I am by all accounts one of the worst spellers and grammar truly has no meaning. Nevertheless, I sit in front of my computer screen stressing over red, blue and green lines telling me what I am writing there is something wrong. MS Office has an excellent spell check. Over the years, my spelling and grammar skills have gained in strength. Personally, I feel it is because of two factors. The first is because using the computer allowed me to have greater control over the words I used to express myself. I do not have to worry if my vocabulary is inferior or superior to others because the computers can level the playing field. The second is that I learned from visual examples of well-written work. I did not learn to read for understanding until I was in the 10th grade (16 years old). Before that, I could read the words on the page, but they were just words that cluttered the page. Punctuation was just more characters on the page that danced around. I truly did not learn how to use punctuation until I was out starting my masters. If it were not for peer MODELING and COLLABORATION, I would still struggle with grammar.
Spell checks are wonderful tools however; if you do not know how to spell most often, you cannot guess from a list what word is correct unless you have a strong visual memory. This does not mean that I do not believe in spell check. It means that I believe that the student has to use more than just spell check. I believe a student should be made to feel proud of their "safe" vocabulary. It does not mean, I do not believe that they should not develop a more robust vocabulary. It comes down to giving them tools that allow them to enrich their writing while still playing it in their comfort zone.
Some of the activities that I have my students do is the graveyard spelling. Graveyard spelling is that the students read or listen to their document. They highlight words that often used in student writing (like, angry, mad, big, calm, quiet, said). A list of words commonly used in students writing can be found at http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2BarLP/larae.net/write/synonyms.html . I also have the class generate their own list of words. The students then place these words on a headstone. Around the headstone, we place flowers of synonyms that may replace the word.
http://freethesaurus.net creates a huge list of words on a page. If your students are able to mouse over the words, they get a definition of the word.
Visuwords is very similar to the visual thesaurus. For students with visual impairments it can be difficult to see because of the size of the font. I like how they color code parts of speech and they have a key at the left side of the page to help you understand the linking of the words. http://www.visuwords.com/
I also have students keep a personal dictionary/thesaurus. High tech solutions are lovely and most of the time they are right there for the use. However, there are times that the student needs to use their low-tech methods. We use address books as a dictionary. For some of my students it is a small one no bigger than an index card for others, we use a 3 ring binder. It all depends on the method the student likes and feels comfortable with. I have some students that create an inspiration page with the word and then they use the bubbles to create thesaurus list but also drag a picture to help them remember.
I do not use the spell check feature just when the students are writing. I will often place a document on the desktop that the students are responsible for correcting the spelling. I turn off the spell check in MS Word – turn on the Review tool and allow the students to correct the document. I will purposely misspell words that they are familiar and unfamiliar with.
A tool I use to help create misspellings is the Dumbtionary http://www.dumbtionary.com . You type the word in correctly, and you will get the word misspelled the way a student may misspell it.
Spell checking tools that I like that are free
MS Word and MS Works both of these products have a decent spell check. MS Word definitely has a stronger one that Works.
Google: if you have internet access and you are having a difficult time spelling a word try typing the word into Google. It can correct most words.
you can correct a single word or a document that is no more than 20,000 characters.
http://orangoo.com/spellcheck/ you can correct text by cutting and pasting it into this application. This is great for IM and social networking sites.
Spell checks English, French, Spanish, Italian or German.
http://www.spellcheckanywhere.com/ this is one of the programs that I use. Since I struggle with writing, it is often difficult to write something say in FACEBOOK because it does not have spell check. I can pull this program up to correct my spelling. I also use their Grammar anywhere program. If you use Google Chrome it has a BUILT IN spell check.
not only corrects spelling but also supports grammar correction. It does a descent job correcting grammar and spelling.
This is a game that students can play. The student has to identify the misspelled word and correctly spell the word. This game can be created in PowerPoint, Excel and MS WORD if you wanted to do it with your spelling words.