How to improve your child’s spelling

Spelling can be a stumbling block for children of all ages – and sometimes even adults, too! English is an especially tricky language when it comes to spelling, as it’s not phonetic.

In fact, only 12% of English words are spelt the way they sound, which makes it harder for children to figure out new or challenging words confidently.

Good spelling isn’t just a skill your child needs for the weekly spelling test at school. It also:

is a critical part of communication and overall literacy

 has a knock-on effect on all other areas of learning

 boosts your child’s all-important confidence at school.

Try out these different tricks, strategies and games when practising spelling with your child to help them become a confident speller.

1. Learn the rules and patterns

Although English words usually aren’t phonetic, there are a number of basic spelling rules which allow your child to work out the correct spelling. Learning a blanket rule such as ‘I before E except after C’ is much quicker than remember the spelling for every word it applies to. For every rule though, make sure they also learn the exceptions!

2. Use acrostics

For words that don’t follow a particular rule, acrostics can be a great memory aid. In an acrostic, each sentence begins with the letters of the word in question. For example, Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move is an acrostic for ‘rhythm’. Thinking up fun and silly acrostics for words your child struggles with together will make the word seem less intimidating, as well as jog their memory.

3. Focus on the hard bit of the word

Often there’s only one part of a word that is particularly difficult to spell, perhaps because of a silent letter or because it’s an exception to a spelling pattern. Write out the word and highlight the tricky part so that it stands out and is cemented in your child’s memory as something to watch out for.

4. Break the word down into phonetic syllables

Sounding out the word by each syllable, for example ‘Wed-Nes-Day’ is a good way for your child to remember sneaky silent letters.

5. Sing the letters out loud

Common in American spelling bees, adding a melody to a word’s spelling makes it easier to remember the number of letters in the word. Knowing the vague rhythm and sound of the word will help them spot any misspellings and prompt them to correct them.

6. Encourage visual and kinaesthetic learning

Visualisation is a very powerful memory tool. Encourage your child to create picture associations of the words they’re spelling, for example saying ‘The cat with the curly ‘c’ curls up’ will remind them to spell cat with a c, not a k. If they’re struggling with a particular spelling rule, such as words with ‘-ea-‘ vowel sound, ask them to draw a picture story containing as many of those words as possible (leaf, cream, teacher, bean etc.) and then label them. Don’t feel restricted to traditional reading/writing or auditory learning styles when it comes to spelling – be creative with different strategies to fit with however your child learns best.

7. Make spelling fun

Games are a great way to incorporate spelling into everyday life and not make it feel like a dreaded chore. As spelling is a fundamental part of language, there are all kinds of games that will help kids practise it – without them even realising they are! A game of Scrabble or Boggle, doing a wordsearch, playing Hangman, or making words out of magnetic letters on the fridge will all gradually ingrain spelling patterns into their memory, make memorising difficult spellings second-nature, and ultimately make them a more confident speller. (See our article 5 great games to help improve your child’s vocabulary for more ideas.)

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