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Using Google Keep for Personalized Spelling Lists

6/21/21 Update: To see my new solution for personalized spelling lists, see my blog post on TAG.

Early on in my career as an English teacher I read ‘Lessons the Change Writers’ by Nancie Atwell. One of the main ideas I took away from it was her "Weekly Words" spelling lists. Her idea is that students should be creating their own customized spelling lists based on the words they are actually misspelling in their work, rather than being sorted into ability groups and given lists that might not be relevant for appropriate for them.

The students are suppose to carry around a Weekly Words list with them to all their classes, and when they misspell a word in history or science or anytime, they can get out their list and record it. Then, once a week, they would do a partner spelling quiz where their partner would choose 10 words to quiz them on from their own personalized list.

I love the idea. When I was a student I struggled with spelling, and was so embarrassed to always be sorted into the lowest spelling group. Plus, I labeled myself as a bad speller and I think I created a mental block from learning it. All that is to say, personalized spelling lists make so much sense to me - in theory.

Here are the problems I had with it in practice:

  1. The students didn’t actually bring the paper list around with them and record words they were misspelling. Instead, they would frantically find any words to jot down before the quiz or before I checked their lists, defeating the entire purpose of customized lists.

  2. The students were suppose to look up the correct spelling of the word before they added it to their list, but occasionally they were misspelling words on their personal lists, not only defeating the purpose of learning to spell, but it was actually teaching them how to spell incorrectly.

Because of this, I ended up checking each list at the beginning of the week to make sure my students had written down words and they were spelled correctly. With 200 students, it created so much more work for me, and even though I loved the idea of personalized spelling lists, I eventually had to ditch the system.

That brings me to Google Keep. I am going to take a little tangent from spelling for a moment just to gush about Google Keep. I never thought I needed a new note taking tool until I started to use Keep. It’s simple and colorful, you can use check boxes and share notes with other users, add links, color coordinate, and much more. If you are a Google user, but haven’t discovered Keep yet, definitely check it out.

But the one feature of Keep that will tie back in to our personalized spelling list is its ability to integrate with Google Docs, Gmail and Calendar.

You might have noticed this little sidebar appear on your core Google tools.

If you click the Keep icon, all your little sticky notes will appear as a sidebar. Not only can you add notes to Keep while you organize your calendar dates or Drive, write emails, or work on projects. But by highlighting text and right clicking, you can instantly copy/paste to (or from) Google Keep.

My colleague from EdTechTeam UK, Andy Caffrey, told me about one brilliant school who is using Keep in their school as personalized spelling lists for students. How it works is when the student is working on a Google Doc (or writing an email in Gmail) and they get the red squiggly line indicating that they’ve spelled a word incorrectly, the student first uses their spell check tool to correct the word, THEN they highlight the word and right click “Save to Keep.”

Keep stores that word as a note, and all the words together make up the student’s personalized spelling list in Google Keep, easily accessible and viewable whenever that students is online.

Google Keep Personalized Spelling Lists

Step 1: Identify a misspelled word.

Step 2: Use spell check (or another tool) to correct the spelling.

Step 3: Highlight the correctly spelled word, right click, and select "Save to Keep."

Step 4: See the word appear in your Google Keep personalized spelling list in the sidebar!

If I were using this in the classroom, I would probably still do a weekly word check and partner spelling quiz with these words, but with more confidence that the system was being used correctly. I would also consider having the students enter their misspelled words in a Google Form to try and assess trends in misspellings, and perhaps come up with lessons, or assessments for the whole class based on our most commonly misspelled words.

I imagine the teacher would need to provide plenty of reminders on the front end of this practice to get students to adopt it as a habit, and I would absolutely encourage teachers across all subjects within your school to use this with their students. The English teacher may be the one responsible for checking words and organizing assessments for the personalized spelling lists, but chances are students are writing (and misspelling) in their history, science, and social studies classes as well.

Therefore, we are encouraging teaching English across the curriculum, using a cool tech tool, and teaching students the habit of self-assessing their spelling knowledge - which could serve them long after they leave the classroom.

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