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Chapter 7     Developing Spelling Skills

Why Spelling Matters

Writing is a complex process. Many children find it hard to compose because the actual act of thinking about what to say is hindered by worrying about spelling. The brain can only do so much at any one time Eand if spelling is not reasonably automatic, the constant pausing and thinking about how to spell a word gets in the way of the flow of composition. In other words Emost children who write well can spell and very often those who find spelling hard cannot compose as effectively as they might. In other words we have an equation.

Poor spelling is a hindrance to good composition.

What weak spellers do not do

Children who struggle with spelling usually have no strategies up their sleeve when they get stuck on a word. Ask any weak spellers the question, ‘what do you do when you cannot spell a wordE They will have, at best, one rudimentary strategy. But it is most likely that they guess. To help them become better spellers they need to acquire a range of different approaches to help them.

Sound out each phoneme

The most common approach for any child entering grade two may well be ‘soundingEthe phonemes in a word. As long as children can hear sounds in words and know which letters typically go with which sounds then this strategy should hold them is reasonably good stead. So, a word such as ‘strapEcan be sounded out as s-t-r-a-p. It has 5 phonemes.

Tap out syllables

Another rudimentary strategy is to listen to and tap out the syllables in a word. Sometimes a long word can seem daunting and children give up. Breaking a word into its different syllables and then carefully listening to each syllable may help to make the job more manageable. So, ‘wickednessEmay seem to be difficult but once broken down becomes manageable E‘wick Eed EnessE The point is that often the syllables are simple enough to spell in themselves. Sometimes they contain familiar words or parts of words in themselves, e.g. ‘pollinateEcontains –in- and ‘ate- and the beginning is easy enough if you know how to spell ‘dollE because the two words rhyme!

Spell by rhyme

This leads us straight into the idea of spelling by rhyme. Again, as long as children can hear words that rhyme and generate (even if they are nonsense words) a string of words that rhyme, then they can use this tactic. I was running a writing workshop in Dover a while ago and a Y3 child wanted to spell ‘stickE I asked if she knew any words that rhymed with ‘stickE ‘Yes,Eshe replied, ‘sick!E This immediately gave her the last part of the word as ‘ickEand the beginning she could hear was ‘stE So, the tactic of saying ‘can you think of a word that rhymes with itE is a useful one.

Does it look right?

Most adults say that when they get stuck on a word they ‘have to write it downEto see if it ‘looks rightE They are using their visual memory. The children should all have a notebook or ‘have a goE pad and become used to jotting down a spelling and looking at it to see if it looks right. They should become used to thinking carefully about which part of the word is causing a problem. Underlining the difficult area can help. Rewriting the word with a slightly different letter combination may help, until the word ‘looks rightE

Use similar words and patterns

Another useful strategy is to think of another word that contains a similar pattern. This can help with :-

Prefixes, e.g. anti-, auto-, de-, dis-, extra-, im-, in-, inter-, mega-, micro-, re-, un-, etc.
Suffixes, e.g. –able, -ed, -er, -est, -ing, -ism, -ful, -let, -ly, -ness, -s, -ward, etc.
Common letter strings, e.g. ‘oughE ‘eeE ‘ewE ‘ooE etc.

It can also help to use any word that is linked by meaning. So, if you know how to spell ‘earEthen many other words cause little problem, e.g. hear, hears, hearing, hearsay, heard, eardrum, earmark, earphones, earring,

Apply spelling rules

As children build up a bank of basic spelling rules and conventions they should use these to help them tackle different spellings. It is important that they also begin to note common exceptions and learn these. Therefore a word such as ‘receiveEcan be spelt if you know ‘I before e, except after cE

Use knowledge of grammar

Another useful tactic is to apply basic knowledge of grammar. For instance, if children know what a verb is, and that most verbs add ‘edEto the end they will be able to decide how to spell the ending of such a word as ‘smelledE It sounds as if it should be ‘smeltEbut as it is a verb, in the past tense, the more logical spelling will be ‘smelledE

Use all the Tricks

Good spellers use all these strategies Eplus tricks of their own, such as a range of mnemonics. When tackling a difficult word a good speller uses a range of different strategies, double-checking, till they think that the word is correct. The key point for children is that they have a number of ways to swiftly, almost without thinking, get a reasonable spelling down, so that the flow of their writing is not hindered.

Teaching strategies

Spelling strategies should be directly introduced to the children. It is important to introduce strategies one by one over time. It is vital to use the strategies during shared writing and to prompt children to use them in the course of their own writing.

Spelling Strategies from Everyday Spelling:

Once students begin to identify words that give them problems, they need ways to deal with those words. That's where Everyday Spelling's strategies come in. The strategies in this table are practical, workable ways to help children remember words that are difficult for them. The strategies vary in complexity. Check the links on the left to see the specific strategies appropriate for each grade.


     Steps for Spelling New Words

                    1. Look at the word and say it.
                    2. Spell it aloud.
                    3. Think about it.
                    4. Picture it.
                    5. Look at it and write it.
                    6. Cover, write, and check it.

      Rhyming Helpers
           Link a word with a rhyming word that is spelled the same at the

      Problem Parts
           Identify the part of the word that gives you problems and study
           it extra hard:

      Creating Memory Tricks
           Link tricky words with a memory helper that has the same
           problem letters:
                         Tell that mosquito to quit biting me.

