No More Spelling Tests: How to Assess Spelling Patterns with Phonics and Sentence Dictation

 When I first began my teaching career, I taught at a Reading First school.  Reading First was a federal education program that stemmed from the No Child Left Behind Act.  If your school was awarded the grant, you were required to use only scientifically based reading practices in your instruction.  The quality of professional development we received on reading instruction was invaluable.  Our instruction focused on the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and reading fluency.  This month on the blog, I am focusing on the phonics component, including some practices I have used over the years in my classroom.

I recently shared some of my phonics must haves here on the blog, but today I want to focus on assessing spelling patterns in phonics.  We used phonics and sentence dictation tests as our assessments each week for encoding those new spelling patterns.  I learned all about this during one of the Reading First professional development sessions we attended at our school years ago.  In this post, I will share how to conduct a phonics and sentence dictation test, as well as a link to a FREE copy of our phonics dictation test, along with a copy of our phoneme grapheme paper for practice leading up to the test.

Phonics dictation takes the place of the spelling tests we did for so long.  The ones where we gave students a list of words that followed that week's spelling pattern, but instead of students learning the spelling pattern, they were memorizing the words.  That's not really assessing their mastery of the skill.  We want to give students new words that follow the spelling pattern to see whether or not they can apply that knowledge to those new words.  

In our weekly classroom newsletter, we tell parents what spelling pattern we are practicing for the week, but we do not give them the list of words.  Because we all know what would happen:  they would memorize the words.  

Phonics Dictation Test:  How it Works

For the phonics dictation test, come up with ten words that follow the spelling patterns you want to assess.  These are the patterns we learned throughout the week, such as short and long u spelled with silent e.  Make sure the words you choose only contain spelling patterns you have already covered.  For example, if you haven't taught digraphs yet, the words should not contain any.  

Here is an example of a list I might use.  Be sure to mix up the spelling patterns when you call the words.


You can use the free phonics dictation test or you can just use handwriting paper cut in half.  If you use mine, you can print the sentence dictation on the back.  

Call the words one at a time.  You can see an example below of how I call each word.  I have students echo me.  At the beginning of the year, I do have them finger stretch the sounds in the word with me just to get them accustomed to taking the test.  We also go over the difference between upper and lowercase letters.  I do expect them to use only lowercase within the words, unless it is a proper noun.

Teacher: dune
Students: dune
Teacher: dune
Students: dune

Continue throughout the list.  I always go back over the words one more time more quickly to allow students to check their work.  This is also when I ask if they need any repeated.  I then have them flip their paper over for the sentence dictation.

Sentence Dictation 

The sentence dictation will include words that follow the same spelling patterns along with high frequency words that have already been introduced.  I read the sentence aloud and students write the sentence on their papers.

The most difficult part of sentence dictation is creating a sentence that makes sense using words that follow the spelling pattern.  You can see an example below using short and long u words.  I like to make the sentence so that it has about 10 components that I can grade, including spelling patterns, high frequency words, capitalization, and punctuation.  You can adjust that number depending on your grade level and student needs.  

When giving the student dictation, I ALWAYS follow the same format.  The presenter who taught us this method told us to be very strict with the format when administering the sentence dictation.  

Have students rest their pencil as you read the sentence aloud.  It's important they only listen at first.

Teacher:  The cute duck got in the tub from the mud. 
Teacher: The cute duck got in the tub from the mud. 
Students repeat: The cute duck got in the tub from the mud. 

Teacher: The cute duck got in the tub from the mud. 
Students repeat: The cute duck got in the tub from the mud. 

Have students pick up their pencils.  I read the sentence one more time, and they write.  

Once the group is finished, I have them check.  I read the sentence once last time chorally with the students.  They touch each word as they read the sentence with me.  This allows them to check for any missed words or errors.

Take up their papers.  You can then write the sentence on the board for them, so that they can get immediate feedback on how they did.

Grading the Sentence Dictation

For the example above, I would grade it out of ten.  One point each for the words with the spelling patterns (cute, duck, tub, mud), one point each for the high frequency words (the, in, from, the), and one point each for the capitalization and punctuation.  So, there are two separate grades: one for the phonics dictation and one for the sentence dictation.

You can get this FREEBIE by just entering your e-mail in the pop up window that pops up on this post.  There is also a free copy of the phoneme grapheme mapping paper that I use to help students practice phonics and sentence dictation throughout the week.  I use this during small group instruction.  I hope you found this post and these phonics resources helpful.  Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about phonics or sentence dictation!

You can read more about my phonics instruction in THIS POST.  I cover some of my must-have phonics resources and tools!

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