We all know spelling is tricky. With more than 150 ways of spelling the 44 sounds in the English language, it’s no wonder children struggle with spelling.
So how can we help children become better spellers and build a lasting understanding of spelling rules and the many exceptions to those rules?
Here are five helpful strategies.
1) Develop children’s phonic knowledge
Children should first be taught letter-sound correspondences. For example, if children know that the sound k can be spelt:
- c as in cat
- k as in kite
- ck as in pick
- ch as in school
- que as in antique,
they will be able to use these graphemes (letters or letter clusters) to spell this sound.
2) Explore spelling rules
Once children have learnt the different graphemes for the same sound, they need to learn which grapheme to choose when spelling a word. This is where spelling rules come in. For example, if children know that the sound k should be spelt in the following ways, they will be able to spell words containing this sound correctly:
- c before a, o and u (can, cot, cup) and before a consonant (clue, cry, act)
- k before e, i and y (kettle, king, sky); after a consonant (desk, sink, fork); and after a long vowel sound (break, week, bike, cloak, spook)
- ck after a short vowel sound (back, speck, click, sock, truck)
- ch in words of Greek origin (chorus, scheme, stomach) – see point 4 below
- que in words of French origin (unique, cheque, opaque) – see point 4 below
Other common spelling rules include:
- Swap y for i when adding a suffix that starts with an e to words that end in a consonant followed by a y (cry, cried; dry, drier; ugly, ugliest)
- Swap y for i when adding the suffixes ly, ful, ment, ness, less to words that end in a consonant followed by a y (happy, happily; plenty, plentiful; merry, merriment; lazy, laziness; pity, pitiless)
- Swap le for ly when adding the suffix ly to words ending in le (gentle, gently)
- Double the consonant when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel to words that end in a vowel followed by a consonant (run, running; swim, swimmer; chop, chopped)
- Drop the e when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel to words that end in a consonant followed by an e (hope, hoping; hike, hiked; nice, nicest; game, gamer; prepare, preparation; fame, famous; adore, adorable; force, forcible)
Unfortunately, there are exceptions to these rules…
3) Teach common exception words
These ‘tricky words’ are exceptions as they have letter-sound correspondences that are not what you might expect. Focus on the tricky graphemes in these words and point out the parts of the word that children can already spell easily. Don’t tell them that the whole word is tricky – just certain parts of it.
Use a phrase as a mnemonic to help children learn common exception words:
- busy: it’s busy on the bus
- because: big elephants can’t always use small entrances
- said: it’s got an ‘a’ and an ‘i’, but I don’t know why
- what: wonky hats always topple
- weird: we are weird
- island: an island is land with water around it
- believe: never believe a lie
- friend: if you ‘fri’ your friend, they’ll come to an ‘end’
- beautiful: big ears aren’t ugly, they’re beautiful
- answer: a negative score will equal relegation (good for footy fans!)
4) Explore morphology (how words are formed) and
etymology (the origins of words)
The National Curriculum recommends exploring the morphology of words to help children see the links between spellings. For example, understanding the relationship between magic and magician may help children spell the sh sound in magician with the letters ci. It also recommends exploring the etymology of words. For example, knowing that the word antique is French in origin may help children to spell the k sound in antique with the letters que.
5) Use word walls
Reading helps reinforce the spelling of words – the more often children see a word, the more likely they are to spell it correctly. Create wall space on which to display words that children are learning to spell. Reading and writing words helps children learn spellings more easily than if a word is spelt aloud for them.
Discover Read Write Inc. Spelling
All of the above strategies are used in Read Write Inc. Spelling, a 15-minutes-a-day spelling programme with an engaging online resource, covering all the spelling requirements of the National Curriculum. Read Write Inc. Spelling Online now includes the Extra Practice Zone – offering over 1,000 new classroom activities.