11 Strategies To Help A Child With Spelling Difficulties

If your child is having difficulty learning to spell, you’ve definitely come to the right place – welcome! While it is impossible for us to provide you with a magic potion that will instantly turn your child into the most proficient speller in their class, we can furnish you with 11 research-based strategies that have been used to great effects by parents all over the globe. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

A quick preface:

In today’s article, you will discover an array of exciting and engaging activities to utilise research-based spelling methods, such as:

  • Morphological awareness, i.e. helping your child to understand and recognise word families, word parts, and similar word chunks.
  • Whole-word approach, i.e. helping your child to memorise how a word is spelt without the need to understand the component parts that make up the word.
  • Multi-modal teaching, i.e. helping your child to learn through various modes and different senses.

These can be used to help address many common spelling mistakes, including but not limited to the following examples:

  • Use of an incorrect consonant, e.g. spelling can’t as kan’t.
  • Use of an incorrect vowel, e.g. spelling heat as heet.
  • Missing out consonants, e.g. spelling licking as liking.
  • Missing out a vowel, e.g. spelling claim as clam. 
  • Writing a single consonant instead of a double consonant, e.g. spelling latter as later.
  • Forgetting to remove an ‘e’ that is dropped, i.e. spelling hiding as hideing.
  • Letter reversal, e.g. spelling weird as wierd.
  • Missing out silent a silent ‘e’, e.g. spelling late as lat. 
  • Writing ‘ys’ instead of ‘ies’, e.g. spelling berrys instead of berries.
  • Spelling words phonetically, e.g. spelling telephone as telefone.
  • Forgetting spelling rules such as “I before e, except after c’, e.g. spelling conceive as concieve.

Of course, there are a wide array of spelling errors a child can make, but the above are the ones that are most frequently come across by both teachers and parents. 

Let’s now delve into the 11 strategies that can help to make your child a better speller.

11 Strategies To Help Your Child Become a Better Speller

#1 – Phonemic Awareness and Letter Sounds Practice

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear the individual sounds in words – something that is hugely important for both speech and spelling. Show your child how to break down words into their individual sounds in both a verbal and written format. Let your child hear what happens when you change a sound within a word. For example, say the different sounds in the word dig separately (d-i-g), then say the full word. Following that, say the different sounds in the word pig (p-i-g), and again follow this by saying the full word. Write both words down on a piece of paper to show your child the difference between them. Tell them which sounds are the same and which sounds are different, and have your child practise breaking down words and then blending them together. 

#2 – Allow Phonetic Spelling (When Starting Out)

When your child takes their first steps on their spelling journey, allow them to spell words as they hear them; this is known as spelling phonetically. Encourage your child to say each individual sound in the word and then write down the letter(s) that represent each sound; do this until they have spelt the word in its entirety. Once they have done this, review their spelling and show them which letters they need to alter in order to spell the word correctly. Practise this for lots of different words, then ask them to compare the wrong spellings with the correct spellings.

If your child has difficulty writing, use magnet letters or even a computer to perform this activity.

#3 – Word Chunks

Teaching your child to notice ‘chunks’ in words is another key factor in improving spelling ability. ‘Chunks’ are two or more letters together that typically make the same sound, e.g. sh, ch, please, all, ate, br, etc. Encourage your child to practise writing different words that use the same chunks; this will help to establish an understanding of what word families are, i.e. groups of words that have a common pattern or feature). 

Here’s a fantastic (and very fun!) game that can help teach this:

#4 – Rhyming Words

Rhyming words are another fantastic way to boost spelling ability. Teach your child about rhyming words, providing them with numerous examples both in a verbal and written format. Once you’ve taught them how to rhyme, give them a word and encourage your child to think of as many rhyming words as possible. Once they’ve got the hang of it, ask them to not only say these words but also write them down (they may need some assistance doing this). You can even engage in role reversal, with your child becoming the teacher and asking you to think (and write down) rhyming words for a word they’ve chosen. 

In addition, introduce them to common pattern words. For example, the word “all”; show them that by adding a different letter in front of the word “all” creates a whole new word all by itself. Again, if your child struggles to write, use magnet letters, play-doh, or even a computer. 

The above four strategies are more geared towards children who are completely new to spelling, whereas the following the seven are aimed at children who:

  • Have a solid grasp of phonetic spelling and are ready to progress to the next level.
  • Have a solid grasp of phonetic spelling and are struggling to progress to the next level.
  • Struggle with phonetic spelling and may learn more effectively with memorisation and other spelling rules.

#5 – Spelling Rules

Spelling rules lie at the heart of the process of learning to spell; here are some examples of the most common rules:

Short Vowels: One-syllable words that contain a vowel in the middle is typically a short-vowel sound, e.g. hit, pat, set, cut.

Double Consonant: If either s, l, or f comes after a vowel, the letter is typically doubled, e.g. glass, ball, stuff.

Two Vowels Together: If a word contains two vowels consecutively, the second vowel is not heard, e.g. rain, die, beat.

