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Teaching Spelling in a Meaningful Way

Teaching Spelling in a Meaningful Way

The last two periods of Monday afternoons in Second Year at High School were English. Part of this class was weekly library time, but not for me. I went to Learning Support, I couldn’t spell well. I remember the embarrassment, trying to hide my spelling book, and trying to slip into the Learning Support room unseen. My 20 spelling words were written out 4 times, and now I had my spelling test. I am still not convinced how effective this was. Then, whilst at University I had a holiday job doing secretarial work. On my first day, my first email, I misspelled the word “tried”, the shame of not being able to spell such a common word! I have never spelt it T-R-Y-E-D since.

As a result of these experiences in my own life, and the subsequent reading about dyslexia, have made me reluctant to teach spelling in the conventional way. Therefore I have been looking for a method which is more effective.

Phonics Training

Phonics is an obvious place to begin. To have a systematic rigorous foundation in phonics makes the teaching of spelling much easier. I have used Jolly Phonics with my boys. This has helped me with my own spelling and understanding of the English language, as well as my boys. For example the long vowel sound-i can be created using ie, igh, y, or i_e having this list of possible ways to create the long vowel sound-i is a start makes it easier to decode how to spell words with this sound in them. However, how do we know which one to use? And even with a comprehensive list of different digraphs there are still the tricky words to deal with.

In addition to Jolly Phonics I have used the book Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling and Literacy. This book also gives lists of spelling rules, which open up the reasons why we spell words the way we do. For example, most English words do not end with c, that is why words with the /k/ sound almost always end -ck. Or the rules for the soft g, and soft c sounds in words.

I have found that by using these rules to explain difficult words to spell, slowly begin to enforce how to spell these words.

Tricky Words

However there are still the tricky words. I have a list of the most common sight words. This list is used as the foundation of a weekly spelling lesson to teach these difficult words.

I write the word on a magnetic white board, then the child uses magnetic letters to spell the word out. The child then writes to word and says the word. Next I have the child trace the letters out with their finger on the floor, and speak out how to spell the word. This approach is multi-sensory. They see, hear, and feel the letters.

How to Teach Sight Words from Marianne Sunderland on Vimeo.

I will also draw the shape of the word in blocks to help them memorise how it looks, and ask them to take a picture of the word and store it in there brain like a photograph.

Another method which has proved helpful is associating a picture with a word to aid memorisation, so when they hear the word their is an image associated with it.

For some words a great method is mnemonics: the turning a word into a phrase. For example “SAID”: Sam And I Dance. When we have used mnemonics I have asked the child to write it out and also draw a picture to go to with the word.

Time and Patience

With spelling my vision is long term and it takes patience. One of my son’s will not ace spelling overnight. But little-by-little he is making progress. The auditory aspect works well with him, as does the picture association with words. He is slowly picking up some of the spelling rules, as I reinforce them day-by-day. And as he sees himself making progress, his confidence grows, which just blesses my mama heart.

For many children the traditional methods of teaching spelling do not work. However, with a good foundation in phonics, the rules to understand how difficult words are spelt, the tools to memorise the tricky sight words, and with patience a child with spelling difficulties can slowly begin to spell.

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