The simple magic of learning to spell
Your child has picked up a book, understood what they’ve read and now, in the third part of our literacy series, it’s time to help with spelling
Who needs spelling? Isn’t that what spell-check is for? Well despite advances in technology, there is still a need for children to learn to spell in order to write and convey their thoughts. Spelling is essential for written communication.
Many people will remember the Friday spelling test: learning lists and lists of words, only to write them down and have your classmates correct them – gold star optional.
The problem with this method is that being good at memorising lists of words is no guarantee that a child will be able to reproduce the same words at a later date. There are many reasons why children struggle with spellings.
Break it up and sound it out
There is an over-reliance on using sound for spelling. The English spelling system has different letter combinations for different sounds, for example, food, rude, through, move, suit, so clearly asking children to “break it up and sound it out” is an unsafe way of trying to assist a struggling speller. So what can be done?
Using your eyes to your advantage
As adults, we rely on how a word looks to decide whether it is correct or not. Therefore we should be getting children to look intently at words and examine how they are put together.
Words should be grouped together because the look the same, for example, cone, done, gone, money, not because they sound the same.
Children move through different stages in the development of spelling skills. Not all children move through these phases at the same rate.
Many will not “catch” spelling and these must be taught in a rational and systematic way.
Look, cover, write, check
Children are given the look/cover/write/ check strategy in school to help them learn. This strategy involves children looking intently at words, writing them from memory and then checking their own attempts. This strategy can be very effective.
Improving spelling in 10 minutes a day
Before you start, remember your role should be one of helper. Be encouraging and positive about having a go. Take away the fear of being wrong. Mistakes are helpful.
Consistency is everything. Five or 10 minutes a night, every night should be the aim. Once or twice a week is of little benefit.Be aware of your child’s attention span and do not continue past this threshold.
It is important that you relax with your child and that each spelling session is enjoyable. If you find that tension is rising, it is best to abandon the session.
How do you check the spelling of something? Do you spell it out loud or do you write it down to see how it looks? Spelling ought to be a written activity.
Talk to your child’s teacher. Find out what strategy is in use in the classroom and how you may implement it at home.
Be aware that the objective is to put these words into long-term memory. “Knowing” them at home at night is no guarantee that they will always be remembered. Do not look upon spelling as being an all-or-nothing activity. The child may have five letters correct out of six, so give praise for doing something right. Accept that progress may be slow.
How you can help
Find out what strategy is being used in school and follow it step-by-step.
For example, if you are using the look/cover/write/check strategy, which is used in many schools, you should: