Strategies for Spelling

According to experts, spelling is a function of three things – knowledge of phonemes and phonics, knowledge of spelling rules and memorisation and practice. What do these three mean?

Knowledge of phonemes and phonics simply means the knowledge of letter sounds. So, a child who is an expert in this is able to spell a word based on how the word sounds like. Of course there are some words that are pronounced differently from how they are written. For example, “island” came from the Old English íglund. But it picked up the ‘s’ from the Latin word insula (also meaning island), and has therefore remained spelt this way despite the lack of an ‘s’ sound.

Knowledge of common spelling rules also help. One very common rule is use ’i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’, or when sounded as ‘a’, as in ‘neighbour’ or ‘weigh.’ From this rule, children can figure out spellings like ‘thief’ and ‘chief’ (‘i’ before ‘e’); ‘deceive’ and ‘receive’ (except after ‘c’); and ‘weigh’ and ‘freight’ (sounded as ‘a’). However, there are many exceptions. Some common notable ones include ‘height, ‘eight’ and ‘their’. Many linguists complain that there are so many exceptions that this rule is not that useful. Nevertheless, it does give children some guidelines to spelling.

Finally the final part of the triad is memorisation and practice. If you think about it, you can definitely spell the words you use all the time, but have difficulty spelling the words you hardly use. One of the first words children learn how to spell is usually their names – they use it all the time to label their work, their books, etc. Therefore, the final bit to the puzzle of spelling lies in usage. We intend to give some tips to help spelling. Our focus will be on very practical advice, and we will not be taking about the knowledge of phonemes and spelling rules. The reason is that phonemes is difficult to express in a written article (maybe we will eventually do an audio or video on it). As for spelling rules, we will leave it to another latter date. We will just focus on memorisation and practice.

One of the fundamental problems with practising writing is that it is very boring. And in a sense it is mindless – the child just copies the word again and again without registering the spelling. How can we improve on this experience? If you google, you will find many strategies to make it fun. While fun is good, it might still not have any big impact (writing using different coloured pencils is more fun, but has the learning experience improved?)

Now, if you remember, we talked about how Webb’s Depth of Knowledge is being used in our school. We can apply the same principle as we realise that the higher the complexity of thinking, the better the student learns. I am listing down activities based on complexity level. The younger children probably has to stick to levels 1-2 because they have not developed cognitively yet. The older kids can do levels 2-3. Remember, the aim is to expose them to cognitively complex activities so that more learning takes place.

Level 1

  • Spelling Jacks: Spell your words as you do jumping jacks! For each letter do one jumping jack, then do one last jumping jack as you say the whole word you just spelled. Example: C (jumping jack), A (jumping jack), T (jumping jack), CAT (jumping jack)
  • 3-D Words: Use play dough or clay to sculpt your spelling words.
  • Back Writing: Use your finger to spell out each of your spelling words, one letter at a time, on mom or dad’s back and ask them to guess. Then it’s the child’s turn to identify the words as mom or dad writes them on his back.
  • Other Handed: If you are right handed, write your spelling words with your left hand. If you are left handed, write your words with your right hand.

Level 2

  • Reverse ABC Order Words: Write your words in ABC order but this time start at the end of the alphabet.
  • Rhyming Words: Write each of your spelling words. next to each word, write a rhyming word. If necessary, your rhyming words can be nonsense words.
  • Match-up: Write each of your words on two different index cards. Turn all the cards face down and mix them up. Lay out all your cards in rows (like memory games) and flip over two cards at a time. Read each card aloud to see if they match. Keep them if they do, or flip them over and try again.
  • Secret Agent Words: Number the alphabet from 1-26. Example: A=1, B=2, C=3, etc… Then convert your words to a number code. Write each spelling word and then next to it, write the word in code.

Level 3

  • Story, Story: Write a story using all of your spelling words.
  • Hidden Words: Draw a picture that illustrates the meaning of the word and write your spelling words in the picture. Try to hide the words.
  • Make Some Music: Write a song or rap that includes your words. Share with a friend or family member

You will notice that have included a variety of activities that cater to different types of learning. I hope you have some fun trying out these spelling activities with your children.