Children who lag behind their peers, who forget words relatively easily, or who confuse and mix up letters when spelling, are children who require a little extra special attention at home to assist them in overcoming the learning issues they’re facing. The question is, what are the most effective ways to teach a struggling child how to spell without making it seem like they’re partaking in extra school lessons?
Well, the aim should be to always make the activities as enjoyable as possible. Rather than making your child feel like they’re back in the classroom, try to make it feel like you’re just playing a game or doing something that’s fun. Even if the task is similar to something they might perform during school hours, ensuring it doesn’t feel like a learning activity will make your child far more receptive, in addition to helping to boost their confidence where spelling is concerned. Although this won’t be possible for absolutely everything on this list, try to implement fun when and where you can!
Strategies, Activities and Games for Struggling Spellers
#1 – Development of Auditory Skills
Generally speaking, children who are proficient at reading and speaking are also competent spellers (and vice versa). To boost your child’s reading and speaking skills, read to and with your child often, either at home or your local library (or both if you have the time). To make it as enjoyable as possible, choose books your child will like, i.e. topics they’re interested in, or simply let your child choose the books. In addition to this, try to restrict their TV time. Children cannot talk back to a TV show; therefore, it’s best to avoid TV as much as possible (this goes for YouTube and other video streaming services too). Although some TV programs are interactive, it’s always best to stick to books, discussions, and conversations to boost your child’s speaking and reading ability.
#2 – Stories
Encourage your child’s creativity and imitation by suggesting they write stories about whatever they like. If your child wants to draw, encourage them to illustrate their stories too; if not, suggest they cut out pictures from magazines to help illustrate their tale. Allow your child the freedom to write as he or she pleases, only stepping to help if asked. Any misspelt words can be addressed after your child has finished their stories. When showing your child which words they have misspelt, do so patiently and with care so as to avoid knocking their confidence. Always praise your child first before moving onto mistakes.
#3 – Letter Writing
Letter writing has fallen by the wayside since emails came to the fore, but writing letters is a fantastic way for your child to practice both spelling and handwriting in one exercise. Give your child the freedom to write what they like and to whom they like, but be on hand to make suggestions should they be short of ideas.
#4 – Word Tracing
If there’s one activity that helps children to form letters and gain a better grasp of writing and spelling, it’s tracing letters and words. For this activity, you can either use tracing paper or have your child use highlighter pens to trace over words you’ve written in pen. Begin with simple words and show your child how the letters are written before asking them to trace the word. If they’re struggling, guide their writing hand as this will give them a better feel of how to form letters and understand letter shapes.
#5 – Finger Paints
Sure, finger paints (or any form of painting for that matter) are incredibly messy, but they’re a handy tool for boosting spelling ability and confidence in children who struggle to spell. Using finger paints is a whole heap of fun; therefore, your child won’t be aware that this is a spelling exercise! Ask them to write words, paint pictures, and create whatever they like using paint. Of course, the focus should be on spelling, but interspersing this with painting objects or people around them is a great way to make spelling fun!
#6 – Codes and Puzzles
Most children love puzzles and codes, so why not create your own code using letters, and ask your child to decipher the code? This will provide them with letter writing and spelling practice, as well as boosting their problem-solving skills and potentially their self-confidence if they’re able to solve your codes and puzzles successfully. Always be on standby to give them a helping hand should they need it.
#7 – Letter Magnets
Why not invest in a set of letter magnets? Letter magnets are a fantastic learning tool and can be found in both online and regular stores at very affordable prices. There are many ways to use letter magnets, but we suggest the following:
- Write a word on a piece of paper and find the corresponding letter magnets for that word.
- Jumble the letters up, so they’re not in order, then ask your child to rearrange the letters to spell the word correctly.
- When doing this activity, encourage your child to say the word and each letter several times over to help boost their understanding of word and letter sounds.
#8 – Word Lists
Word lists are a great learning tool as they help to reinforce what your child has learnt. Copy their spelling lists from school and place them around your house, such as on their bedroom door, on the fridge, in their playroom, or anywhere else they’re likely to see it over and over again. One tip we certainly suggest is writing different syllables of the words in different colours, as this will help your child to break the word down into chunks and boost their understanding of both how to say it and spell it.
#9 – Word Movements
Putting movements into the words your child is learning can be an effective way to boost their understanding of how words are spelt. For example, you could ask your child to clap for each letter of the word or jump, hop, take a step forward – any type of movement your child will enjoy! This will not only help your child “lock-in” the correct letter order; it will also boost their recall skills.
#10 – Playing Teacher
Role reversal can be a fantastic and fun way to help your child learn to spell and develop their overall literacy. Encourage your child to be the teacher and to teach you how to spell words. Spell the words orally, asking your child to correct any mistakes you make (be sure to make a mistake on each word!). Once your child has corrected you, ask them to write the words, saying each letter in turn. Alternatively, you could partake in a written spelling test and have your child mark your paper.
