The Shipley Method

Throw Away That Spelling List: Second Graders Learn to Strategize, Not Memorize

Laura Oeschger

There’s an old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." While there isn’t any fishing happening in Marian Roche’s second grade classroom, she uses the same basic idea in teaching her students the foundational skills for reading and spelling.

“This is not the kind of program where we give them ten words on Monday and they need to know them by Friday,” explains Roche. “Shipley focuses on the process and learning the strategies behind reading and writing. What we’re doing is teaching them concepts, and we’re integrating those concepts into different activities. It is much more authentic.”

The Shipley Method
Roche, and other Shipley Lower School teachers, combine strategies from the well-known Wilson Reading System and other activities to construct an engaging and multi-sensory approach to teach spelling and reading with an emphasis on phonemic awareness; the correlation between sounds and syllables.

Students start small; building on what they learned in first grade about the structure of language. By teaching students the rules and generalizations of the English language, students are able to read more effectively, as they’re able to identify all the parts of the word and ultimately how to sound out or spell the word correctly.

“I’m using it all day in math, social studies, etc.,” explains Roche. “If we’re writing and a student doesn’t know how to spell a word, I’ll say, ‘Wait, can’t we sort that out using what we know?’ It’s so flexible. And at the same time, if we are reading and a student doesn’t know the word, we can put it on the board and use the strategies we’ve learned to sound it out, and they see how it relates.”

A perfect example comes to mind for Roche, who has taught students who came from schools that are using a whole language approach.

“I noticed when the students were reading something; they didn’t have a strategy for figuring out an unknown word, they didn’t have something to hang onto,” says Roche. This approach quickly enhanced the student’s reading skills.

Multi-Sensory Learning
The multi-sensory activities include writing a word on a piece of paper, with textured plastic behind the paper. The bumpy texture that students trace with their fingertip activates gross and fine motor skills and the repetition supports committing the word to memory. A favorite activity among the students is standing up, extending their left arm, and using their right hand to pat each letter of the word on their arm three times. One of Roche’s favorites is chanting or singing the word in a themed voice three times. Her class has mastered a cheerleader, Darth Vader, and an old lady voice.

“It’s very systematic and structured, but it keeps them engaged with what otherwise would be a pretty dry topic,” says Roche. “The students love it. I think it comes alive, they get very into it. They don’t know how much they’re retaining when they’re having so much fun.”

In second grade, we throw away those weekly word lists and teach our students with deeply rooted, and most importantly, fun strategies to inspire our students to learn to love reading and be lifelong learners.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.