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How to Handle Spelling Mistakes

Here’s a fact: Your child is going to make an occasional spelling mistake.

The question is: How will you handle these mistakes?

Now is the perfect time to think through the answer to this question—because the way you handle errors can make a huge difference in your child’s ability and confidence. So let’s dig in!

Right off the bat, I’d like to share my “thought filter” for dealing with spelling mistakes.

flow chart showing when to correct spelling mistakes

As you can see from the graphic above, there are really just two scenarios you need to be concerned with. First let’s zoom in on how to handle errors made during spelling lessons.

How to Handle Spelling Mistakes Made During a Lesson

When you’re in the middle of a spelling lesson, a mistake may seem like a reason for concern. But, in fact, every spelling mistake is a chance for your child to learn.

  1. Ask your student to carefully read exactly what she has written down.
    Often, she will be able to see and correct her own error.

  2. Determine the cause of the spelling mistake.
    For example, perhaps your child left out a sound or added an extra one, or perhaps she didn’t apply a rule, made a visual error, or forgot to think through syllables or root words. Talk through the reasons the word is misspelled. Doing this will help the correct spelling make more sense to her than if you simply correct the mistake without explanation. If you need to review a phonogram or a rule, now is the time to do it.

    It’s important to keep those spelling rules fresh in your child’s mind!

    • Demonstrate the rule by writing it out or using the letter tiles to spell the troublesome word correctly and explaining how the rule applies.
    • Have your child spell other words that follow the same rule or generalization.
    • Be sure to revisit that rule several times over the next few days until your student demonstrates mastery of it.
  3. Have your student spell the word again.
    First have her spell the word with the letter tiles and then once again on paper.

  4. Add the word to your child’s spelling review box.
    Leave the word in the review box until your child can spell it quickly and easily. Regular review of challenging words allows ample opportunity for the correct spelling pattern to be ingrained in your student’s mind.

If your child misspells many words during spelling lessons, that’s a sign that you should slow down the pacing of your lessons. You want to make sure she masters the current spelling patterns before you add more.

mom penguin correcting a child's spelling mistake

Outside of spelling lessons, it’s a different scenario. Read on to find out how to handle those types of spelling errors.

How to Handle Spelling Mistakes Made Outside of a Lesson

When your child is writing during free-writing time or completing assignments for other classes …

  • she isn’t working with a controlled word list but is probably using words that contain concepts she hasn’t learned yet.
  • you aren’t watching her write out each word.
  • you don’t want her to limit her word choices to avoid being corrected. Instead you want to encourage creativity and freedom.

So we need a different approach for misspellings that occur outside of spelling lessons. This two-step process will help.

  1. If you have already covered the spelling concepts related to the misspelled word, don’t rush to correct the word.
    Instead, write yourself a private note to review those concepts during your next spelling lesson.

  2. This is really hard for some parents, but once you’ve written your note, ignore the spelling mistake!
    Don’t mark up your child’s paper with spelling corrections, and don’t require her to correct it.

Note that you will be holding your student responsible for writing words correctly if they include concepts you have already taught, but at this stage, when the mistake is made outside of the spelling lessons, you won’t be stopping everything and making her rewrite. Wait until the next spelling lesson to review the related concepts.

Download the “How to Correct Spelling Mistakes” Quick Guide

You may want to download our “cheat sheet” and tuck it into your teacher’s manual for a visual reminder of the two main ways to handle misspellings.

learn how to handle spelling mistakes

Still have questions about correcting your child’s spelling errors? Here are a few more tips!

Common Questions about Misspellings

“My child looks to me for feedback as he spells. What should I do?”

When you dictate spelling words and sentences, don’t watch your child spell the word! Wait until he says he is finished spelling before you look. Otherwise, some kids learn to watch your facial expression to see if they are on the right track.

“Will the improper spelling become imprinted?”

One school of thought suggests that children should never see an incorrectly spelled word for fear that the misspelling will get imprinted on your child’s mind. The idea is that if a child begins to choose the wrong letter, you should correct the error right away so that the child never sees or writes a word incorrectly.

