Teaching Spelling a Hundred Years Ago

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, November 15, 1914: <<no entry>>

School where Ruth taught. (The building is now a house.)
School where Ruth taught. (The building is now a house.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sometimes I try to imagine what the various members of the Muffly family were doing on a typical evening. Since Grandma’s sister Ruth was a teacher at a one-room school house, I picture her sitting at the kitchen table grading schoolwork and planning lessons.

Ruth Muffly
Ruth Muffly

Since Grandma didn’t write anything a hundred years ago today, I thought you might enjoy these 1914 suggestions about how to teach spelling.

Selection of Words

The words selected for spelling are words chosen from the children’s experience in school and out. They are words in his spoken vocabulary. Such words are the names of common things, as table, chair, stool, window, etc.; they are everyday words, as which, what, when, where, etc.; they are the words found in other lessons; they are the words having a common element, as lake, make, etc.

Motive is given to the spelling lesson when the child wants to tell something in written form but cannot until he first learns how to spell and write the words.

The Prepared Spelling Lesson

There are different types of children in every school. Some are eye-minded, some are ear-minded, some are muscular-minded, and still others are vocal-minded. The more factors called into play in the mastery of a word the more quickly will that word be learned.

Following is a form of assignment for the study and preparation for the hard words of a lesson, keeping mind the different types of children.

  1. One of the difficult words is written slowly on the board by the teacher and pronounced distinctly.
  2. It is then put in a sentence so as to make clear its meaning.
  3. The attention of the children is directed to the difficult part of the word, as in the word “receive” the “ei,” whether “e” or “i” follows the “c.”.
  4. The children then write the word slowly and pronounce it clearly.
  5. Then the children close their eyes and see the words with eyes closed.
  6. After this the word is spelled orally several times.
  7. The whole list of words is now gone over after the careful study of one or two hard ones.
  8. Period of silent study: Each child is directed to spend time and attention up the words difficult for him.
  9. Time is then given to written spelling.

At least twice a week the teacher examines at first hand the papers of children. On the other days children examine their own papers or the papers of other children.

Ladies Home Journal (February, 1914)

23 thoughts on “Teaching Spelling a Hundred Years Ago

    1. My husband is better speller than I am. He says that he knows how to spell words because he can see them in his head. I wonder if he had a teacher who used this technique at some point in this schooling.

    1. I wonder how much time is spent on spelling instruction in schools now. With spell check,and other modern technology, knowing how to spell words seems a little less important than it once was.

    1. The picture that is part of this post is a recent picture of the one-room school house where her sister taught. The house she lived in when she wrote this diary still exists and is the white house in the header.

    1. Yes, I bet that you are right. I can remember often having spelling bees on Friday afternoon when I was in third grade. I think that the teacher considered them a fun way to end the week.

  1. Sometimes, the simplest explanation is the best. I really liked this, because it’s so true: “There are different types of children in every school. Some are eye-minded, some are ear-minded, some are muscular-minded, and still others are vocal-minded.” Accepting children as individuals, with different ways of leaning, still is best.

    1. The description of different kinds of learners in this old article reminded me of how I learned about different kinds of learning styles when I was in college (visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic llearners, etc.).

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