Preface: In this article you will find a variety of fun and engaging ways to implement research-based spelling strategies such as teaching phonemic awareness, (a strategy to help students understand letter-sound correspondence and the individual parts that make up words) and morphological awareness (understanding/recognizing similar chunks in words, word families, and word parts), utilizing the whole-word approach (memorizing the spelling of a word without needing to understand the individual parts that make up the word), utilizing the rule-based strategy (teaching explicit spelling rules), and implementing multi-modal teaching, which allows students to learn information through a variety of modes (e.g., seeing, feeling, hearing, creating).
Keep in Mind that the strategies in this article are recommendations. Please do not try to pressure a child into using all or any of these strategies. This can lead to frustration which can turn your child off to spelling practice. Every child is different and you have to examine his/her level and frustration tolerance when imposing academic tasks. For suggestions on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read 3 Ways to Use Timers to Motivate Children and How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior.
Common Spelling Mistakes:
- Using the wrong consonant (e.g., spelling cat as kat)
- Using the wrong vowel (e.g., spelling seat as seet)
- Leaving out consonants (e.g., spelling kicking as kiking)
- Leaving out a vowel (e.g., spelling plain as plan)
- Writing only one consonant, when a consonant should be doubled (e.g, spelling butter as buter)
- Leaving in an “e” that should be dropped (e.g., spelling riding as rideing)
- Reversing letters (e.g., spelling foil as fiol)
- Leaving out the ”silent e” (e.g., spelling kite as kit)
- Using ys instead of ies (e.g., cherrys instead of cherries)
- Spelling words phonetically when a specific suffix should be used instead (e.g., spelling vacation as vacashin)
- Using an “s” instead of a “c” or a “c” instead of an “s” (e.g., absense instead of absence or offence instead of offense)
- Forgetting rules like “i before e except after c” (e.g., spelling receive as recieve)
While the errors above are the ones I have observed most frequently in my career as a school psychologist, there are many other types of spelling errors a person can make.
11 Research-Based Spelling Strategies Parents Can Try at Home:
1) Practice Phonemic Awareness (hearing individual sounds in words) and letter sounds. Let your child hear what it sounds like to break words up into their individual sounds. Show them what happens when you change a sound. For example, say the sounds in pig separately (p-i-g), then say the word. Then say the sounds in big (b-i-g) and say the word. Put it on paper so they can see the change. Talk about which sounds are different and which sounds are the same. Have your child practice breaking words apart and blending them together. For more strategies to teach your child or students phonemic awareness and letter sounds, see 10 Fun Activities to Teach Your Child Letter Sounds and How to Teach Phonemic Awareness.
2) Allow Beginners to Spell Phonetically — When first learning to spell, allow children to spell words exactly as they hear them. Teach them to say each each sound in a word and write down the letter or letters that represents each, until they have spelled the word. For example, they might spell lemon as l-e-m-i-n. Then review the word with them and talk about which letters they can change to make the word correct (help them figure out the correct replacement letters if needed). You can practice this several times with different words. Let them rewrite the word the correct way and compare the changes.
For children who have trouble writing, allow them to use magnetic letters to create the word, such as the ones below, or allow them to type on the computer, if they are able to do so.
They can also create the letters/words out of Play-Doh or Wikki Stix as shown below.
3) Teach Children to Notice Chunks in Words – Chunks are more than one letter together that normally make the same sound (e.g., ch, sh, br, ple, all, ate, at). Have your child practice writing several words that use the same chunks to establish a sense of word families (groups of words that have a common feature or pattern). For a fun and effective way to teach sound chunks and spelling, let your children or students practice with the game Didax Chunks: The Incredible Word Building Game as shown below:
4) Practice Rhyming Words – Teach children about rhyming words and provide them with several examples. After teaching them how to rhyme, give them a word and ask them to come up with rhyming words. Once they have the hang of it, encourage them to tell you a word and list several words that rhyme with it. Encourage them to write rhyming words down as well. Allow them to start with a common word pattern such as “all.” Show them how adding a letter in front of “all” and changing that letter produces a list of several rhyming words (e.g., e.g. all, ball, call, fall, hall, mall, tall, wall). Again, for children who have trouble writing, try typing, magnetic letters, or creating the words from Play-Doh or Wikki Stix.
The strategies below are for students who have gotten the hang of phonetic spelling and are ready to or struggling to move to the next level or for students who are struggling with phonetic spelling and may do better with memorization or rules.
5) Learn Spelling Rules (also known as rule-based strategies) – See a list of some common spelling rules below
- Short -Vowel Rule: When a one-syllable word has a vowel in the middle it is usually a short-vowel sound (e.g., hat, set, pit , lot, nut)
- Doubling Consonants: If f, l, or s comes after a vowel, the letter is often doubled (e.g., stuff, call, grass)
- Two-Vowels Together: If two vowels are together, the first vowel usually says its name and the second vowel is not heard (e.g. seat, rain, tie)
- Silent e: When a short word has a vowel, a consonant, and then an “e” or a longer word has that same pattern in the last syllable, the first vowel is usually long and the e is silent (e.g., cake, kite, vote, mute, meditate, debate)
- y as a long i: When the letter y comes at the end of a short word with no other vowel in the word, it makes a long i sound (e.g., dry, cry, sty, pry)
- y as a long e: When a word has two syllables and the second syllable is composed of only a y or an ey, the y makes a long e sound. (e.g., honey, money, bunny, sunny)
- I before E: The rule is “i before e except after c (e.g., receive, receipt, deceive, conceive) or when sounding like ‘a’ as in neighbor or weigh.”
