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The information below has been adapted from Helping Students with Spelling Difficulties (2001), a SPELD SA information sheet written by Rose Price and Karen Hodson, psychologists, Dyslexia – Action Plans for Successful Learning (2003), a storehouse of step-by-step strategies, by Glynis Hannell and Reading and Spelling Made Simple an easy to follow guide to helping anyone aged 7-70, by Mary Andrew, (1997) Revised by Barbara Griffith (2010)
The use of the first person indicates that this is the author’s professional opinion.
Learning to read and spell doesn’t come naturally. People do not have an area in the brain dedicated to the acquisition of written language skills. Instead a number of different areas in the brain work in concert through a complex network of connections to enable us to read and write. The pathways used in reading are different from those used for writing.
Spelling a word is more difficult than reading a word. This is because it is easier to recognise a word than remember how to spell it. Furthermore, when reading a word, the reader can use additional cues such as pictures, context, grammar and phonics to help them. When spelling, the writer has to spell the word correctly without having other cues to help.
Because English is made up of words from many languages, it may seem to have no logic. However, approximately 80% of English words follow regular spelling patterns. English is an alphabetic language. For the majority of words, the sounds in the word are matched with letters of the alphabet according to particular rules. These rules can be learned and applied to aid correct spelling.
Words that don’t follow rules have to be learned individually but there are strategies and tricks that can help. A comprehensive, multisensory approach to learning how to spell irregular words has been included below.
Students who can learn for a test but do not retain the spelling of the words in their written language have not reached a stage where they have automatic recall of the spelling of the words. You can see this particularly among students who get the words right if they are presented in the order in which they were learned but get confused if the order is changed.
Students with this kind of memory difficulty reinvent words whose spelling is not stored in their automatic memory bank. This helps to explain why they may spell a word correctly on one page and incorrectly on another or spell the word in a number of different ways in a single piece of writing.
For some children, achieving automaticity takes a lot of intensive practice.
I don’t think so. From a student’s point of view when a piece of work has been handed in, that is the end of it, other than hoping the teacher will have written something positive at the bottom when they get it back. Correcting errors will not in itself enable your child to spell the words correctly and is more likely to have a demoralising effect. This can, in turn, stifle a student’s creativity as they may restrict their vocabulary to words they know how to spell and reduce the quality of their work in the process.
Children who are not natural spellers need to be taught spelling rules and phonic word families and be guided in how to apply them to words they use regularly. They also need to learn how to spell the irregular words they use often.
Not fair is it! Some people are natural spellers. They have the innate ability to grasp the phonic patterns and language structures of speech and written language and apply them to spelling. They also have a good memory for the ‘look’ of words.
This really depends on the situation, the time you have and whether it is reasonable to expect your child, at their current level of ability, to be able to spell the word themselves. It is fine to give your child the correct spelling of a word or you can encourage them to have a go themselves if you think they might be able to manage it. For reception and year 1 students, writing the letters for the key sounds in the word, eg, ‘bk’ for ‘book’ is acceptable.
For students in year 2 and above, a personal dictionary (possibly made from an address book) with words they consistently mis-spell is a useful aid.
For students who struggle to remember the spelling of words, the goals are success and long-term recall. These are my criteria:
While there is no one way to teach children how to spell, children need to develop certain skills to become good spellers. While these skills develop naturally and easily for some children, others need a lot of explicit teaching and practice.
The following are pre-requisites for good spelling:
Understanding the relationship between letters and sounds is very difficult for some children and they will not be able to learn to spell until they have grasped this fundamental concept. For children who are at school, I suggest you combine phonemic awareness (learning to identify the individual sounds in words) with lowercase letters in a multisensory way.
Books with pictures of words beginning with a particular sound and a cut-out of the letter are a good place to start. This allows your child to form the shape of the letter and say the sound at the same time They also learn how to relate the letter-sound to the beginning sound of a word.
Once your child has learnt three letters and their sounds, you can go through the following developmental process. If your child is struggling, go back and check that they can manage earlier steps with confidence. Do not move on until your child has mastered each stage. Some children need a lot of practice.
This is a picture of a pin. Pin starts with /p/. I am going to put the pin with the ‘p’ card.
