Friday, April 29, 2011

Spelling City aims to make learning spelling and vocabulary fun

     Let's face it, teachers and students generally don't get excited about learning spelling. Most teachers I know don't really want to teach it or really see the point of devoting much class time to it. And students don't get excited about it either. 

     As an inquiry based school, we have tried to find better ways to incorporate spelling into our curriculum. We decided to go with a program called Words Their Way Way which focuses on the concept of sorting. However, as innovative as this approach tries to be, students start to get tired of sorting activities after doing it week after week. 

I heard of Spelling City from a parent of a previous student who was using it to help her improve in my class. She claimed that her daughter really enjoyed the site and it was helping her to become a better speller. I decided to give it a try with my class and a few classes in our school have decided to purchase a premium account. 

What is spelling City? 

Spelling City (now called Vocabulary and spelling city) aims to  make learning spelling and vocabulary "fun". With a variety of activities for students to choose from, there is less chance of students getting bored with doing the same thing each week.
Although you can can use the site for free, it really makes sense to get a premium account for your class so that you can create and manage your own lists and monitor the progress of students. There are also tons of word lists already available to choose from, but we try to include words from the Words Their Way program and assign different lists to different spelling groups. It helps complement the word sorting activities by giving students more options for practice as well as the ability to take quizzes online, at their own pace. 

According to the website, here are the major benefits: 

How do I sign up and manage my account? 

    The site has different options beyond the basic free version but a class account for thirty students costs $50 for a year. 

     With a premium account, teachers can create their own lists and assign them to different groups if they wish. They can also find an import other lists, either from those available on the site or from other teachers. In our grade, for example, one teacher makes the word lists for the week and the other teachers import them without needing to create the lists more than once. When you add your words, you will be able to choose which word meaning you wish to add if a word has more than one possible meaning. If your word is not in the database, you can add it yourself along with the meaning. 

     Students can login with their teacher created usernames and passwords and are given a variety of options for spelling and vocabulary practice. 

     Students may want to start with the teach me button which reads out the words and spells them out. Many students prefer to start directly with the play a game option, which provides them with several games to choose from. Once ready, students can click on the spelling test or vocabulary test buttons and take the test (which can be done as many times as they wish). Teachers will have access to the results for each student and have access to a printable gradebook. 

     When students take the spelling test, they can hear the word in a natural female voice and can also choose to hear the word in a sentence. The vocabulary tests are great for teaching words in context and parts of speech. 

     There are also additional features of the site such as the ability to print handwriting practice for the words. Although  I have not personally assigned these, students could choose to do at home. 

Is it worth getting? 

     Overall, I would say that Spelling City is a great resource for the price. Students appreciate having access to a site which makes spelling and vocabulary more enjoyable to learn and teachers can save time by having access to spelling lists and not having to manually grade spelling quizzes. 
The one problem which we have encountered is that the site appears to be very slow when several students are using it at the same time. Although I am not certain that this is the site itself, it appears to be the case. Another concern I had which I informed the company of, was that Google Ads were appearing on the site even after I upgraded to the premium membership. This seems to have been fixed and I have not seen these ads recently. 
Since the games are mostly Flash based, it appears that most of the site will not work on devices like the Ipad. According to the site's forum, they are working on addressing this. 

     If you need to teaching spelling and vocabulary and need a way to do it that engages students, Spelling City is definitely worth looking into.