You’ve probably heard of rainbow words or rainbow writing as a fun way for students to practice their spelling words. But if you want to use effective methods based on research, you should focus on matching the sounds to their graphemes when practicing spelling words. Rainbow words and rainbow writing just don’t do that.
But you can modify these activities to do Rainbow Sounds instead! Rainbow Sounds helps students orthographically map their spelling words, which is how we learn to read and spell, making it a much more effective spelling activity. Read on to learn more about why you should ditch rainbow words and embrace rainbow sounds.
I have a whole blog post about effective spelling instruction which details teaching methods and activities that follow the science of reading. It also lists out several best methods to have the student practice their spelling words. If you’re looking for more ideas, I suggest you give it a read.
In this post, I am specifically focusing on Rainbow Sounds as an alternative to Rainbow Writing and Rainbow Words (sometimes called rainbow spelling and rainbow sight words).
What is Rainbow Writing?
Rainbow Writing is a fun way to repetitively write words. It’s often used to practice spelling words and sight words. The process is to write the word once in one color, then trace over it in a different color, and repeat this step several times until the word has been written a few times in a few different colors. You can use crayons, colored pencils, or colored pens.
Rainbow writing sight words is a very popular activity and even I used to have my students rainbow write before I knew better.
What Are Rainbow Words?
Rainbow Words can actually mean a few different things. If you search “Rainbow Words” in Google you’ll find quite a few different activities. And, as expected, they all involve rainbow colors.
There is a sight words curriculum called Rainbow Words where words are grouped into 7 colors, similar to how Dolch high-frequency words are grouped by levels. You may have heard another educator or parent talking about “red words” before. This is most likely what they were referring to.
One popular rainbow words activity is similar to Rainbow Writing in that it uses different colors and the words are written several times. But with Rainbow Words, you write a word in the same color several times on a line in a blank rainbow template (as pictured below). You assign each word a color, then write the word in that color several times. It looks like a word filled rainbow.
Another popular method that is also similar to Rainbow Writing is to have students write a word several times in different colors, but instead of tracing it, you write it going down in a column, so it looks like a vertical rainbow pattern.
I’ve also seen where you write each letter in a word in a different color, which is probably the most problematic of these activities.
Regardless of what you call these, I don’t recommend any of them. Instead, I recommend Rainbow Sounds.
What Are Rainbow Sounds?
Rainbow Sounds is a simple and effective activity. Students write each sound in a word in a different color. That’s it!
It’s very easy and focuses on the sounds and spelling instead of memorization. Because some sounds are spelled with more than one letter, it forces students to focus on spelling each sound in a word instead of memorizing a group of letters.
Why Use Rainbow Sounds?
Effective spelling practice should focus on building up students’ orthographic mapping of the spelling words. This means you need to focus on matching the phonemes, or sounds, to their graphemes, or spelling of the sounds.
This looks like phoneme grapheme mapping activities where students segment the word, identify the sounds, then spell out each sound (pictured below).
I don’t recommend Rainbow Writing or any of the Rainbow Words activities because they encourage students to memorize words instead of focusing on decoding and building orthographic mapping.
And that goes for both spelling and sight word activities.
Most ‘sight words’ can be decoded and only have one irregular part that needs to be memorized.
For teaching sight words, or more specifically irregular high frequency words, I recommend the Heart Word Method. With the Heart Word Method, students are taught to segment the word, decode the regular parts of the word, and remember the irregular part ‘by heart’.
Rainbow Sounds Spelling Practice
You can use Rainbow Sounds as a homework activity or at a literacy center. Because it doesn’t require any instruction or teacher input, it makes a great independent activity for students to practice their spelling words.
Rainbow Sounds should be an activity you do as a follow-up after students have worked on mapping out the word.
Remember that effective spelling instruction comes first! And repetitively writing spelling words is not spelling instruction, it’s just practice.
Spelling words should always be explicitly taught before any activities are assigned. Once students know how to break the word into its phonemes, they can practice with rainbow sounds.
You could also use Rainbow Sounds to practice writing out sight words. But I recommend teaching irregular sight words by using the Heart Word Method.
More Effective Spelling Activities
In addition to Rainbow Words, there are more effective spelling activities outlined in Spelling Strategies That Follow the Science of Reading.
Ditch Rainbow Words and Rainbow Writing for Rainbow Sounds for more effective spelling practice that students still find fun.
Want to remember this? Save Rainbow Sounds: Why It’s Better Than Rainbow Words & Rainbow Writing to your favorite Pinterest board!