To the vast majority of adults, spelling is an almost subconscious task that is performed with relative ease each and every day of our lives. But if I was to ask you to teach a child how to spell, where would you begin? Would you know how to guide them through the process without much difficulty? Would you know what activities to use? How would you decide what to do and when?
Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s much harder to teach a child to spell than you’d think! While a slap-dash, haphazard approach may have some success, a carefully planned out strategy will clearly be more successful; therefore, it’s essential to have an understanding of the basics of learning how to spell in order to pass that knowledge on in an effective and easy-to-understand fashion.
The ability to spell is typically achieved through a combination of subconscious learning and memory. For example, it’s likely you’ve been exposed to words ending in “-tion” numerous times and know it’s pronounced “shun”. But even this leads to a problem. How can you teach your child to spell if you’re unaware of why we spell words the way we do?
Learning to spell is a deep and complex process; therefore, it’s essential to get clued up on the foundations before embarking on teaching your little one how to spell.
How To Make Learning to Spell Easier: Six Effective Methods
#1 – Sounds
Words are comprised of sounds known as ‘phonemes’, which are either vowels or consonants. For example, the word “dog” is comprised of three separate phonemes: /d/ /o/ /g/. Each phoneme translates to a specific letter. By encouraging your child to recognise and indemnify sounds first, their ability to identify letters will improve.
However, there are numerous words in the English language that sound different to how they are spelt, which has the potential to causes obvious issues. That being said, when beginning your child’s spelling journey, it’s totally OK for them to spell words the way they sound (phonetically). For example, the word “house” may be mistakenly spelt “hows”.
If your child makes an error such as this, be sure to praise them for the parts/letters that were correct, then proceed to show them how the word is actually spelt and go over it few times to make sure they understand. You can help to boost their understanding by comparing the word to words they are familiar with. If we use the word “house” as an example again, you might want to compare it to words like “mouse”, “out”, or “our”.
Remember, increased awareness of the sounds letters and words make (commonly referred to as phonemic awareness) can lead to improved reading ability, so you’ll be boosting two abilities for the price of one!
#2 – Encourage Word Analysis
Encourage your child to use words they know how to spell to help them spell words that are unfamiliar. If they’re struggling, suggest that they ask themselves the following questions:
Is this word similar to one I have seen or heard before?
Are there parts of these words/syllables that I have seen or heard in other words?
Although it is essential for you to assist your child should they need guidance, it’s equally important – if not more important – for your child to use their initiative and try and decipher the puzzle by themselves. This will not only improve their spelling but give them the confidence to solve problems across all aspects of learning, not to mention life in general.
#3 – “Chunks”
Splitting words into chunks can make them easier to sound out/say and spell; therefore, encouraging your child to do this for words they’re unsure of is a good idea. By doing this, your child may identify sounds or word parts they recognise, which will make saying and learning to spell the word much easier. Let’s take the word “hospital” as an example.
– Split the word down into three chunks, i.e. /ho/ /spit/ /al/.
– Find at least one “chunk” that is similar to a word they’re familiar with. In this instance, the word /spit/.
– For the other two chunks, use other familiar words to determine the sounds. For example, /ho/ is “hot” without the /t/, and /al/ is “ball” without the /b/.
– Once your child understands the three chunks, ask them to put them together in firstly spoken form, then written form.
#4 – Memory Activities and Games
Also referred to as ‘mnemonics’, memory games are a fantastic weapon in your teaching arsenal. These are rhymes, visuals, and phrases that are used to help children remember words. Here are a few examples of our favourites:
– The hospital is completely full; there isn’t room for an extra ‘l’.
– Innocent: in no century is a crime impossible.
– Argue lost its ‘e’ in an argument.
Try and have as much as possible with these. Feel free to make up your own and encourage your child to do the same as well! Remember, it doesn’t always have to be word-based nor witty; it can be anything you like, provided it help improve long-term memory!
#5 – Word Families
Your child’s spelling homework will typically involve spelling lists. When helping your child with their spelling homework, group the words in the spelling list into different categories depending on their structure, i.e. how the word is constructed. By doing this, you’ll make it much easier for your child to identify patterns of spelling that can translate over to new, unfamiliar words. Here are some examples of categories you could use:
– Prefixes: Common prefixes at the beginning of words, such as un-, re-, pre- etc.
– Suffixes: Common suffixes at the end of words, such as -ish, -ed, -ness, etc.
– Graphological patterns: Words that are partially built from a common form, but sound different in different word. For example, “our” is said differently in ‘court, ‘tour’, and ‘sour’.
#6 – Self-checking and Revision
Children who take pride and find joy in checking their own spelling and revising what they’ve learnt are often the best spellers and those who develop quickest. To encourage this, provide your child with a dictionary (either a hard copy or online) with which to check their own work. By doing this, you’ll help them to feel empowered as they’ll have every single word at there fingertips and they can check every word they’re trying to spell. Remember, by far and away the best way to motivate your child to learn how to spell is by making it enjoyable!
Teaching Your Child How To Spell: A Summary
There is no doubt that the road to successful spelling is a long and complex one. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy routes. There are no quick fixes. Being aware of this is vitally important as it allows you to understand what it takes to turn your child from a novice into an adept speller. The six techniques outlined above, while certainly not being exhaustive, will provide you with a solid foundation from which to start building your child’s understanding of words, and ultimately their spelling ability. Remember, be patient, take your time, and most of all, make it fun!