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Which 'dear'? Teaching word meanings and spellings: homophones in Year 2 at Buxton Infant School

About our school

We are a 2 form entry infant school in Buxton. Our catchment is a mixed one with 25% pupil premium. A significant proportion of pupils enter our Foundation Stage below ARE in Communication, Language & Literacy.  We have a reputation for inclusivity and so have a greater proportion than average of SEND.  We were judged Outstanding by Ofsted in 2011. Our motto is ‘A Smiling Start’ and we aim to ensure that every child is happy to learn and reaches their full potential.


In Year 2, our approach to teaching spelling is underpinned by the No Nonsense Spelling programme. In 2015, we identified a need to explicitly teach spelling and a range of strategies to learn spellings beyond applying phonic choices. At that point we could read our children’s writing easily but lots of words were spelt incorrectly. Staff were trained in the approach and plan sessions using the No Nonsense Spelling handbook in combination with our whole school phonics approach, THRASS.  We chose THRASS because of its emphasis on learning to read and spell sight words implicitly in tandem with explicitly teaching phonic skills. From the very beginning in Foundation Stage our children are taught to spell with letter names. 

We aim to:

- Make sure children understand the meaning of all the words they learn to spell

- Use strategies to help children secure spellings and word meanings in long term memory 

- Develop independence (‘have a go’ spelling)

- Emphasise metacognition: which strategies do you personally find the most effective when learning spellings?

- Ensure that all children use letter names when spelling words

- Encourage ambitious use of vocabulary and create an environment where it's celebrated to ask what a word means.


These clips are from one Year 2 lesson, filmed in November 2018.  All the children in the clip are working at ARE and above for Autumn Year 2 and achieved the expected standard in the Year 1 phonics screening check. In our school, Year 1 and Year 2 run 3 phonics groups each and we do not mix children across year groups. In Year 2, we have this main, larger ‘on track’ group which mainly concentrates on spelling, a second group of 8 children who either just passed the phonics check or narrowly missed the standard and an intervention phonics group of 8 children who did not meet the standard to pass the phonics check.


This session focuses on the homophones dear/deer and the different meanings of these words in different contexts. It then moves on to reading and spelling words using THRASS box 31 (eer/ear) using ‘have a go’ spelling strategies and ensuring that children are clear as to the meaning of the words.

The following commentary has been written by Nic O’Donnell, Lead: Project READ, who filmed the session and edited the clips. 

1. Intro 5 min 55 Sarah asks the children to recall the two ways to spell /eer/. She recaps the meaning of the term ‘homophone’ and relates this understanding specifically to ‘deer’ and ‘dear’. Throughout this introduction, Sarah emphasises learning word meanings and how to use the words alongside spelling the words. 

2. Metacognition 1 min 35 In this clip, Sarah encourages the pupils to make choices about which strategies will help them to spell the focus words.

- Choose a picture to draw to help you remember the word.

- Decide which word is hardest for you to remember and ‘quick-write’ it.

- When you are asked to spell a homophone, always ask for the meaning of the word.

These strategies help to develop pupils’ metacognition.

3. Reading beard/ appear 1 min 52 Firstly, Sarah models using phonics skills to read each unfamiliar word (she sounds out each grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC), using pure sounds, then blends to read). Then, Sarah discusses the meaning of each word with the children. When Sarah spells ‘appear’, she says the letter names as she writes the word. Then, Sarah sounds out each GPC as she blends to read. This teaches the children to use pure sounds (to sound out unfamiliar words) and letter names (to talk about how words are spelt). When a child demonstrates how to use the word ‘appear’ in a sentence, she says, ‘I appeared there’. Sarah acknowledges this as accurate and emphasises, ‘You’ve used appear with the –ed suffix because it’s already happened’. Using the grammatical terminology ‘suffix’ and ‘verb’ makes the most of this incidental opportunity to reinforce prior learning.

In the next three clips, Sarah encourages the children to ‘have a go’ at spelling the word, using the spelling patterns they know. For each word, Sarah also encourages the children to understand the meaning of the word. After the children have had a go, the correct spelling is identified each time.

4. Spelling ‘beard’ In this clip, Sarah emphasises the importance of ‘having a go’.

5. Spelling ‘sneer’ Pupils' comments at the beginning of this clip show that they understand two strategies which can help them spell the word: knowing the meaning of the word and hearing the phonemes.  

6. Spelling ‘sheer’ Sarah explains the meaning of the word first and invites the children to 'have a go' at spelling the word.


Children’s learning Children are able to talk confidently about the meanings of words and are encouraged to use ambitious vocabulary. They also feel comfortable to ask when they don’t understand the meaning of a word. Our spelling standards were our most solid ever last year and all Year 2 children could talk about themselves as ‘spellers’ and discuss the strategies they found most effective to learn new words.

Parents and carers Children now have home spelling books with information on different strategies to use to learn spellings and we reward children each week who have practised their spellings in a different way.

Next steps

As a school, our focus this year is developing children’s vocabulary and the range of strategies we use to teach word meanings. We are also making sure that we continue to promote a range of strategies to teach and learn spellings across all year groups. We are trying to involve parents in this process.


Sarah Bennett, Assistant Head and Year 2 Class teacher for 2 days a week.

Additional information

Are you interested in the No Nonsense Spelling programme for your school? Written by the Babcock LDP Primary Literacy team, No Nonsense Spelling provides sufficient guidance to implement an effective spelling teaching programme from Year 2 to Year 6. It is easy to use, flexible and comprehensive. Contact to enquire about bespoke training opportunities for your school, delivered by Derbyshire's No Nonsense Spelling trainers.

1.Introduction-homophones. Password for all clips: projectread
2.Metacognition-3 strategies
3.Reading 'beard' and 'appear'
4.Spelling 'beard'
5.Spelling 'sneer'
6.Spelling 'sheer'
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