#11 – Letter Dice
Letter dice are a brilliant way to help your child learn to spell and boost their puzzle-solving skills. Letter dice come in packs of four, with six letters on each dice, making a total of 26 letters. Grab yourself a pen and paper, then ask your child to roll the different dice several times over, writing down all the letters that are rolled. Once you have ten or so letters, encourage your child to start making words from the letters that have been rolled. If your child is struggling to create words from the letters rolled, start the words for him or her, and ask them to add the letters to complete the word. Alternatively, encourage them to roll the dice again to create a bigger range of letters from which to make words from.
#12 – Listening Skills
There is no doubt that improving listening skills help to boost spelling prowess. A great way to combine improving your child’s listening and spelling skills in fell swoop is to ask them which letter(s) specific words start or end with. The great thing about this activity is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Furthermore, if you put your child on the spot to name the letter a word begins or ends with, it will help to boost their confidence if they get it right. Even if they’re unsure, given them a little helping hand and praise them no matter how well they perform.
#13 – Rhyming Words
Another easy-to-play word game that can be played anywhere at any time is a rhyming word activity. Say a word, then ask your child to say other words that rhyme with those specific words. Games like this will not only boost their understanding and grasp of the English language and expand their vocabulary; it will also help to boost their problem-solving skills and potentially boost their confidence. As with all activities, always be patient and provide assistance if it is required. Giving your child a nudge in the direction is a fantastic way to help them learn, as well as boost their self-esteem when they name several rhyming words successfully.
#14 – Memory Games
There are a wide array of memories activities to help boost your child’s spelling skills, but this one is dedicated to helping develop their visual memory; it’s really simple to play too! All you need is a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Write down a word on a piece of paper and ask your child to look at it for around 20 seconds, encouraging them to visualise the letters and the order in which they go. After 20 seconds, cover the word up and ask your child to write the word. If your child gets it right, move onto a new; if they misspell the word, ask them to try again.
#15 – Identify The Wrong Word
This is another activity that will help to develop your child’s spelling and problem-solving skills. Again, it’s really easy to play, only requiring a piece of paper and a pen or pencil to get started. Write a short sentence on the piece of paper, making one spelling mistake. Tell your child that you’ve made one mistake and it is their job to identify the spelling mistake and then correct it. When first using this exercise, make it relatively easy by missing out a letter at the beginning or end of a word, or add an extra letter. If your child struggles, give them all the time they need and be on hand to give them a nudge in the right direction should they need it.
#16 – Grocery List
Before going grocery shopping, go through the list with your child, saying each word and discussing what the item is. If your child is keen, encourage them to re-write the list. Although it’s likely there will be more complex words on the list than your child is used to, it will help to expand their vocabulary, not to mention giving their writing skills a boost.
A Few Extra Spelling Tips…
– If your child frequently struggles to remember all of the words on their spelling list, speak to their teacher. Some children are able to handle greater workloads than others, with children’s memories also varying from individual to individual. Don’t be afraid to speak to your child’s teacher if they’re struggling with their spelling list. Teachers are there to help and are typically happy to receive feedback re: homework they’ve been set. It’s likely your child’s spelling list will be reduced, making learning spelling more efficient and comfortable for your child. The last thing you want is your little one becoming overwhelmed, which will decrease both their motivation and receptiveness to learning.
– Break spelling practise into manageable chunks. For example, split your child’s spelling homework into three units of 10 minutes, rather than one large block of 30 minutes. Break this up throughout the evening, e.g. 10 minutes upon arrival home from school; 10 minutes before dinner; 10 minutes after dinner. Short but frequent learning periods are typically more effective than one prolonged exercise. Children will often become frustrated, impatient, and exhausted.
– Try clustering similar words as this can make learning easier. For example, one day you can look at all of the six-letter words with your child, then next you could attempt all the words that begin with a consonant etc. Doing this will help your child recognise familiarities (and differences) in words, in addition to helping to boost their word recall.
– Before each spelling homework session, encourage your child to pronounce each word on their spelling list. It is crucial for children to know how to correctly pronounce a word before attempting to spell it. If their pronunciation isn’t correct, take time to help them pronounce it the proper fashion, explaining the different sounds of the words and how this relates to the way the word is spelt.
– Start each spelling practise session by asking your child to look at the word, say it aloud (making sure they pronounce it correctly), then spell it correctly. Following this, ask your child to cover the word and attempt to spell it without looking. Alternatively, if they’re struggling to spell it orally, encourage your child to write it down. Once your child has done this for five or six words, stop the exercise and ask them to spell the words. Say one word at a time, asking them to spell it either orally or in written form.
How To Helping Children Struggling With Spelling: A Summary
Helping your child to boost their spelling skills at home requires patience, and creating an environment that is non-school like. It is important to stay in your natural role as a parent, rather than assume the role of a teacher. Be a parent who is teaching, rather than a teacher who is also a parent. Your child will be keen to please you and receive praise, so keep this in mind at all times to ensure you’re both patient and commend them when they do well or are clearly making lots of effort even if their spelling practise isn’t going so well. Always keep the games and actives short and fun, mixing it up as much as possible.