Helping Child with Spelling

helps child spelling

It is quite common for children’s reading to be better than their spelling but it is a mistake to think that by reading more and more a child’s spelling will automatically improve – it won’t. Some children seem to develop spelling ability very easily but the vast majority need a lot of help and teaching. All children need to be taught a way of learning to spell both new words and those which cause them problems.

Left to their own devices, children will often try to learn a word by repeating the letter names over and over to themselves. This may be a way of remembering something for the short term, but it is not likely to result in long term learning. The best way of illustrating this is to think about what happens when you need to look up a telephone number. You look it up, repeat the number two or three times and then dial it. You can remember which number to dial then, but if you were asked what that number is a few hours later you wouldn’t be able to recall it.

The method which is in very successful use in many schools is to teach children to learn words by the Look, Cover, Write, Check routine which is as follows.
helps child spelling
1. The word needing to be learned is written down correctly for or by the child on a piece of paper or in a special spelling notebook.

2. The child goes through the following steps – with any help which may be required :

  • Look at the word very carefully paying special attention to any tricky parts (e.g. the au pattern in because). Say the word out loud and if pronouncing it in a funny way by sounding letters which are really silent will help, then do it (e.g. saying Wednesday as Wed-nes-day.)
  • Cover the word up – either with a finger or a piece of paper/card.
  • Write the word from memory
  • Check back with the original word to see if the attempt has been successful or which part of the word has been incorrectly spelled.
  • Repeat the steps until the child is able to write the word (from memory each time) easily and fluently.

You may wonder why copying out a word several times won’t do instead. The reason for this not being very effective is that when children copy something it is almost as if they go on to automatic pilot – they can copy correctly without paying full attention to what they are doing. Writing a word from memory means that their brains have to be fully engaged !

If your child has not been taught this method at school then do teach it to him yourself and encourage him to use it. Children do need reminding about this because it is obviously harder work than simply copying something! When he is writing and asks you how to spell something, then this is what you can do :

1. Always write the word down for him -don’t just say the letter names.

2. Let him simply copy the word into his writing at this stage so that he doesn’t loose the flow of the writing or his train of thought.

3. When the writing is finished, go back to the words that he asked you how to spell and select three or four for him to learn using the method above. Choose the words which are ones that appear frequently in writing; it is more important for him to be able to spell words like because, very, where, was or have than it is to spell words like dinosaur, Transformers or galactic at this stage!

4. You may also want to help by looking at the finished piece of writing with him. Try doing it like this :

  • – Ask him to read what he has written.
  • – Praise the content and tell him which bits you like particularly.
  • – Ask him if there are any words which he thinks he has spelled wrongly.
  • – Discuss these words with him and perhaps draw his attention to a few misspellings if he hasn’t been able to identify any of his own mistakes.
  • – Don’t forget to praise him for making an attempt to spell the words himself.
  • – Select two or three of the words for him to learn.

Do please remember that if he has made a lot of mistakes in his writing you should NOT point them all out. Doing this is only likely to result in making him feel overwhelmed and disheartened and so more reluctant to write anything in the future.

If you are going to go through your child’s writing with him in this way then it makes obvious sense to do it immediately he has finished and leave step number three until last.

It is a very good idea to have a separate notebook for spelling at home rather than you writing and your child learning words on pieces of paper. That way you keep a record of the words he has been learning or needs to learn which can be checked from time to time.