If you are not a particularly good speller, the more spelling rules you know and understand, the better your spelling becomes because it gives you a framework to determine the most likely spelling of a word. Yes, there are exceptions to most of the rules, but around 85% of words are consistent with the rules.
You probably remember this rule from your primary school days: ‘e’ goes away when ‘ing’ comes to stay. However, like many of the rules that are taught, this is only half of the rule. The rule is actually: ‘e’ goes away when ‘ing’ comes to stay or any other suffix beginning with a vowel. If students understand the whole rule, then it makes sense that you would retain the ‘e’ in the word ‘safety’ because the suffix ‘ty’ does not begin with a vowel. Similarly, you would remove the ‘e’ when changing ‘nerve’ to ‘nervous’ because the suffix ‘ous’ begins with a vowel.
In many discussions of rules, you will see rules indicating that if a word ends in ‘e’ you only add ‘d’ to indicate past tense or ‘r’ to indicate a ‘thing that or a person who or when comparing two objects. However, ‘d’ and ‘r’ are not suffixes and meaningless. The suffixes are actually ‘ed’ for past tense and ‘er’ to indicate ‘a thing that or a person who or when comparing two objects’. If you take the word ‘safe’ and you want to add the suffix ‘er’, the ‘e’ from ‘safe’ is removed (because you are adding a suffix beginning with a vowel) and your add ‘er’ not ‘r’ to make ‘safer’. Similarly, if the word is ‘save’, you remove the ‘e’ and add ‘ed’, to make ‘saved’. I explain it to my students by saying the ‘e’ goes away and then comes back as a part of the suffix being added.
Don’t think that your child has to master all the rules straight away. Begin with the ones that are most frequently used or as they arise in the spelling words that your child is currently learning. The Cracking the ABC Code Rules Rule books and the Cracking the ABC Spelling books provide a comprehensive list of the spelling rules.
However, knowing the rules is not enough. Students also need to be able to apply these rules. A really effective strategy for teaching the rules and checking to see if the rules are understood is to ask students to write nonsense words which require the application of the rules. For example, you could ask the child to write the word ‘splame’ and then ask them to add the suffix ‘ing’ or ‘ly’ to make ‘splaming’ or ‘splamely’. By using nonsense words, you know that the student is actually applying the rule rather than because they just happen to know how to spell the word.
For some students, you may find that they are more effective at applying the rules when they are given a systematic structure to follow. For example, the exercise in the picture is used to help students understand and use the rule ‘change y to i and add es or the suffix, except when y follows a vowel or when adding on ‘ing.’
If you take the word ‘shake’. A student who has good rule knowledge would know that it wouldn’t be spelled ‘shayk’ because the grapheme ‘ay’ is only used at the end of base words. It also wouldn’t be correct to write ‘shacke’ because ‘ck’ is used to represent the /k/ sound only after a short vowel sound and ‘shake’ has a long vowel sound. Similarly, it wouldn’t be spelled ‘shace’ because ‘c’ followed by ‘e’ represents the /s/ not the /k/ sound.