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Teaching Spelling to Children

Updated on June 1, 2012

Teaching Strategic Spelling

Spelling is an essential part of literacy development and the approach that is taken, to teach children to be good spellers, is important.Good spelling skills are directly related to good reading and for children to be effective at both we must teach them to be strategic spellers. What does this mean? It means that children learn to recognize and spell words, relying on more than just the individual sounds of letters. To approach spelling in only this way neglects essential strategies, that are required for learning to spell successfully. This is often when students will stumble and become frustrated with the inaccuracy of their attempts at writing new words. The discouragement can be avoided, however, if children are shown to think about their options for learning a new word. One way is to help them recognize the visual and phonemic characteristics of words. Another way is to provide them with lots practical experience using dictionaries and other resources.

The letter e can not heard phonemically and must be remembered visually.
The letter e can not heard phonemically and must be remembered visually.

Visual Approach for Learning New Words

To study words effectively it is important to determine the strategies that are needed to best learn them. Looking at words visually applies when they do not follow logical phonemic patterns. Many spelling patterns, or word chunks i.e. eight or through as well as sounds such as ph and ow, demonstrate the necessity to approach some words visually. Furthermore, it enforces the importance of teaching letter patterns in words i.e. igh or tion. Once a letter pattern is introduced it is helpful to reinforce it visually across many different texts and print examples.

Phonemic Approach for Learning New Words

Some words, on the other hand, are better introduced phonemically. This applies when words have clear sounds. For instance, words like bat, dog, grasp, etc. all have sounds that are easily identified. When teaching young children it is valuable to practice spelling words with sounds that are easy hear in order to aid the development of phonemic awareness skills.

The following chart represents skills and strategies for teaching words and letters, using both a phonemic and visual approach.

Spelling Skills and Strategies

Phonemic Approach
Visual Approach
Practice hearing the sounds in words to build phonemic awareness.
Notice and describe how letters look i.e. tall, round, hanging, etc.
Learn to identify letter/sound relationships.
Play letter games to build quick and fluent letter recognition.
Develop ability to hear letter patterns and chunks in words.
Develop fluent recognition of letter patterns across texts.
Say words slowly to blend and segment sounds in words.
Look at a new word, cover it, spell it, then check it.
Use the following chart to compare the visual approach and the phonemic approach for the teaching letters and words in spelling.

It stands to reason that most words are not going to fall into a neat category of having either visual or phonemic characteristics. Often, it will be necessary to look at a word through both lenses, to effectively learn and remember it. For instance, a high frequency word that has clear sounds i.e.c/a/n may be one to teach both visually and phonemically. It has easy sounds to identify and it is a high-frequency word, that is useful to remember. For older children, a word like expectation would be one to investigate through both lenses. Much of the word can be sounded out but the letter pattern tion is one that needs to be learned visually. Once a new letter pattern is introduced it is valuable to reinforce it in many different contexts, to build fluent recognition.

Practical Spelling Strategies

The two best ways to practice spelling is to read and write daily. By incorporating spelling stategies into everyday literacy practices, children consistently improve their ability to learn new words.The following are some practical suggestions for teaching children spelling.

  • Take the time to access a dictionary on a regular basis to improve word study skills.
  • Use a thesaurus to help children build vocabulary.
  • Decide on the visual and phonemic characteristics of the word to be learned.
  • Encourage students to notice spelling patterns in words.
  • Reinforce spelling patterns by having children highlight them in their reading and writing.
  • Develop a list of high-frequency words to learn and remember. Make flash cards to practice them.
  • Take time to help children proofread their writing and edit their work. Focus only on a couple teaching points and use lots of praise. Avoid red pen horror!
  • Make a personal dictionary of new words and note the spelling strategies used to learn them.
  • Assist children with blending and segmenting sounds in words. Ensure they say the word clearly in order to hear sounds accurately.
  • Play spelling games and make learning words fun!

In Summary

All children can become better spellers with instruction in strategies that empower them with options for solving words. Teaching children to look beyond individual letter sounds to also consider visual strategies is important, as are dictionaries and other resources that contribute to their knowledge of words. Helping children learn a variety of effective word study strategies is the key to helping them develop into successful spellers.

Free Website Spelling Game

This fun and interactive game encourages children to practice spelling words. The activity should be played together with an adult in order to assist with the learning of new words. To play the game children click on a category, which takes them to a screen of objects that would be found in that category. When an object is clicked, children hear the name of it and attempt to spell it on the Spin and Spell wheel. This game is a good opportunity to practice spelling with children and also provides opportunity to talk to them about the visual and phonemic characteristics of different words.