But there’s a flaw in this reasoning: when your child makes a mistake, he already thinks he’s writing the correct answer, which means he already has the incorrect spelling in his mind. Simply correcting his mistake and moving on may not accomplish the learning you hope it will. Worse yet, when you rush to correct your child’s spelling, it undermines his judgment.

You want your child to learn to trust his own ability to identify and correct mistakes. But when you correct your child prematurely, he learns to doubt his own judgment instead. He also learns that he can rely on outside correction, eliminating the need to internalize rules, patterns, and other spelling strategies.

This is exactly the opposite of what you want your child to do.

“Why should students re-read what they’ve written?”

When you give your child the opportunity to recognize and correct his own errors, you’ll be able to more clearly determine what your child actually knows and understands. You may think he has mastered a rule or pattern, but when you observe that he isn’t able to correct an error involving that pattern, it reveals a gap in his understanding.

When given the chance, kids can often identify and correct their own mistakes. In fact, self-correction is much more effective than outside correction in helping kids master correct spelling for future encounters with a difficult word or pattern.

And think about it: it’s pretty annoying to be corrected for something you know but didn’t have a chance to fix on your own, isn’t it? It’s much more satisfying to be able to fix your own mistakes without being micromanaged.

“In spelling class, how long do you wait to correct a misspelling?”

When you are dictating spelling words, work with your child to correct any misspellings right after your child lets you know that he has finished spelling the word and is ready for you to look at it.

When you are dictating sentences, allow him to finish the entire sentence before correcting spelling errors. Ideally, check each sentence after it has been written. Don’t wait until the next class to check his work.

Wouldn’t it be nice if spelling wasn’t difficult? Download my free report, “6 Ways We Make Spelling Easy,” and discover how the All About Spelling program takes the struggle out of spelling.

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

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Patricia Fraser

says:

I have one child who can’t seem to catch the th, sh and ch blend Any tips on helping. She had it with letter tills but when it came to spelling the words she lost it. Not sure if we should move on to a new lesson and hope it comes later or stay there.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What difficulty is she having, Patricia? Is she mixing up TH, SH, and CH? When you give words like bath, wish, or rich, how does she spell them?

Whatever the difficulty, she does need to stay here until she has mastered using these phonograms. These phonograms will show up again and again in words and in dictation.

If she is mixing these phonograms up, it would be best to focus on just one of them for a while. Spend time each day reviewing what TH says and then spelling words using TH. After she has had a lot of success and spelled many words with TH, at least a few days but maybe a week or more, then introduce SH. Work on just SH and SH words for a couple of days, and when she has them down well, then do some mixed work having her spell some TH words and some SH. Only after she has mastered words with TH and SH and has practiced lots of them would you then introduce CH.

Another idea is to try adding in some hand motions to go along with saying the sounds to help her remember which is which:

TH – a “thumb’s up” motion
SH – a finger in front of the lips (for shhhh)
CH – a chopping motion

Another customer was helped by this site: https://www.progressivephonics.com It has free phonics books that can be read online or downloaded and used right away. They have books and activities to work on TH, SH, and CH, and also flashcards: https://www.progressivephonics.com/phonics-books/intermediate-phonics-books The mom spent 2 or 3 days focusing on these sounds, and then her son was ready to continue with the All About Spelling lessons.

Sometimes it can take a while, but your daughter will get it!

If the problem she is having is not confusing these phonograms but something else, let me know. I’m happy to help as much as needed for her to have success with these!

Rachel Nunez

says:

Great tips, thank you!

Eulalia

says:

How can I help my daughter. She skeeps the vowel sounds

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Eulalia,
Take a look at our Segmenting: A Critical Skill for Spelling blog post. Students miss letters in words when they aren’t hearing each sound. By segmenting words down to their individual sounds, students can then clearly each sound, which helps them not miss letters.

I hope this helps your daughter. Let me know if you have further questions.

RASHEEDAT Fasasi

says:

Great resources, keep up the good work

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Rasheedat!

