What do you do when your children spell a word incorrectly or ask you how to spell a word?
- Tell them how to spell the word?
- Write the word correctly for them?
- Tell them to look at the word and see where it is wrong?
- Tell them to look it up in the dictionary?
None of these strategies are particularly helpful in terms of helping your children learn the correct spelling of the word (unless they have an amazing visual memory). If you really want to improve your children’s spelling then you need to ‘dig a little deeper’.
Next time your child spells a word incorrectly, ask yourself these three questions:
- Why did the child spell the word that way?
- If there are letters missing or the letters are in the wrong order this is often an indicator that your child is relying on their visual memory of how the word is spelled (and it is a faulty memory).
- Perhaps the word has been spelled phonetically correct but the incorrectly grapheme has been chosen (e.g., berd for bird).
- Perhaps a spelling rule hasn’t been applied correctly (e.g., buter for butter – double the next consonant to keep the vowel short) or that particular word is a rule breaker (e.g., scate for skate – use ‘c’ when the next letter is ‘a’, ‘o’, ‘u’, ‘l’ or ‘r’).
- Perhaps your child is mispronouncing the word (e.g., fing for thing).
- Or there is confusion between particular letters such as b/d or e/I (e.g., boll for doll).
- What is the point of confusion?
- This relates to the question above. Not all the letters in the word will be incorrect.
- The answer to this question will help you determine the main focus for the next question.
- How can I help my child determine and then remember the correct spelling?
- Begin by asking your child to read the word as it has actually been written.
- Make sure your child is pronouncing the word correctly.
- Ask the child to tell you the sounds that can be heard in the word – put up one finger for each sound.
- Discuss the different ways particular sounds can be represented and how to remember the correct grapheme (letter or combination of letters representing a sound). This might be related to a rule (e.g., ‘ay’ is only used at the end of words) or a relationship can be drawn between the key picture that is used to represent that particular grapheme and the word being learned (e.g., the key picture for ‘ur’ might be church. If the word being learnt is ‘turtle’ you can get your child to imagine or draw a turtle on the roof of a church).
- Discuss any relevant rules (or if it is a rule breaker discuss a strategy for remembering that this particular word is a rule breaker).
- Think of other words that follow the same pattern.
- Do a range of activities to help your child practise spelling the word several times that day and over the next week. Return to the word again during the coming weeks. Strategies for learning the word might include writing the word in sand while saying the sounds, making the word on the fridge door using magnets while saying the sounds, teaching another family member how to spell the word, etc.