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      Jebby 2 years ago

      The SWR Core Kit listed here icndules: Spell to Write and Read which is the overall teachers manual to the, WISE Guide for Spelling, Phonogram Cards and Spelling Rule Cards, Phonogram CD. If purchased separately, the five items in the SWR Core Kit would be $100. You save by buying them together and only pay $98 for the SWR Core Kit.The set of books in the SWR Core Kit can teach up to college level spelling for all the children in your family or school. The only thing you need to purchase each year is a Learning Log (spelling notebook) where the kids write their words.I use Spell to Write and Read with all my children. I have home schooled my seven children for 9 years now and Spell to Write and Read (SWR) by Wanda Sanseri is the best and most significant program I have ever used to teach my children to spell, read, and write. I would never go back to my old ways of teaching.In our first year with SWR all four of my boys made great strides in reading and spelling. My 6 and 7 years old boys jumped up by two grade levels in spelling. Their improvement in reading was dramatic. After only one year with SWR my 6 and 7 year old sons were able to read 4th grade level books with ease. This year they are now 7 and 8 years old and able to read a 180 page chapter book, such as the Childhood of Famous American series, in only 4 days! For a 180 chapter book I break the reading sessions down to: 23 pages in the morning and 22 pages in the afternoon. They are very normal sword fighting, tree climbing boy, and now with SWR also great readers!My oldest two boys, ages 11 and 14 jumped up by four and five grade levels in one year with SWR as measured by the spelling diagnostic test. Though my 11 and 14 year old sons were good readers by the time they started with SWR, they needed work in spelling. I found out the hard way that good readers are not always good spellers! In our second year with SWR and the older boys were 12 and 15. They tested at 11.7 grade level on the spelling diagnostic test by the end of the year. This is truly excellent and we are all pleased!It is our third year with SWR and the younger set of boys are now 8 and 9 years old. By local school enrollment law and practice they would be in 2nd and 3rd grade and they just tested at 6.0 and 6.4 grade level on the spelling diagnostic! You can bet I am mighty satisfied with SWR!Homeschool mom of seven

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      Yusuf 2 years ago

      Before I review this book, I soulhd tell you my story a story of spelling. I am a 13-year-old 8th grade girl who was in the hospital twice in the 7th Grade, sick with migraines for seven months and out of school for almost the whole year. Just when I thought I could go back to school in September for 8th grade, I got sick again in October and was out until the end of November. The week I came back, my teacher lined up the smartest students in the class to spell words they were studying. Since I had missed all the spelling tests, I was not one of them.I knew that I used to be a good speller when I did go to school regularly and I always read a lot, even when I was really sick and I had to resort to audio books. So, I asked my teacher if I could participate. He nodded and in that spelling bee, I spelled as if I had never missed a day of school. Can you believe I tied as top speller in my class along with my twin sister, the #1 ranked student in the school? Since I was a winner, the next week, I found myself on stage in front of my whole school anxiously waiting for words with 11 other children hoping to win and represent our school in the District spelling bee.After a few rounds, because of my studying (and a little bit of luck) I survived to be one of the 5 finalists. My twin sister stood up next and was asked to spell bureaucracy . She spelled it incorrectly and walked off the stage 4 remained. One after the other, student tripped up on hard words that the teachers were throwing at the students. There were two left. I was one of them. One would be the champ of the school spelling bee. The 7th grader had to spell nemesis in order to win. Instead, she spelled it nemisis . She had tripped up, but I knew the word! I happily spelled it n-e-m-e-s-i-s , and in an instant, I had won my school bee. I was going to the District Bee! Since then, I have been training for the spelling bee with my coach (my mom) and reading How to Spell Like a Champ . How to Spell Like a Champ is one of the most informative books I have read. It teaches you about root words; Latin, Greek, Italian, French and Spanish based words. I am enjoying it, soaking up info like a sponge. It gives tips about how to study correctly, how to relax before the big day, and puzzles and crosswords with some words you might find in bees. The CD that comes with the book takes you on the journey of a spelling bee winner and made me more comfortable about the things I might encounter when I compete.You know how serious basketball players sleep with their basketball and football players sleep with their football? Don't laugh, but I sleep with How to Spell Like a Champ under my pillow.I suggest if you are going to a spelling bee whether it's a class, District, Regional or the National Bee get the book. You will be glad you did when you spell a word like xanthosis !

    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 5 years ago

      Thanks kellyward. Your son will be off to a really good start if he learns early to be a strategic speller!

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      kelleyward 5 years ago

      I voted this up and useful! I'm working with my 1st grader on learning to spell and this article is a must for me. Thanks for the resources you mentioned also. I hope to work with him soon using some of those great links!

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      Sturgeonl 5 years ago

      You may find that you son may benefit more from kinesthetic activities i.e. making letters in playdough when he is older. Just keep introducing lots of different learning experiences and you will discover your son's preferred learning style and strengths. :)

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      savanahl 5 years ago

      I've created a monstruos genius I She's so smart but my fear is that I won't be able to do the same for my 6 month old son. I've heard that boys and girls learn differently. I've started him on the same program she was on at his age and he has absolutely no interest.

    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 5 years ago

      You are giving your dauthter an excellent start for when she starts school which is so important!

    • savanahl profile image

      savanahl 5 years ago

      I really love all your ideas here. My daughter is 2 1/2 and we've been working with her reading since she was just 5 months. She reads very well and we're now working on spelling so your suggestions are very useful. Thanks for sharing.