Alison O

says:

Very excited for the download! I have 2 natural spellers and one who REALLY struggles (ESPECIALLY outside of spelling lessons!)
Thanks for all you do!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you, Alison! You may like our blog post on Automaticity in Reading and Spelling as well. It is rather common for students to have more trouble with spelling outside of their spelling lessons because they have to focus on so much more than just spelling at that time.

Lindsey

says:

Thanks for the info. Learning to teach your children is a task in itself! The “little things” like this are a huge help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m very happy this was helpful to you, Lindsey! There is a lot to learn and consider with teaching, and it’s a pleasure to be able to help at least a bit.

Charles Range

says:

thanks the solutions are very accurate and hopefuly will help my students

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I, too, hope this is helpful for your students, Charles. If you have questions or need more ideas, just ask.

Nnamani Ify

says:

This is Great.

Heather

says:

Good tips! While my son spells correctly during his spelling lesson, his free-time writing is filled with errors, mostly from concepts we have not yet covered (we’re in AAS 1)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is very normal, Heather. As you progress further in All About Spelling, your son’s writing will improve more and more!

Erica DeFord

says:

Thanks for the tips. I have made myself reread this article several times since I am constantly tempted to jump in with corrections while my kids are writing. I am as much a work in progress as their teacher as my kiddos are as students. I am keeping the faith that we will get there together and be able to say we enjoyed the journey! We sure love AAR & AAS.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I completely understand, Erica. And you will all get there!

Michelle

says:

That’s great advice to make a note and review the concept during the next spelling lesson. My instinct is to remind him of the concept we learned, but that is a much more effective way to help my son with his spelling without worrying about interfering with his creativity!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, great point, Michelle! We don’t want young writers to be so worried about spelling that they stop writing, but we do want to address spelling mistakes too. This seems to be the best way to do both.

DeAnna Naumann

says:

This was really great information!! Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, DeAnna! I’m glad this is good information for you.

Amy

says:

Thank you for helping me think through this scenario in advance! This happens all the time, and now I can be confident of my response.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amy! It is helpful to have an action plan in place ahead of time.

Grace Atieno

says:

Interesting,now I know!

Rachel

says:

This is very helpful and logical way to handle spelling mistakes.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Rachel.

Jennifer Pierce

says:

Interesting!

Julie Wilson

says:

I loved the tips in this article. They will help me with teaching my children.

Rachel

says:

Thanks for the great post. It was very helpful for when I am teaching my daughters.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rachel! It’s great this will be helpful for you.

Laura

says:

New at homeschooling and loving all this tips. Also, I am waiting for my all about reading and spelling material and cant wait to start with my 2 kids.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Laura! Let me know if you have any questions about beginning with All About Reading and All About Spelling or anything else.

Amber

says:

This is just the article I needed right now. My 6yo has been doing a lot of independent writing and I didn’t want to crush her want to right. But this is a great way to incorporate it into a lesson.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, Amber!

Vanessa

says:

So helpful for all the little moments when we want our little to feel confident writing but also be encouraged to learn correct spelling along the way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you and your little, Vanessa.

Amanda Y.

says:

Thank you for writing such insightful posts! This is just what I needed to know for teaching spelling to my second grader.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so very welcome, Amanda! It’s wonderful to hear that this was helpful to you. But if you have questions or need anything, just let me know!

leslee

says:

This is so helpful! i can use this immediately!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful right away, Leslee!

Kim

says:

I will definitely be using these ideas in our homeschool!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad to help you with some ideas, Kim!

Amy

says:

I like the idea of ignoring the spelling mistakes outside of “spelling lessons”. I do not point out every misspelling but I will correct her spelling if she needs to write a final clean draft of a paper.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amy,
Yes, I do help my kids by editing their first drafts after they have edited themselves first.

Stacy

says:

Great resource! I love all about spelling for my kids!

Kim

says:

I’m really intrigued to see how this can work for my kiddos!

Emma

says:

Already on spelling level 2, step 7 and I can see his progress which makes me very happy.

Bella Cobun

says:

When they spell a word wrong, I will have them practice spelling out the word.

Cynthia T.

says:

My daughter enjoyed level 1 spelling and can’t wait to start level 2.