently see something that strikes them as amusing. Then they suddenly snort over the box, glance up to see if anyone witnessed the snort, wipe away residual emissions of above-said snort, and send their thumbs flying yet again into a new, blinding speed-round of response. Then, slowly, their bodies curl back down, resuming the trance stance.

All of this brings me to a surprising place—spelling—a subject about which my opinion has recently (and radically) changed. Not too long ago I advised a more relaxed approach to spelling. “Don’t worry too much about spelling,” I soothingly intoned. “The inclusion of excellent spell-checkers found in most word-processing software has virtually eliminated the need to memorize lengthy spelling lists and complicated rules. Take a big, cleansing breath.” To which my old high school English teacher most certainly would have responded, “Gadzooks!” or some such thing.

I still maintain that there was a bit of wisdom in my previous approach. After all, learning to type and edit is probably equally as valuable a skill in today’s technological age as is knowing how to spell. Communication is really the point of it all, right? And if spelling is basically taken care of by modern devices, so be it. We can focus on other things such as word choice, punctuation, even… dare I say it… coherent thought! But that was before. That was yesterday. That was when I thought we were still talking about at least using words. That was before text-speak.

I’ve tried to give these texters the benefit of the doubt. After all, every generation seems to have its own “codes.” At one point, the hottest item in a Cracker Jack box was a decoder ring. Pig Latin was big in my day. Oo-yay oo-tay? And frankly, if we look at Shakespeare’s words today, they can certainly seem like code: “You churlish fly-bitten, onion-eyed moldwarp!” See what I mean? Every generation loves to have some fresh lingo that sets it apart from the previous generation. But at least up till now, all such lingo was actually words… you could spell… and even read. What a concept.

So I’ve begun a revolt. Words may soon be on the "Endangered!" list, along with entries such as "Spotted Owl" and "Amami Tip-Nosed Frog." Join me in the radical belief that little Reginald should not only know that ROTFLOL should be replaced with actual words (i.e., “rolling on the floor laughing out loud”) but also that he should know how to spell those same words. Get ready, Reginald. “Laffing out lowd” will no longer be tolerated. Save the baby words! Yank them back from the endangered list. Dig out that spelling curriculum you once set aside.

Now the fun begins, because children learn spelling in different ways. Some of them simply need to see the word. (Bless them.) They are so visually oriented that once they’ve taken a mental snapshot of a word, they can tell if it’s misspelled simply by how it looks. This is wonderful. And easy. If you have a visual learner, learning how to spell will be a fairly straightforward task.

The problem comes when you have a child who processes information via another learning style, for example, the child who couldn’t possibly take a mental snapshot of the word because that would require he sit still for more than three seconds at a time. Or how about the child who is an auditory learner, who not only needs to hear the word, but needs it to come out of his own mouth? Then there’s the child who must physically be in motion for his brain to be able to successfully process new information. For these kids, you’re going to need different approaches.

What do you do then?

You step outside the box. You add to the lesson some activities that connect with this child’s primary learning style. And if you’re not sure what those are, just try several different things till one of them works. Things like …

  • Toss It Spelling. You toss a beanbag back and forth. With each throw, you say out loud the next letter of the chosen spelling word. Once you’ve spelled it correctly, do it again with the alternate person starting.
  • Use Scrabble game tiles to practice spelling words. For some kids, simply getting the pencils out of their hands frees up their brains.
  • If your child regularly misses a particular letter combination in words (such as the gh in fight, might, right), have him copy them as usual, but make the GH large, overemphasized. Then box in these letters with colored markers.
  • Spell the word over and over out loud until a rhythm or pattern of sorts develops. (Quick—think about how you learned to spell Mississippi.)
  • Fill a large ziplock bag with a small amount of shaving cream, seal it, and then “write” words (correctly spelled, of course) on the bag, using your finger instead of a marker.
  • Use the sign language alphabet to practice spelling.
  • Look for a mnemonic device to aid in learning. Can’t remember the spelling differences between here and hear? Remember that you hear with your ear. How about remembering the spelling of accommodation? Is that one c or two? One m or two? Teach your student that there is a lovely hotel which provides accommodations of two cots (cc) and two mattresses (mm).
  • Say the word, overemphasizing a letter that is often forgotten, such as the last e in extremely. Your child says “ex-treem-E-lee” several times until that wily, slippery e is firmly established in his auditory memory.

If your child doesn’t learn by means of a traditional approach, take heart; there are many ways to teach a child who learns atypically. So, America, <cue patriotic music, envision unfurling flag> let’s take back endangered words! Let’s return to the values of yesteryear when Grandma made cookies, milk was delivered to your door, and teachers cared about spelling. (As long as we don’t return to weekly dusting, I’m really good with this.) Not only will Reginald one day thank you, but he’ll also be able to spell “thank you” on the card he sends. What a concept.

The ideas in this article are just some of many in Carol’s newest book, The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles. Join Carol’s free online coaching community for parents with highly distractible kids at http://www.sizzlebop.com/. Or check out http://www.carolbarnier.com/.

*And just in case you’re wondering, AWLTP means “avoiding work like the plague,” BTDT means “been there; done that,” RB@Y means “right back at ya,” TAW means “teachers are watching,” TLITBC means “that’s life in the big city,” and finally, DBEYR means “don’t believe everything you read” (as if these texters could still read—pshaw!).

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at theoldschoolhouse.com.

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