Helping your child with spelling
Developing essential spelling skills is critical for improving your child’s overall literacy competency and giving them the skills and confidence they need to begin reading and writing independently. If they are doing well with spelling at school, that’s great! But if they have trouble learning to spell, there are several useful strategies you can use to support your child’s competency in spelling as their parent or guardian.
Let’s first talk about mistakes children commonly make in their spelling;
- 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)
Important first step! **
Before your child begins to comprehend and apply the following strategies into their spelling, it is important that they first know the meaning of the words they are going to spell, and as simple as that sounds – many parents and students will unintentionally skip this step with the assumption that they may already know it when in actuality they may have only had a partial understanding of the word (i.e.; they do not fully understand the definition and will not be able to use it appropriately in a sentence)
When attempting to spell a word, the first question we should teach children to ask is not “what sounds can I hear?” but “what does this word mean?”. This gives important information, which helps greatly with the spelling of the word.
When first learning to spell, it is important to allow children to spell words exactly as they hear them. Encourage them to sound out each letter in a word and write down the letter or letters that represent each sound, until they have spelt the whole word.
For example, they might spell lemon as l-e-m-i-n. You might then go over the correct spelling with them and help them make the correct replacements while ensuring you talk about the letters they are changing and why it was not the correct choice.
Now you can practise this as many times with as many words as they are comfortable with! Don’t forget to compare the changes!
Definition: a strategy to help students understand letter-sound correspondence and the individual parts that make up words.
Online phonics games and ‘printables’ are useful tools to help your child with letter-sound correspondence in the beginning stages of learning to spell as it helps with understanding the words that make up a specific sound.
Once children have mastered basic phonemes they will be confident in splitting a word up into smaller sounds (d-o-g or n-igh-t). This can then help them in learning to spell effectively without the assistance of adults.
You could also introduce your child to the rule-based strategy for spelling which involves different rules that they can use when attempting to spell a tricky word. Keeping these rules in an easily accessible place such as their desk or workbooks where your child can easily reference them will be important in helping them to remember them.
We have listed some helpful rules below which you can begin introducing to your child;
- When to use ‘ed’ at the end of a word
- 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 neighbour 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)
- Words ending -tion usually make the ‘shin’ sound
There are also several rhymes that can help children to understand where vowels and consonants are placed in a word, such as the following:
When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking: This helps children when they are spelling long vowel sounds. Examples include boat and seat.
Big elephants can always understand small elephants (because): Silly sentences such as this one can help children spell ‘tricky’ words.
** These are only some of the rules in spelling. A quick Google search for ‘common spelling rules’ can help you find more.
Spelling tip: discuss these rules when reviewing spelling errors with the child
Look, say, cover, write and check
This is a simple yet sometimes challenging way of helping children to remember how to spell words and one that is often used in schools. This involves utilizing the whole-word approach.
Definition: memorizing the spelling of a word without needing to understand the individual parts that make up the word.
They can follow the steps below:
- Look at a spelling word
- Cover the spelling word
- Imagine the covered word in your mind
- Write the word from memory
- Check what has been written against the uncovered word
Look, say, cover, write and check Activity
Give your child a word they are having difficulty with and ask them to write the correct spelling down on a mini-whiteboard or piece of paper. They will then write the correct spelling down as many times as they can within a minute, embedding the spelling in their minds.
Extra Tips to Improve Spelling:
Read with your child
When you come across a word that demonstrates a certain pattern or rule, you can point this out to your child and reiterate the rule.
e.g. 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.
Other helpful strategies include helping children to find words within a word, such as ‘hen’ in ‘when’ or keys in donkeys and monkey.
When working with a child or student in the area of spelling, remember to keep your cool, even if you believe they should be understanding something they aren’t. If you get impatient with them, they can become anxious or feel inferior which will ultimately lead to a less constructive learning session.
Keeping spelling sessions short can also help maximise productivity. I would recommend aiming for no more than 10 minutes for children with a shorter focus span and up to 15 minutes for older children or children who are willing to work for longer periods of time.