Some kids are just naturally “good spellers.” (My daughter was a natural speller.) And then there are those who need all the help they can get. (My son was in this category!)
If spelling doesn’t come easily to your child, you’ll want to give him all the help you can, and that includes teaching the effective spelling strategies that come naturally to good spellers.
It pains me to see spelling programs rely only on visual strategies, such as looking at a word list and writing each word ten times. Other programs rely on phonetic strategies, which work well at the beginning level but leave students without an effective strategy when approaching words like knowledge or bicycle. Your child deserves a balanced approach to spelling strategies, giving him the necessary tools to be a great speller.
Let me introduce the four most important spelling strategies: phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic.
The first strategy that should be taught to beginning spellers is to listen for each sound in a word and to represent each sound with a letter or combination of letters. If you teach the phonograms—that the sound of /ă/ is spelled with the letter a and the sound of /n/ is spelled with the letter n, for example—the student will be able to accurately represent the individual sounds he hears in a word. Segmenting words is a great way for students to practice this strategy.
Take the word rock, for example. If the student can identify the individual sounds and knows the phonograms r, o, and ck, he will be able to spell the word easily. Hundreds of words can be written correctly simply by applying this phonetic spelling strategy.
Though many words can be spelled phonetically, the beginning spelling student will soon recognize that there are often several possible spellings for the same sound—the sound of /j/ can be spelled j, g, or dge, for example—and that’s when knowing some rules will come in handy! There are many reliable rules and generalizations in English spelling that will help students make the correct choices in their own writing. For example, knowing the rules regarding the use of c and k, and knowing that the sound of /ch/ is usually spelled tch after a short vowel, helps us write the word kitchen. And knowing generalizations can help us correctly spell words like acceptable and automatic.
Does the word look right? Good spellers often try spelling a word several ways to see which way looks correct. This is where the word banks in the All About Spelling program come in. Each word bank focuses on one concept, such as the sound of /j/ spelled dge, and helps build the student’s visual memory of words related to that particular concept. Visual memory is important when it comes to correctly using homophones, too, like pray and prey or tale and tail. Extensive reading and word games will also help your student build visual memory.
Morphemic strategies are based on the knowledge of how the meaning of a word influences its spelling. All About Spelling teaches words with Greek and Latin roots and words based on other derivatives, how to add prefixes and suffixes to base words, and how to form compound words and abbreviations. Morphemic strategies enable good spellers to spell words such as neurologist, multitude, and chiropractic.
As spellers become more competent, they will usually use a combination of all four strategies in their writing. Most people don’t even realize that they are using these approaches to spelling; with practice, the strategies become automatic and are employed on a subconscious level.
In addition to these four main spelling strategies, the All About Spelling series teaches a number of other strategies that good spellers may use for a small number of words.
So there you have it: the top spelling strategies that good spellers use. If your child is a struggling speller—or if you want to help your child reach the next level—be sure to incorporate these strategies in your lessons. That’s exactly what we’ve done in the All About Spelling program!
Where does your child fall in the continuum from natural speller to lousy speller?
Jamie at The Unlikely Homeschool.