This is a mat. There is no ‘m’ card, so we will write ‘m’ on the blank card.
Continue until the six pictures have been placed with the three letter cards (the two you wrote and what was originally a blank card). Try not to have the same number of pictures for each letter.
Many children find identifying the middle sound in a word difficult. Give your child two individual vowels written on separate cards. Say three-letter words and ask your child to say and point to the sound they heard in the middle of each word.
Listen to this word, ‘cat’. What is the middle sound? Say the sound and point to the letter.
To help your child place letters in the correct order, get a set of lowercase plastic letters and show them how to make words, using the following progression.
Once you have shown your child how to make the word, scramble the letters and push them towards your child. Say, Now you make the word ‘sit’.
Remind your child to say the sounds as they position the letters. If your child is not sure what to do, show them again and then put the first letter in place. Let them complete the word.
Repeat this stage many times with many different three-letter words, showing your child what to do first and then getting them to build the word.
Say the word eg, hat. Put out only the letters needed for the word.
Ask your child to say the sounds as they place the letters in order and to say the word when they have finished: h-a-t, hat.
Then say Use the letters to make the word ‘hat’. Change ‘hat’ to ‘cat’. Change ‘cat’ to ‘bat’.
Practice this task using plastic letters with other three-letter words focussing on
Once children can use plastic letters to make words, it is time to teach them how to form the letters themselves.
The following strategy focuses on correct letter formation, NOT on neat bookwork. The aim is to teach your child to form letters correctly first.
Note. Children need to learn how to correctly form letters and relate them to their sounds at the same time.
Note: Some students find it helpful to verbalise their movements.
Letters can be practised using chalk on a blackboard, Textas or large crayons on newsprint, with a finger in sand, over sandpaper, finger on carpet.
For children, learning to write letters for the first time, take the order from that of the program being used for teaching letter sounds at school so your child learns the sound and how to form the letter at the same time. For children who have been introduced to all the letters of the alphabet but do not form them all correctly, letters can be grouped according to the initial movement of the hand. Using the approach outlined above is particularly important to overcome incorrect habits.
Over time, the size of the letter is reduced to a more normal size.
When the movement pattern is learned, students are ready to work on worksheets.
Use practice worksheets with a correct model to copy and additional dotted models to trace.
Popular bookshops often have workbooks to help with handwriting.
Popular bookshops often have workbooks to help with handwriting. Note. When buying a workbook, make sure than the handwriting style is the same as the one used at your child’s school.
To make your own worksheets, dotted fonts can be downloaded free from www.bvfonts.com/fonts/fonts.php
Download the font to suit your computer platform and save it in your c drive. You will need to unzip the folder before installing.
In windows go to control panel/fonts/file/install font and choose the font you wish to install.
For young children, who are in the early stages of handwriting, I prefer comic sans, as it has a round a. Choose a font size that is comfortable for your child.
For students who struggle with pencil control and eye/hand coordination, occupational therapists are the specialists to see.
For children from Year 4 upwards who have dysgraphia and/or handwriting problems, Speld SA recommends the use of a computer keyboard and, for some children, voice input software.
There are a number of programs for improving keyboard skills on the market. Free typing tutors are also available by typing free typing tutor in Google. Some programs can be downloaded, for others you have to be on-line. One of the websites is http://www.dmoz.org/Computers/Software/Educational/Typing
Speld SA’s IT specialists recommend the following approach.
Because children tend to find typing practice boring, keyboard training works better if your child knows how long they have to do it for.
Note. We suggest you use a timer (microwave, oven, stopwatch) for the 10 minutes and let your child count off the days on a calendar, like a count down to Christmas.
Follow up with a week’s practice periodically and a reward!
For information on voice input (speech-to-text) technology, go to computerinfo. If you are looking to buy a speech-to-text software program, we recommend a face-to-face or telephone consultation with a member of the SPELDSA IT team. SPELD SA software advisers are teachers with specific knowledge of the programs available for students with specific learning difficulties. They will demonstrate and let you try suitable programs.
It is useful to follow a commercial phonics program that incorporates a recognised structure and sequence and appropriate learning activities.
For junior primary children in a classroom setting, the effectiveness of Jolly Phonics, a program that presents the 46 sounds of the English language in a dynamic and fun way, is supported by a number of research studies.
