You need to give this spelling test twice each year, once in the fourth week of school and again four weeks from the end of school. This is a diagnostic test; i.e., the purpose is to find out what kind of speller each child is, and to use that information to build a spelling program for the school year.
The test cannot be given until a pupil has learned to read and write simple words. Any child able to do this, regardless of age or placement in a grade, should be given the test.
For the first test, prepare an envelope on which you have written each child's name and the date of the examination. Give these out at the same time that you provide a blank sheet of lined paper.
Explain that there is to be no talking during the test time; no consultation; no reference to any books, or even to any written work on display in the examining room.
Ask each pupil to put his or her name at the top of the paper and the date.
Then give the following instructions:
This is a spelling test. You are to write on this paper the 10 to 15 words which you know how to spell which you think are the hardest words you have ever learned to spell.
Don't list fewer than 10 words or more than 15.
Don't look up any words, or use words you can see in the room. But list at least 10 words you know by heart which are really tough spelling words.
When you're finished, please don't talk. But fold your paper neatly and put it in the envelope. Do not seal, just tuck the flap in.
Place your envelope on the top of your desk (or table), and wait patiently while everyone has the same quiet time as you did to think of which words he wanted to spell.
After these envelopes are collected, the spelling teacher now has a perfect diagnostic record of each pupil's spelling abilities and interests and can build individual spelling programs culminating in the exam to come near the end of the school year.
This second exam, of course, is a similar test.
You pass out the envelopes and a second clean sheet of lined paper. You mark the envelope with the new exam date and ask the pupils to put their name and present exam date on the clean sheet.
They may not open the envelope until they have completed the new sheet, again putting down no fewer than 10 or more than 15 of their "hardest" spelling words.
When they are through with the new exam, allow them not only to open the envelope, but to look at their own progress. Have them fold the second sheet and add to the envelope.
Presuming a child stays in the same elementary, middle, or junior high school for several years, this spelling record will be invaluable not only to the teacher skilled in diagnostic programming, but to the pupils and their parents as a record of accomplishment .
Next week: Show and Tell.