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The Spelling Test Reloaded

Many a Thursday night has been spoiled by having to prepare for the Friday morning spelling test beloved of so many primary schools.

Often the children hate it. The parents hate it. Even the teachers aren’t great fans but, hey, standards…

And, after all that, the words will be a distant memory come the weekend*. 

But it doesn't have to be that way just because it has always been that way. In fact, we think with a bit of creativity, there are plenty of other ways.

We’re not guaranteeing any of the below will work with your class but we do think they’re worth a try when it comes to spicing things up for those darned spelling tests'

      1. In week one, do one word. In week two, do that same word plus an extra one. Week three, do the first two words, plus an extra one. And so on... You get the picture.
      2. Try five spellings a week for KS2 (especially given the expected list for their ages!), plus each week add a new five plus the ones they got wrong the week before. Each half-term end with a re-test of the commonest errors.
      3. Get them to devise a way of colour coordinating the spelling to help them remember the tricky bits.
      4. They work in pairs to learn the words. Just before the test they toss a coin. Whoever wins, gets to sit the test. They both share the mark.
      5. As above but this time number them one or two, everyone sits the test, then tell them afterwards which number was chosen to go down in the book.
      6. Once you have given the test, collect all the papers in and then redistribute them randomly. Make sure there are no names on the papers. The child gets the mark of the anonymous paper they have marked.
      7. Every time a word is written they pass the paper to the next child. Whichever paper they end up with is the score they receive.
      8. As above but roll a dice or use a random number generator and, if it comes up '3' for example, they pass it on three people etc etc...
      9. Get them to choose the words they are learning for themselves.  They can choose two easy ones, two medium ones and two really hard ones.
      10. As above but they choose the words for their partner.
      11. Give them ten words but ask them to learn only the hardest five.
      12. Get them to write the words backwards in the test.
      13. Get them to test you on spellings too, finding words you will struggle with.
      14. Work in table groups in the test using lettercards/Scrabble tiles to spell out the words.
      15. Get them to work in two teams where each member holds a letter card and they have to arrange themselves standing in a line to spell the word.
      16. Turn the words into pictures of the thing the word is describing (‘bed’ is an easy one to do).
      17. Choose the words to learn from the lyrics to a song that is currently high in the charts.
      18. Write the words on the board spelled incorrectly and get them to write them correctly on their papers. (NB Use a pen colour you don’t normally write with and write them low down on the board. When you write them properly, write them in a more usual colour and write them high up. It’s an NLP thing…)
      19. A variation here is to write the challenging bit in a different colour/ larger/ bold e.g.conscious
      20. In table groups write the word a letter at a time, passing one piece of paper around the table as they go. Add extra excitement with a time limit. Add even more excitement with an audible countdown.
      21. This works well verbally too, especially where children are allowed to correct errors made and spell out the word as they go.
      22. Test them not on spelling the word correctly but on the strategies they can come up with to help each other spell the words correctly.
      23. Get them to teach the words to an adult in their life then, in the morning, test the adults.
      24. Give them a test on the Thursday and get them to revise only the words they got wrong for the Friday.
      25. Give them the the list the week before and say 'Here's next week's spellings, how many will you have to do?' Then use the children who know certain words to support their peers.
      26. Let the children say the words aloud, it's how many of them practice anyway.
      27. Provide a sentence with three versions of the word, then get the children to select the correct one.
      28. A variation on the above where the children write the word in a sentence - One mark for the spelling; one for correct understanding. (Great for homophones!)
      29. Test the spellings in PE - which pair can spell a word the fastest, passing a ball at each letter? (This checks real learning -  can they pass and spell simultaneously? Also great for timestables practice!)
      30. Learn the spellings using a 'memory palace' where each door has a word on it with the letters spelled around the room.
      31. Test them on definitions - this can be done by giving the definition and the children spell the correct word, or as a matching exercise on paper or with a partner.
      32. A variation on the above, test the children via definitions in a crossword - extended further, the children can create the crossword themselves.

Enjoy playing with these ideas and let us know if you have any creative approaches yourself and we'll add them to the list.

After all, even when it comes to spelling tests, there is always another way. [ITL]


Check our Mark Creasy's book Independent Thinking on Primary Teaching for more ideas to save you time and hassle.





*Look/Cover/Spell/Forget as it is known... 

To find out more about booking Mark Creasy for your school, college or organisation call us on 01267 211432 or drop us an email on

About the author

Mark Creasy

Mark is a primary and special school teacher who also has experience in secondary - a rare breed. He is the author of Unhomework and Independent Thinking on Primary Teaching and is always full of ideas to help teachers save time and energy as they really stretch their children.

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