A common developmental progression for teaching phonic patterns might look like this. (Note: When teaching phonic patterns, use words that include ONLY the pattern being taught. This is why I have given the maximum number of letters for words used as examples.)
Three-letter, regular consonant-vowel-consonant, words eg, sat, pig, den, rob, cut
Four-letter words with a beginning consonant blend eg, spot, flag, grin, step
followed by words with an end consonant blend eg, belt, mask, list, lump
Four-letter words where two consonants make a new sound eg, /th/ in thin, /sh/ in wish, /ch/ in chip, /wh/ in when, /ng/ in king
Four-letter words where a vowel and a consonant make a new sound eg, /or/ in fork, /ow/ in down, /ir/ in dirt, /aw/ in yawn
Long vowel sounds can be written in three ways. At the learning stage, stick to words with four letters
silent ‘e’ at the end (Rule: When a word has the vowel-consonant-final ‘e’ pattern, the final ‘e’ makes the vowel say its long sound (or name) eg, take, pole, race, tune
with two vowels (Rule: When two vowels go walking, the first vowel does the talking and says its name) eg, coat, seat, rain, week
using ‘-y’ eg, tray, my, they
Five-letter words with a 3-letter string of sounds eg, strip, scrub, squid
Silent letters eg, know, gnat, knee, gnaw
Some word endings
Plurals eg, /s/ in dog-s, cat-s; /es/ in box-es, dish-es, potato-es
/ing/ Rule 1: Short vowel often has two consonants following the vowel eg, sitting, cutting, flapping, rubbing
/ing/ Rule 2: Long vowel often has a single consonant following the vowel eg, riding, taking, hoping, caring
/le/ words eg, table, apple, candle, uncle, ankle, bottle
Five and six-letter words where four letters make a new sound eg, night, would, motion
Longer words that include two or more phonic patterns eg, fishing, flight, church, sailing
Prefixes, suffixes and compound words eg, untidy, harmless, sunshine
Yes. Research indicates that these children need
Recognised programs include those derived from Orton-Gillingham principles. These include:
There are a number of lists of commonly used words. These words are used so often that it is hard to write a sentence without including at least one of them. Some have regular spelling, such as ‘and, dad, me’, some are spelt irregularly, such as ‘was, said, have, of’. If you do not have a list, go to Oxford University Press/The Successful Teacher for The Oxford Wordlist . This new list contains the 307 words, most frequently used by students in their first three years of school.
High frequency and irregularly spelt words are taught individually. The best way to teach these words is using multisensory strategies and overlearning. See below for a comprehensive multisensory strategy and practice program.
The best way to teach irregularly spelt words is using multisensory strategies and overlearning.
The following is a comprehensive approach to teaching spelling that includes multisensory strategies and a practice program. Multisensory strategies use many learning channels at the same time – seeing, speaking, thinking, hearing and writing.
Note: As a fun way to practise, ask your child to write the word as many times as they can along one line of a page, as quickly as they can, to develop automaticity.
Students who find spelling difficult need a lot of practice to learn to spell words as well as regular revision of previously learned words. Below you will find a method for monitoring this kind of practice.
3 containers labelled – ‘words I’m learning’, ‘words I know’, ‘word bank’; and a stack of blank cards.
I’m going to side step this one! I enjoyed both of the websites cited below and they take opposing views!
“English spelling is a system, and even English spelling is mostly regular: eighty-four per cent of words are straight-forward, thirteen per cent decently rule-abiding, and only three per cent so weird that we have no choice but to memorize them. But among those three per cent are 400 of the commonest words in the language: gone, done, of, and so on. These weigh heavily against the relative simplicity of the rest.” Margaret Visser, 1994, Manners and customs, Harper Collins
Computer software packages provide opportunities for repetition and revision of spelling patterns and rules through enjoyable, interactive games.
SPELD SA has a range of resources to help with spelling that can be purchased or borrowed by members from the library.
Spelling difficulties can be enduring in individuals with reading difficulties, sometimes even after reading has been successfully remediated (Louise Spear-Swerling, 2005). On average, the spelling ability of people who have been taught using recognised methods of intervention, improves with practice but remains at a level just below the average range.
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