Spelling skills

Top Tips for Spelling Success – for parents and teachers.

  1. Phonics:

These are the ‘sounds written as letters’ that make up words, such as ch, thr, ight, etc. The student should have learned these at primary school, but if s/he is not confident of them you can just work with the learner to scribble down as many words she can think of with each phoneme you come up with. Google “phonics worksheets” if you want to find some lists of phonemes to use – but they are mostly for primary school children, so they may need adapting for older learners. Check for Americanisms if they are not UK websites: US spellings are often different to ours.

Remember to find words that use the phoneme in the beginning, middle or end of a word if possible. If there are any phonemes that the student persistently finds hard then think up some acronyms to help her e.g. I’ve Got Hairy Toes = ight.

  1. Prefixes and suffixes:

When students are shown that many words have prefixes, and that suffixes can be added to root words, it is often a surprise to them! However, the spellings and functions of prefixes and suffixes are remarkably consistent, so learning them can be a real help for both spelling and comprehension. Again, there are loads of websites to find via google, but you could start off with http://www.esl-galaxy.com/prefixsuffix.html

  1. Playing with words:

Explore antonyms, homonyms, synonyms etc with the student – you can create some fun games with these categories of words and it helps boost comprehension, vocabulary and spelling. I like http://www.fun-with-words.com. Talk about compound words (e.g. whiteboard, tablecloth, teabag) and contractions (e.g. cannot=can’t, do not= don’t, would not= wouldn’t).

  1. Homonyms (also known as homophones) are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings e.g. bear,bare and break/brake. Homophones are often taught as pairs of words, but many people think this is just confusing and I tend to agree. Seeing a word in context is what informs our understanding of the word, so although it is good to be aware of homonyms, and teach the difference where necessary, seeing this words in text is the best way to learn to recognise the appropriate spelling.

By the way, I’ve found this a useful way to teach the difference between there & their and where & wear and here & hear:

there and there both contain the word ‘here’ – and they are both about ‘place’.

‘Where is the bike?’

‘The bike is over there, but its front wheel is right here!’

  1. Check the student is secure in her understanding of grammar: does she know what nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, possessive pronouns are? Many students struggle with spelling because they don’t understand the different jobs being done by where/were/wear/weir/we’re or its/it’s, who/whose/who’s, or there/they’re/their. You can only really teach them this bit if they understand the grammar first. I love the Michael O’Mara book Write Every Time. There are other fun books in the series too: I Before E, My Grammar and I etc.
  1. Word-bashing:

Take a word, such as biology, and use a dictionary to explore its roots: bios is ancient Greek for life, and logia comes from the Ancient Greek for study or knowledge of… hey presto; you can now work out the word’s meaning.

Then you can find other words that use bio- (such as biotechnology, bionics, biodegradable, biological powder, micrcobiology), and -ology (such as geology, oceanology, archaeology, criminology etc). You can create a mind map together and see how far you can go (biology-microbiology-microscope-telescope-telephone-telegraph-autograph-autobiography etc!!!) Each time, look up the root word that adds a new meaning, such as micro=tiny, tele=far, archaeo=ancient.

And if you have EAL (English as additional language) students who know Italian, Spanish or French then encourage them to explore how their first language can help them understand English words with Latin roots. They have a great advantage!

You can see how word-bashing can take you on a path of discovery that reveals both meaning and simple spelling patterns that hugely increase a student’s vocabulary, and helps them feel more relaxed about using a dictionary. It’s also great fun and a good activity to do together.


Camilla de la Bedoyere ©2013

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