learning to spell contractions: sneaky games and play

We were so thankful for the gorgeous three-day weekend to slowly get us back on track and to allow us to (kind of) regain control over the mess that had become of our home.  After being away last week, the game nights, our movie night, book-reading, errands–even cleaning and organizing with the kids–was really a ton of fun.

And we totally threw in a little bit o’ learning over here, yes we did.  It was sneaky and fun and a natural part of our day.

Maddy is learning about contractions in school, so the ole contractions have been her spelling word focus for the last week or so.  Seriously? Contractions are SO fun! They’re tricky! They’re shortcuts! I love them!

So we did a little bit spelling word play–making the practice of these words as fun as possible–so that she’d learn them as best as she could.  Goodness knows she’ll be using them.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Learning About Contractions Through Sneaky Games and Play:  We spent a whole lot of time outdoors this weekend–one, because our house was a disaster, and two, because it was so beautiful outside.

After we did a little bit of yard work, including taking the Christmas lights down (oh, yes we finally did. . . ), Maddy, Owen, and Cora pulled the chalk out of the garage.  They did a whole lot of drawing, and when I could tell they were about finished, I brought out three cups of water and three paintbrushes.

The kids are huge fans of water painting, both in the summer as a cool-down activity and in the fall or winter to create ‘masterpieces’ that last a teeny while longer.

So I painted with them for a bit, and then I brought out Maddy’s Contraction Words Flash Cards. Instead of making two sets of the same words, I made the contraction and its match: don’t / do not; haven’t / have not, etc.


purple cards: contractions and the words they shorten

She had already completed the Trace, Copy, Recall activity for this list (and here’s the pdf of Contraction Words Trace, Copy, Recall).

I love the Trace, Copy, Recall activity because though it may not be as exciting as other things, it does give Maddy an opportunity to really look at the structure of words, write them, and then immediately check her knowledge. I do think that it should be used as a first activity in conjunction with several other much more fun and much more engaging foll0w-ups.

I said, Okay my little friend. Let’s do some contraction water-painting to see how you know these words, okay? We’ll only do a few.  I’ll flip a card–or you can–and you paint either the contraction or the words that make up the contraction.

I flipped a card over, and she started painting. At first she wanted to paint with a mix of water and chalk–her favorite painting substance–but it was too difficult. So she stuck with water.

She got through most of the list, which I thought was fine–it honestly took only about 10 or so minutes, but it was something.  I threw the cards back in the bag, and she continued her water-artwork.


 Maddy practices spelling the contraction for do not. . .

. . . and she practices some more. . .

. . . and she practices some more.

The cool thing about Maddy practicing her words was that when Owen and Cora saw her, they wanted to spell words also.  Cora started water-painting the names of our family members; Owen tried to spell along with Maddy, learning a bit about contractions on a sunny Monday afternoon.

We also threw in a bit of sneaky spelling word matching during breakfast this week.

The learning is quick–it’s easy–and it’s seriously a great time-filler.  On the (very) rare occasion that we have 2 minutes to spare before we get coats and shoes on and head out of the house, it’s fun to have a little something to work on.

Especially because this spelling list had pairs to match, after breakfast, we all took a few minutes to do some contraction-matching. 

I dumped the bag of Contraction Spelling Words on the table, and I said, We only have a few minutes, but I think we can do it. Do you think we can match up all of the words and the contractions in the five minutes we have before we leave for school? I bet we can. Let’s go!

We all scrambled to separate the cards.

I read them as I went along, and Maddy made some pairs. Owen drove his Mario K’nex car through the cards, but he was still right there with us. Cora called out, I have a pair! I see a pair! through bites of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and it was pretty chaotic. But we managed to match them all up in no time flat.

And we got to school on time. Woot!

These activities are quick. They’re on the fly, they’re unusual because of the medium or because of the time of day we did them. Does this mean that my sweet Maddy is an A-plus speller and that I expect her to have 100% on every test? No. Absolutely not. She struggles with spelling, big time. But it demonstrates to Maddy–and to Owen and Cora–that learning is important.  That learning is fun.  That learning doesn’t always mean pencil and paper, sitting at the table.

And everything that I’ve read about the nature of spelling–and spelling instruction–points in the direction that instruction must be methodical and explicit, meaningful, and multi-sensory.

In fact, Gary Alderman and Susan Green, in “Fostering Lifelong Spellers Through Meaningful Experiences” (The Reading Teacher, May 2011), identify three components of meaningful and challenging spelling instruction:

  1. Students should learn spelling through meaningful writing experiences;
  2. Multi-sensory techniques should be employed so that students can have visual, auditory, and kinesthetic involvement with the words;
  3. Spelling should be taught explicitly so that students understand the logic behind the spelling and not just how to memorize words.

The authors suggest that teachers:

  • Encourage students to use spelling words in real-world writing.
  • Use multi-sensory techniques to make connections with each word.
  • Have students create images to represent words.
  • Use interactive websites that allow students to compete against themselves.
  • Personalize spelling words for each child.
  • Teach high-frequency words that students see in school and at home.
  • Teach word sorts.  (YAY! LOVE them!)

Easier said than done for many of us here at home, but the little things we do–even for 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there–can help support our kiddos’ learning. And it often results in some fun family time as well.  And that’s it!

Check out 20+ Fun Ways to Learn Spelling Words if you need-or want–some other cool ideas, and happy spelling!




  1. Mama Meg says

    Amy- Always love the ideas and how you weave in the research to support them. Had to tell you that about a week ago, when my son was all of a sudden fighting spelling work, I grabbed the window markers you’d talked about awhile ago. All of a sudden he was thrilled to do spelling and we used them all week to practice. Thanks for more new ideas!

    • amy says

      Meg!Thanks so much, my friend–means more than you know. Here’s to many more fun *and sneaky* learning experiences to come! xoxo


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