Teaching Spelling in 3rd Grade: Best Ways to Make it Fun

Updated November 24, 2020
spelling blocks third grade
    spelling blocks third grade
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By 3rd grade, students are moving away from techniques like invented spelling and phonetic spelling. They should know how to spell high-frequency words, spelling list words and unfamiliar words with a variety of different techniques — and those techniques can be fun! Keep reading for the best ways to teach spelling in 3rd grade.

Crazy Words: Adding Suffixes

According to the 3rd grade Common Core state standards in language, 3rd graders should know how to spell words when adding a suffix. This requires a solid understanding of base words and verb tenses. Try out this activity to help 3rd graders properly add suffixes to different words.

  1. On the whiteboard or with a projector, write two columns of words: one list of base words and another list of suffixes. (Focus on verbs for struggling readers, and add adjectives for more advanced learners.)
  2. Go through a few words to see which suffixes go with which words. For example: can you make a word from "happy" and "ed?" What about "run" and "ness?"
  3. Have volunteers put the correct suffixes with their nouns.
  4. Divide the class into small groups or partners.
  5. Invite students to make up their own nonsense words with nouns and suffixes — the crazier, the better!
  6. Clarify that they need to follow suffix spelling rules. List the rules on the board if needed (changing "y" to "i," doubling consonants, etc.)
  7. Give students ten minutes or so to come up with their crazy words.
  8. Share the words with the class. For extra practice, assign homework for students to write a story with at least five of their crazy words.

Rainbow Writing: High-Frequency Words

Many teachers assume that 3rd graders enter their classroom with grade-level spelling skills, but often that's just not the case. Help them memorize spelling rules for high-frequency words with rainbow writing, which is pretty enough for students to forget to be bored!

  1. Pass out this week's spelling list with 3rd grade high-frequency words.
  2. Have students rewrite the first word in red marker, colored pencil or crayon.
  3. Tell students to trace over their red letters in orange.
  4. Then, they trace over the orange with yellow, then green, then blue, then purple.
  5. When they finish the first word, they can move on to the second, then move down the list until their entire spelling list is rainbow.
  6. Alternatively, if you're trying to get them to memorize letter order, have them use different colors for each letter in rainbow order, then trace over each letter again with the correct color.

Board Races: Word Families

If 3rd graders are struggling with spelling, they may not have internalized important word families. Put their skills to the test with a fun board race!

  1. Split the class into two groups.
  2. Have one student from each group approach the board.
  3. Write part of a word from a word family (for example, "ight" or "ine").
  4. Each student writes a word from that family as fast as they can.
  5. They run back and hand the marker to a teammate, who runs back up to the board.
  6. The second student writes another word on the board and passes the pen to the next person.
  7. The race continues until each team is out of words.
  8. Give one point per word to each team.
  9. Start again with another word family.

Letter Tiles: Position-Based Spelling

The 3rd grade Common Core standards includes position-based spelling, such as "'i' before 'e' except after 'c'" as one of the rules students should know this year. Using letter tiles is a fun and effective way for students to remember the order of the letters in a word.

  1. Create a set of letter tiles for each student or pair of students. Consonants should be one color, vowels should be another. (For struggling readers, you can include consonant blends as well.)
  2. Form a list of words with tricky position-based spelling (such as niece and ceiling).
  3. Read the first word on the list.
  4. Have students work individually or in pairs to spell the word with their tiles.
  5. Give a point to teams that spelled the word correctly.
  6. Write the correct spelling on the board and allow students to correct their words if needed.
  7. Repeat the steps with each word on the list.

Keep the Beat: Syllable Patterns

Learning syllable patterns isn't just for poetry lessons! Third graders can improve their spelling by paying attention to various syllable patterns. Bring in some percussive instruments to go over this important skill.

  1. Pass out drums, tamborines, shakers, or other instruments (or just have 3rd graders use their desks as a drum).
  2. Using your 3rd grade spelling list, write the first word on the board.
  3. Sound out the word. For example, understand becomes "un-der-stand."
  4. Lead the class in a chant in which they say the syllables over and over, and keep the beat on their instruments.
  5. Underline the syllables on the board as they say them.
  6. Move on to the next word and move down the list.

Dictionary Games: Using Reference Materials

By 3rd grade, students should be able to use reference materials to check the correct spelling of a word. Teach 3rd graders how to use a dictionary with dictionary mysteries!

  1. Pass out enough dictionaries for each student or small groups of students to use.
  2. Create a list of commonly misspelled words in English. Misspell all of them on the list.
  3. Have students look up each word and write the correct spelling next to the misspelled version.
  4. The first group that finishes all the words correctly wins!

Other Focus Areas for 3rd Grade Spelling

Once your students have mastered the 3rd grade Common Core spelling expectations, review some of the spelling basics they might need. Here are some tips on various spelling rules that you can reinforce in the 3rd grade classroom.

A Why for Every Wherefore

"Y" is a consonant that behaves like a vowel, and when words ending in "y" are pluralized, the "y" almost always turns into "ies." Also, "y" can sound totally different depending on the word it's in. "Why" is different from "every" and "rhythm" is different from "spray." Include lots of "y" words in your spelling lists to focus on this skill.

Double Down on Double Consonants

Usually, double consonants appear after a short vowel sound, like in bubble and balloon. Unfortunately, it's one of those spelling tricks that are easy to miss on a test, so if your 3rd grader is ramping up for a spelling test, make sure they slow down when they come to double consonants. Some students find it easier to spell a word like pretty in their heads like "P-R-E-double T-Y." Whichever way your 3rd grader feels more comfortable with, roll with it.


Long and Short of It

Long and short vowel words are extremely difficult to keep straight sometimes. Here's one rule of thumb that might help: to make a long sound, vowels often need help from other vowels. The "o" in not is short, and the "o" in note is long. Note has a silent "e" at the end of it that affects the sound of the "o." Include a variety of words with different vowel sounds in your spelling lesson.

Compound Interest

One of the greatest strengths of English is its ability to create compound words. If a father is grand, English-speakers call him a grandfather. If you want to talk about work you do at home, you say homework. Add lots of compound words to your spelling lists and encourage students to identify compound words in their reading.

Fun With Homophones

Homophones are some of the most fun and confusing things in any language, but especially English. There, their and they're are important to learn because they, like all other homophones, will not show up in a software spellcheck. The only way to catch them is to know them. Reinforce the difference between pairs of homophones with daily warm-up activities.

Flashcards: Key Tool to Teach Spelling Words

Because spelling skills are about memory, flashcards are a great tool for any spelling lesson. You can make them yourself (or better yet, have 3rd graders make them) with these blank flashcard templates. Encourage students to practice at home with parents, in free time with peers and all together in class spelling activities.

Spelling Can Be F-U-N!

After trying out these techniques, your 3rd graders will be better spellers than ever. But that doesn't have to be the end of the lesson! Try out these spelling word games to reinforce important elementary spelling concepts. Or, if you're ready to move on to word meanings, try out some 3rd grade vocabulary and game ideas in the classroom.