      Using Meaning Helpers
           Pair a word with a shorter, related word that gives a sound clue:

      Divide and Conquer
           Divide a word into smaller parts:

      Pronouncing for Spelling
            Pronounce a word correctly:
            Or make up a secret pronunciation:

For more information about appropriate strategies for different grade levels, go to the Everyday Spelling website at:

Below are some spelling games and activities available on the Internet. Their usefulness will depend on the levels you are teaching :

Make Your Own Sentence
In this cool activity from Spelling Ticklers, students use the letters in vocabulary words to create sentences. Example: GLOVE -- Great Learners Overcome Vocabulary Exercises.

Download a sample version of the interactive spelling and vocabulary game called Spell-Mell. In this game, students place given letters in blank spaces to spell words. Pictures and definitions help them solve the puzzles. Animations add interest to the program. If you like what you see, pay a small registration fee to Family Games Freeware and Shareware, and you will receive a code that will enable you to access the entire game.

Spelling Correction Game
Many students find spelling words aloud or on tests easier than correcting misspelled words in writing. Misspelt Animal Jokes will give them practice in identifying written spelling errors. Here students find the misspelled word, type it correctly in the space, and check it immediately. If they are correct, letters in the answer to a riddle appear in the spaces above. In the end, a joke is revealed. This game is just one of a collection of junior-, middle-, and senior-level games provided by The Web Classroom.

Spell Check
Another spelling correction game, Spell Check, from, displays groups of four words, one of which is misspelled. Students select the misspelled word and type the correct spelling in the box. Two levels of difficulty are offered. Students who correctly spell all 20 words in the set may put their names on the site's leader board.

Cut Up Words
Put students in groups of two or three and let them piece together words which you have previously written and cut up into individual letters.  Make the game more fun and competitive by putting all the letters in a central pile and playing it as a relay with students running to retrieve a word, one letter at  a time.  The teacher can read the words out, or have a list of ten written on the board that children can look at and keep playing till all the words have been completed.  Alternatively the team can have the original list, and call out instructions to the runner. This is good for getting children to look, say spell, and write.

Spelling Hammer.
A similar game, using letter tiles.  The first team to create the word bangs their plastic hammer and scores.

Turn Around Spelling
An extremely simple perennial favourite.  Write six to ten spelling words on the board, and do a brief drill.  Sing or chant “Turn around, turn around, shut your eyes. Turn around, turn around, shut your eyes....... 5,4,3,2,1 WHAT”S MISSING!Eamp;nbsp; The first child to call out the word you have rubbed off gets a chance to spell it as you write it up again and be the next person to rub out a word.

Sight Word Bingo
Use a 25 square grid of sight words to play bingo with.  For beginners it’s best to have each bingo sheet the same so that children can help each other, and you can keep track of things.  Stamp the end of each line or column as children call out Bingo.  (Anyone who gets a full line gets a stamp, and at the end of the game, the players with their full quota of stamps get a star.  Great for improving attention!)  More advanced students can write their own words onto a blank grid from a whiteboard list.

Whiteboard Spelling Relay.
Have the board divided into sections, named for each team. Tape a set of flashcard pictures into each section, and beside each picture draw a line to write the corresponding word on.  Teams line up at the back of the class.  Play as a relay, with each runner only allowed to write one letter.  Team members can help by calling out advice.  If a runner suspects a mistake, they may rub it out, but can only write one letter.  Award some points for the first finishers, but most points correct spelling.

Write the letters of the alphabet on the whiteboard.  Put the class into two teams.  Players take turns to go to the board, write a word, and cross off the letter that it starts with.  Encourage team members to help with the spelling. Score points as you play; 2 points for each letter in a correctly spelled word, one point for each correct letter in an incorrect word.  Played regularly this game can do wonders for motivating children to learn to spell big words!

Scrabble Variations
Put the class into small groups.  Give each group a set of scrabble letters. Give them fifteen minutes to make as many words as they can with their letters.  As a variation, tie it in with a particular topic or theme, by naming a category, eg. animals, classroom objects etc.  Score in the same way as AlphaSpell.

High Frequency Words

Teach beginners to spell and recognize the essential high frequency words first.  They will need these to attempt even the most simple of texts.  Many of the small building block words do not follow the normal rules of spelling and cannot be sounded out phonetically.  They often play an important grammatical part in a sentence, and can be very difficult to predict from the context.  They provide key reference points which hold together the structure of new or unfamiliar texts.

It is essential that children are taught to memorize them early so that pace and accuracy is achieved in their reading and writing. Frustrations will then be minimized, and children can concentrate their attention on the more difficult or less frequent words, and on the meaning of the text.

Students should be taught to recognize these words both in and out of context.  Games and activities will help to reinforce their spelling and recognition.

        The following is a list of the 45  h/f words most essential for beginners.
I go come went up you day was
look are ther of we this dog me
like going big she and htey my see
on away mum it at play no yes
for a dad can he am all
is cat get said to in
        The next most commonly needed words:
about can't her many over then who
after could here may people there will
again did him more push these with
and do his much pull three would
another don't home must put time your
as dig house name ran too
back door how new saw took
ball down if next school tree
be first jump night seen two
because from just not should us
bed girl last now sister very
been good laugh off so want
boy got little old some water
brother had live(d) once take way
but half love one than were
by has made or that what
call(ed) have make our their when
came help man out them where


 -  days of the week
 -  months of the year
 -  numbers to twenty
 -  common colour words
 -  pupil's name and address
 -  name and address of school

Bear in mind that these lists are produced for native English speaking children, and may need to be customized to suit the needs of your young ESL students.

Chapter 8
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