- Words with “ch”: Use “ch” at the beginning of words (e.g. chair, cheese, chin) and “tch” at the end (e.g., watch, witch, patch)
These are only some of the rules in spelling. You can do a Google Search for common spelling rules to learn more. Please remember there are always exceptions to spelling rules, meaning that these rules will not apply to every word in the English language. It can also be difficult and cumbersome to remember these rules. Strategies for remembering common spelling rules include the following:
- keep the rules in a place where the child/student can easily refer to them when spelling, such as in his desk or in his notebook
- discuss the rules when reviewing spelling errors with the child (for instance, if you and your child are editing his work and you see he spelled catch as cach, give him a gentle reminder “remember it is “ch” at the beginning of words and “tch” at the end” or have him read and say the rule out loud)
- after reviewing the rule, have him rewrite the word he misspelled
- make flash cards of the rules (you can do this on index cards), with the name of the rule on the front and the definition on the back as shown here.
After creating the flash cards, make a game out of it, to make it more fun for the child. For example, take turns (first you show the front of a flash card and have your child state the rule. Then have him show a flash card and you state the rule)
6) Teach Children to Use an Internet Dictionary – Use a site like dictionary.com . There your child can type in the word he is unsure of in the search box. If he spells the word wrong, but the spelling is somewhat close, the site will ask “Did you mean _________?” For example if you spell “vacashin” in the search box, a question on the bottom of the screen pops up that says “Did you mean vacation?”
7) Teach Children to Edit Their Work and Use Repetition – Encourage children to review their work carefully and rewrite a word five to ten times when they find a misspelling (ten times is recommended but this may be too much for some children). It is much easier to notice spelling errors when rereading work, than to notice them the first time around when the mistake is made. Many times spelling errors get ingrained in one’s memory after repeating the same mistake several times. Writing the word several times in a row helps to retrain the child’s memory. You can try to make repetition more fun by turning it into a game. To do this, take turns with the child. (e.g., have him write the first word 10 times while you watch, then you write the next word 10 times while he watches – or any other turn taking variation).
Side-Note * Some children are more willing to complete this type of task when they can see a visual of how many times they are expected to write the word. For instance, number the paper 1 to 10.
8) Show How Different Sounds Can Be Represented in Different Ways — For example, the /k/ sound can be represented with a c as in cat, a k as in kangaroo, a ck as in kick, or a ch as in school.
9) Teach Children to Test Their Spelling – Create spelling lists or spelling flash cards on index cards. You can create them for your child, with your child, or encourage your child to create them himself. You can also purchase spelling flash cards or search for free spelling lists on the internet such as the ones at VocabularySpellingCity.com.
Teach Your Child To Test Their Spelling Using These Four Steps:
1. Look at the word and pay attention to the spelling and what the word looks like
2. Cover up the word with his hand or turn the flash card around.
3. Visualize the word in his mind, and then spell the word aloud, in his mind, or on paper
4. Check the flash card or list to ensure his spelling was correct. You can show your child an example of how to do this and then let him practice on his own.
10) Allow children to practice spelling words in a way where they can easily make corrections, replace one letter for another, or fill in missing letters.
using a dry erase or chalkboard – for an activity, try writing a word but leaving some letters blank (have your child fill in the missing letters-providing him/her with guidance as needed). For example, for the word table you could write (t a b _ e) and have him/her try to fill in the missing letter. As he/she improves, make it more challenging. If you child has trouble thinking of the missing letter, try giving a choice of three letters to choose from.
allow children to practice spelling in sand in a sand tray as shown below (you can place the sand in a shallow baking pan for a tray)
or in shaving cream (as shown below)
Again, this will allow them to write and rewrite words, make corrections, replace letters, fill in missing letters, etc.
Also, some children who are resistant to traditional writing are sometimes willing to write on an IPAD. They can write with their finger or with an IPAD Stylus such as the one shown below.
If pen/pencil grip is a concern, see How to Help Your Child with Handwriting and Pencil Grip.
- Read with your child and encourage your child to read as much as possible. When you come across a word with a certain pattern or rule, you can point out the word to your child/students and reiterate the rule. For example if you see the word vacation you can remind your child that many words that end with a “shin” sound are spelled with the suffix “tion” such as creation, medication, or fiction or if you see the word “cat” you can remind your child that several three-letter words end with “at” such as bat, hat, and, mat.Teach your child to try to pay attention to these types of patterns when reading.
- Use spelling workbooks
- Try Fun Spelling Practice and Word Play Puzzlers, which allows you to download several spelling worksheets and games (for different levels) right to your computer for printing.
Side-Note * Keep in mind that every child is different. Some respond to several strategies, others respond to a few, while others may not respond to any of these strategies. If your child is significantly struggling with spelling or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep practice sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers.