A common thing we hear as teachers is, “My child struggles with spelling.” In the classroom, we often hear groans when it comes to spelling.
I planned to write this for months, perhaps a year. Elementary spelling tests, and then those in junior high, were extremely difficult for me. Why would I want to write about spelling?
Though I studied, the letter order didn’t stick well and I failed many spelling tests. The real test of spelling is writing. We write for many purposes. These can be academic or personal.
Here are two samples of my writing, art, and spelling troubles.
I love dogs. Apparently I was making up a wonderful character who won a prize.
This one was a writing project in high school. I didn’t know I spelled anything wrong until the work was done and these were on display.
Why would I be vulnerable and write to you about spelling? I want to help. Spelling doesn't have to be stressful. It can possibly be fun. I have learned some things as both the struggling spelling student and the teacher who doesn’t enjoy giving spelling tests.
Here are two big ideas that both we and the students need to remember.
1. Spelling is valuable.
It's true! Spelling is valuable. It may seem like spelling is insignificant because technology gets us past the need to spell. It doesn’t. As a college student, I could not spell the word for the sharp, long weapon that starts with “s.” Spell check in Microsoft Word gave me nothing. I had to Google search related words, such as parts of armor which landed me into articles that had the word “sword.”
Being able to spell saves time. It also helps us freely write what we want to when technology isn’t available. I love writing notes to people and there are countless times I’ve chosen a mediocher (I mean, mediocre) word instead of the one that fit perfectly.
Maybe you are like me. Spelling makes you feel vulnerable. That can make it intimidating when you want to help someone else spell. Spelling is valuable. Being able to spell helps us focus on what we are trying to say.
2. We can become better spellers.
It won't be instantaneous, but we can become better spellers.There’s hope for those of us who are spelling challenged. When I look at old journal entries, homework, and projects I am amazed at how my spelling has improved over the years. When I text, my phone memorizes misspellings. This is not helpful for me or for the recipient. In order to learn to spell things well, we need to practice. Here are some methods and tools that might help your student.
Ideas to Improve Spelling
Try learning the words in many ways!
Write the first letter on one line. Write the first two letters on the next line. Continue to grow the number of letters on each line until the word is complete. Repeat this at least once.
Make up a song to a familiar tune to help remember the spelling of a word.
Study the word’s syllables. We often encourage children to do this by clapping. The dictionary can also be a helpful tool in breaking up words. Use a different color for each syllable to write the word out by hand. Do this multiple times.
Think about the word and its meaning. And draw a picture using the letters.
I thought of this method when I was working with a person with Alzheimer’s. I realized I could not spell that word! I didn’t want to look it up again and again (even looking it up once was a struggle since it doesn't sound that much like it is spelled to me). I thought about how this word is related to specific people and their minds. My idea was to draw a face using the letters. As you can see, the way I drew the face morphed over time. The art is not the focus, but it is the tool to help the brain remember the letters. When I think about how to spell Alzheimer’s I imagine the face I drew.
Sometimes we need to know which word is the right one. I wrote out two words: “isle” and “aisle.” Using pictures as well helps.
This allows me to see that an “isle” is surrounded by water while I practice writing it out. The point isn’t to make lovely pictures but great connections in our brains.
Similar to writing out the spelling pyramids, this method will involve a lot of repetition. Instead of writing the letters again and again, move while you say the letters. Imagine the pyramid or triangle is on the floor. Jump in place when the first letter is said. Move to the second row and say the first two letters while jumping for each one. Continue to grow the word while moving.
Another method would be to simply say the letters while doing jumping jacks (or another repetitious activity).
Make up an active cheer routine. This can involve chanting and stunts!
Dribble the basketball while looking at the spelling word and say the letters out loud. If your child has difficulty dribbling, bouncing a ball or passing the ball back and forth would work.
This site is filled with games to help your child learn! You can type in their spelling words and let them choose the way they will practice and review. Some teachers create accounts, and share the link. VocabularySpellingCity (formerly SpellingCity) not only helps students with studying spelling words independently, it now helps students with vocabulary as well. This is from Spellingcity.com: “Research has proven that these are key factors in improved reading fluency and comprehension.”
Technology, movement, and art can all help a child learn their spelling words. In more recent years, teachers are returning to Greek and Latin roots. Many of our words in English are found in Greek or Latin.
When we know word parts, we are able to discern the whole word’s meaning.
Greek and Latin Roots
Here’s a video from Khan Academy introducing why Latin and Greek roots are so important.
Remember the real test for spelling is in writing. Practice makes permanent.
I hope you found some tools to help your child grow in the ability to effectively and efficiently use words to communicate.
Do you have any tips on spelling?