Mom-to-Mom Support/Tips for Teaching Spelling

Tips for Teaching Spelling

Tips for teaching spelling

Do you find yourself struggling to teach spelling? Do you have a child who just isn’t getting it?

Some children are natural spellers, while others seem to lack this “gene.” It’s helpful to remember that spelling progress usually lags a year or two behind reading levels, because there is more “work” involved with spelling than reading. Our oldest son struggled with spelling throughout his elementary school years, but when he reached junior high, it suddenly seemed to “click.” He graduated college in three years and is now a professor.

As your child’s reading level advances and he’s exposed to more words, his spelling skills will also naturally advance. In the meantime, here are some tips for helping to accelerate spelling success.

Analyze the mistake

When your student misses a word, it is imperative that you analyze the error to find out why he missed it. If the error is related to a lack of understanding of the phonics involved, be sure to add at least a few words that follow that rule to next week’s spelling quiz.

For example, if he spells “putting” as “puting,” he probably did not understand the “short vowel followed by a single consonant” rule taught in a previous lesson. That phonics rule should be discussed and a few words from that lesson added to next week’s spelling quiz.

Use auditory, visual, and kinesthetic aids

Your child will master spelling better the more of his senses he uses in the process. For example, having him write out words is a form of kinesthetic learning. You can also tap into his kinesthetic learning by breaking the words into syllables and having him read the word out loud, clapping once for each syllable, then spelling each word orally by syllable, without looking at the word. This is a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. (You can learn more about different learning styles in the article “Homeschooling Students with Different Learning Styles.”)

For kinesthetic variety, the student may wish to reproduce new words in finger-paint or with pipe cleaners or letter stamps. One favorite activity with my students was using alphabet letters made of foam to spell out the week’s words. Students can also use letter tiles from Scrabble or make small letter tiles with index cards. If you try this, be sure to make the letter almost as large as the tile, so there isn’t a lot of space between letters when put together to form words.

One way to use auditory learning is to quiz your child aloud, maybe while you drive to the store. Your child must process the word that he hears and reply by spelling the word aloud. And—bonus!—this counts as beginning dictation, too.

To stimulate your child’s visual memory, use a dry-erase board or sheet of paper and different colored markers. Have your student group spelling words with similar phonetic structure together by color and write them on the board. For instance, in My Catholic Speller, Level D, Lesson 14, the words can be divided into:

dry erase board with letter sounds on it

Post the dry-erase board or sheet of paper by his desk so he sees the words frequently as a stress-free reminder.

Alternatively, have him do this same exercise with a special set of gel or sparkle pens that he is allowed to use only during his spelling lesson. Have him use a different colored pen for each word group. Black or dark blue paper with light-colored gel pens might add a little spice to the exercise.

Say it how it looks

Some of the trickiest spelling words are ones like “Wednesday,” “vegetable,” and “schedule, ” since they aren’t spelled the way they are pronounced.

A good strategy for a word in this category is to “say it how it looks.” For example, the student would pronounce “Wednesday,” “vegetable,” and “schedule” as “Wed-nes-day,” “ve-gee-ta-bul,” and “ske-doo-lee.” These “false” pronunciations serve as mnemonic devices to help the student recall the correct spellings.

The only caveat I’d add is that this approach should not be used when children are first learning to read in kindergarten, first grade, and perhaps second grade as well. During these years, children are still mastering the rules of phonics, so mispronouncing words might confuse them. However, once children are fluent readers, “saying it how it looks” can be a good strategy for memorizing the spellings of words that “follow different rules.” Not to mention the many English words that seem to follow no rules at all, or were fashioned at the fancy of a dodo.

Use humor and games

Have your student make up and write out funny sentences using the words that he missed on his spelling test. Challenge him to write one sentence that includes all the missed words.

Alternatively, have your child create a crossword puzzle using some or all of the list words. Arranging the list words so that they intersect will require him to think carefully about the spelling of the words, and writing clues for the words will reinforce his knowledge of their definitions.

How to help beginning spellers

Early readers—under the age of six or so—often find writing exercises overwhelming. Lowercase refrigerator magnets can help children form spelling words and practice the phonics taught in Little Stories for Little Folks.

The advantage to refrigerator magnets is that they are always out and can be moved around as the impulse strikes. You may even opt to post a spelling list or a list of words from Little Stories for Little Folks on the refrigerator for the child to “copy” with lower-case magnetic letters.

Another way to help with spelling skills is to have your child use word families from the Name Game (from Little Stories for Little Folks) to create posters of word families on sheets of paper, perhaps decorating the posters with her own illustrations of some of the words listed there, alongside the word family (for example, “cake,” “bake,” and “rake,” with an illustration of a cake and, in big letters, “-ake” at the top of the poster).

Praise and a positive attitude

Isn’t it amazing that children can learn so many new words? Even if your student is having difficulty spelling, help him along with a positive attitude. Cheerful quizzing, finding the fun in the process, and frequent praise can make all the difference. As your student begins to enjoy spelling more and feel confident in his ability to spell new words, he will improve by leaps and bounds.

Finally, remember that all learning is a process of, well, learning. Education is gained by exposure, trial and error, more exposure, and eventual mastery. Most children will miss a few problems in math and a few words on their spelling tests. If more than a few are missed on each assignment, it’s time to backtrack, pick up where the level of mastery disappears, and practice some more. This approach will eventually bring back confidence and mastery of spelling.

About Nancy Nicholson

Nancy Nicholson is one of the founding authors of Catholic Heritage Curricula. Equipped with an abundance of God-given talent, a major in Secondary Education–English, and years of experience homeschooling her own children, she has written over thirty educational titles, beginning with Little Stories for Little Folks. Her unique ability to develop programs and workbooks that “fit” both advanced and struggling students is due to her experience raising children of different ability levels and learning styles: two of her children are developmentally challenged, while another went on to graduate from Harvard and is now a college professor.

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