Silent ‘e’: If a short word has a vowel, followed by a consonant, followed by an ‘e’, or a longer word has exactly the same pattern in the final syllable, the initial vowel is typically long, and the ‘e’ is silent, e.g. take, mite, dote, debate, meditate.

‘Y’ as ‘I’: If the letter ‘y’ is the final letter of a sort word that contains no other vowels, it will make a long ‘I’ sound, e.g. cry, dry, sty.

‘Y’ as ‘e’: If a word contains two syllables and the second syllable is only a ‘y’ or ‘ey’, the ‘y’ will make a long e sound, e.g. sunny, money, bunny.

I before e: I before e, except after c, e.g. deceit, receive; or when the sound is an ‘a’, e.g. neighbour.

As stated above, these are the most common rules; if you’d like to see a complete list, head over to Google and search ‘common spelling rules’. Furthermore, there are always exceptions to these rules, so they won’t always apply to every single word. Remembering these rules can be difficult, especially for children; therefore, to make their lives a little easier and to help them remember the rules, we suggest the following:

  • Make sure these rules are easily accessible in the room or place where your child does their homework/practices their spelling. A poster on the wall or a sheet of paper stuck to their desk, for example.
  • When your child makes spelling errors, discuss the rules with them, so they understand the mistake they’ve made and how to correct it, encouraging them to write it down.
  • Create flashcards of the rules, with the title of the rule on one side and the definition of the rule on the other. Flashcards are always a fun way to learn, so be creative and use them as a standalone activity to help them learn the rules of spelling.

#6 – Internet Dictionary

 Although the use of technology is a divisive topic, there is no doubt that it can be used to help your child learn to spell. For example, open up an online dictionary, such as dictionary.com, and ask them to type in words that they’re unsure of. If they spell the word incorrectly, but they’re not too far off, the dictionary will make suggestions as to what it thinks they are trying to spell. This will not only show them the correct spelling, but it will also help to boost their typing skills.

#7 – Editing Their Own Work and Repetition

Self-editing is something that should be encouraged, regardless of spelling level. Ask your child to review their work, and re-write words they have misspelt several times over. It is far easier to become aware of errors when going over work than to notice them when the mistake is made. In some cases, spelling errors can become engrained into a child (or adult’s) memory if they repeat the error several times over, which is why correcting errors and writing the correctly-spelt word over and over again is so important. 

#8 – Teach Your Child To Test Their Own Spelling

Build spelling lists or flashcards on index cards. You can either make them for your child with their help or encourage your child to make them all by themselves. If you don’t want to create them and your budget allows for it, you can purchase them online from stores like Amazon. To teach your child how to test their own spelling, use the following four steps:

1) Examine the word and focus on how it is spelt, which letters are in it, and what the word looks like as a whole.

2) Cover the word or turn the flashcard around so the word cannot be seen.

3) Visualise the word in their mind, then when they’re ready, they can spell the word either aloud or written down (or perhaps both).

4) Turn the flashcard over to see whether or not their spelling is correct. 

It may take several times of playing this with your child before they understand the process thoroughly, but once they’re confident they can play this game all by themselves. 

#9 – Replace or Fill in The Correct Letter(s)

Some children really struggle to spell words or understand the mistakes they’ve made when they have to write the whole word by themselves. If your child has difficulty in either writing words or identifying their mistakes, asking them to fill in the missing the letter or replacing the wrong letter is a fantastic way to learn this skill. Why? Because the sole focus is on one or two letters, rather than a whole word, which can often be overwhelming. Doing this exercise is really easy and can be done on a piece of paper, a chalk or whiteboard, with magnetic letters, or even in shaving foam. Remember, make it as fun as possible!

#10 – Use Technology

We’ve already touched upon technology above (point number six), but tablets and similar devices are great tools for children who are reticent to write in the traditional sense. They’re also a fantastic way to mix up learning, as using the same old paper and pen can get a little boring! While it is undoubtedly true that screen time should be limited, there is no harm in using a tablet or similar device several times per week to help. Plus, there are some excellent spelling apps will make learning to spell a whole heap of fun!

#11 – Read To Your Child

Reading to your child is a staple of learning and development. While it is commonly used to boost reading skills, it can also be used to improve spelling ability. When coming across a word with a specific rule or pattern, point it out and explain the rule/pattern to your child. Furthermore, seeing and hearing a word simultaneously will help to reinforce how it spelt and how it sounds. 

How To Help A Child With Spelling Difficulties: A Summary

When using the above strategies (or any other for that matter), it is imperative that you keep in mind that every single child is different. Some children will respond positively to several strategies, others will respond to two or three, whilst some children may not respond at all. If your child struggles with spelling or any other form of learning – even with consistent guidance and practise – it is essential to speak to their teacher and perhaps even a medical professional. Although this may seem like a worrying step to take, it is the best thing you can do for your child. Educational and medical professionals will be able to identify any issues or barriers to learning and provide options to make your child’s learning and develop more successful. 

Remember, be patient, make it fun!