Tackling Spelling

Now that school is back in full force, the battle over studying spelling words has begun in many households. While some students struggle painfully through studying their words, there are others who consistently get A’s on their tests with barely a glance at their list.

What is the key to becoming a good speller?

Factor #1: Understanding the code
Many people believe that spelling is purely a visual process, a matter of remembering how words look. While this is a major part, the foundation for spelling lies in the auditory process, or understanding how words sound.

In order to be a good speller, an individual must be able to make sense out of the code (the sound-symbol system of the language). If the student is able to think about the number, order, and identity of sounds within words, the groundwork for spelling has been laid. **Students who cannot make sense out of sounds despite exposure to phonics and spelling rules will likely need development in auditory conceptualization (the ability to THINK about sounds inside of words; the thinking process that supports phonics and spelling).

Factor #2: Remembering how words look
Once the student understands how the sounds and letters in our language work to make words, they need to think about how words look. Because there is such a strong visual component to spelling, it is helpful to practice words in a way that helps the student access or really use his visual memory. The following is a quick and highly successful visual spelling strategy:

  1. Print the student’s word on a word card in bold lower case letters. Hold the spelling word card up above the student’s eye level.
  2. Say to your child, “Quickly draw over the letters with your eyes. Notice any letters that stick up or stick down, any double letters, and the first and the last.  Now take a picture of the whole word.”

  3. Quickly remove the card and put your empty hand back up where the card had been. Say, “Remember what it looked like. When your pictures is clear, write the word.” (If the pictures is not clear have the child say which part he cannot remember. Show him the card again quickly and tell him to notice that part).
  4. After the student has written the word, put your empty hand back up and say “Check up here and see if it feels right.”

  5. If it feels right, (and is right), go on. If not, put the card back up and take quick visual checks.
  6. Keep the practice session short. Do only two or three words.
  7. Optional (but helpful)! Have the child look up and spell the word forward and backward using your hand to point out the location of each letter in space. **This strategy is taken from the very exciting Breakthroughs in Learning presented by Jean Benford.