"The “Words of Doom” were an addition to our spelling instruction in middle school ELA. They could easily be adjusted or modified for upper elementary classrooms. 

The idea was born from my frustration with students misusing the same words over and over, despite my circling them on their papers when grading. I made thousands of circles simply around the words “there,” “their,” and “they’re” alone. (Don’t get me started on “your” and “you’re”!)  

I found that improvement was rarely made simply by hoping students would notice my circling. I couldn’t find a spelling “program” or idea that addressed this. I also didn’t want the usage of homophones to be a one-time mini-lesson; I wanted the accountability of using common words correctly to be present all year long. 

Each Monday, I would teach a short mini-lesson on one of these words (or word sets). Then I would post the word(s) up on our “Words of Doom” board. I had students keep a running list of these words in their planners. 

For the rest of the year, the students had to spell or use that word correctly. Or, when I handed their work back—no matter what subject, or what assignment—they had to copy the word the same number of times that matched the date on the paper.  So, if it was October 16th, the student would have to write the misused or misspelled word 16 times. (I kept a little notebook on my desk where I recorded the “infractions.”)   

Word of Doom (1)

Despite the old-school nature of copying out the words, the students played it almost like a game.  They loved the gamble of it all—students who misspelled words on the 1st or 2nd of the month would giggle as they handed me their sticky note with the word. Students who were unlucky enough to misuse a word on the 31st of a month would groan and show their friends.   

It was silly—but it created a shared accountability for the usage of the words. I even noticed students getting each other to proofread assignments before handing them in, to make sure there was no “Doom” about to happen. 

Here are the words that ended up on our wall last year. 







a lot





kind of (not "kinda")

going to (not "gonna")

want to (not "wanna")

sort of (not "sorta")





would have (not "would of")






had gone (not "had went")




New call-to-action

Carmel McDonald has taught middle school ELA in both British Columbia and Michigan, and has learned that tweens are tween-ish everywhere. She digs that. In 2019, Carmel was named Jackson Magazine’s Teacher of the Year. Carmel has twenty adventurous years behind her as an educator, and is enjoying year twenty-one.