Sorting out spelling: Ideas for tackling spelling lists and having fun with words

Updated: Jul 10


Meet Lucy, one of our fantastic English tutors who has some excellent guidance on helping 7-11 year olds with their spelling.


Some children are naturally gifted at spelling. Often, but not always, these are the same children who learn to read effortlessly. The rest of us have to work at spelling. The expectation by the end of KS2 is that children will be able to spell most of the National Curriculum list of spellings correctly. This can be quite daunting, especially for struggling spellers.


Here’s an approach to tackling the 200+ Year 3/4 and 5/6 words on those lists or any spelling list, that I have tried and tested successfully with mixed ability classes and in 1-1 sessions. Bear in mind that everyone learns in different ways, so a good mix of seeing, saying, doing, writing, drawing, listening and playing will really help.


In tutoring sessions, I would always start with the age appropriate list unless I know the child has real difficulties with spelling. These are available for parents on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-english-programmes-of-study


It is important to find out which words the student can already spell. There’s no easy way to do this – it needs to be a test. Next I negotiate with the student how many to do in one go – I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing them all at once.


After the tutoring session, I analyse the mistakes. Assuming that there are lots of errors, it’s worth looking at what sort of errors the student is making: initial consonant, final consonant, vowels, double letters, silent letters or omissions as this will help me to make a plan to tackle them.


I teach lots of different strategies to learn the spellings: introducing a new strategy in each weekly session works well. I encourage the student to keep a spelling journal in which all the lists and practising can be done. Some children quickly find a strategy that works well for them, others need lots of variety. One pupil had success by writing the words she was learning onto post-it notes and stuck them around her bedroom; another made her tricky words into works of art, decorating each one with felt-pens.


Between 5-10 words are chosen each week. In the tutoring session we pick a strategy which will help (there’s no point segmenting a one syllable word!) The student needs to spend a few minutes every day practising the words. It’s vital that someone checks the practice – too many poor spellers spend time practising words only to realise they copied them down wrongly.


We have a mini-test at the end of the week and celebrate success! Do you know those words now?


Once this is incorporated into weekly tutoring sessions, I repeat it every week, making the weekly list longer if it’s going well and shorter if it’s a struggle. Keep it manageable.

To consolidate what’s been learned, I make sure to give huge praise if the spellings are used correctly in written work – application is the goal after all.


Here are some of the most useful strategies:


1. Segmenting

Break the word into its syllables eg beau-ti-ful then put it back together again. Point out any tricky bits and rehearse them aloud by saying the letters.


2. Rainbow Write

Write the word and then write over it in different coloured pencils or felt-pens.


3. Mnemonics

Use each letter of the spelling word to start a word. Learn them in order to create a memorable phrase e.g. Necessary = never eat cabbages eat soya sausages and remain young. We can only remember a small number of mnemonics, but they can be a fun way to rehearse a tricky spelling.


4. Shape of the Word

Write the spelling and then draw around it in a coloured pen, noting the ascenders and descenders.


5. Pyramid Write

Write out the word in pyramid steps, first one letter, then the first two letters and so on.


P

Py

Pyr

Pyra

Pyram

Pyrami

Pyramid


6. Put the word in a sentence

Eg necessary

It is necessary to read the instructions, before assembling the model.


7. Look, Cover, Write, Check

This works really well on a grid with the words in the left-hand column.

Look at the first word, cover it up, write it on the grid, check you got it right.


8. Speed Write

Set a timer for 30 seconds. How many times can you write out the spelling correctly? Repeat for each word on that week’s list. Make it competitive.


9. Muddled letters

Write the spellings out in a muddled up form eg adigeers (disagree). Ask the child to work them out to find the correct spelling.


10. Messy Write

Cover a table top or tray with shaving foam and use your finger to write the word.


11. Scrabble Spelling

Find the letters which you need to spell your words and then mix them up in the bag. Time how long it takes to unscramble the letters. Add up the Scrabble score of each word.


12. Ransom Note

Cut out the letters needed to spell your words from an old newspaper or magazine and glue them down to spell the words.


13. Fancy letters

Pick one word and write it in bubble letters. Colour each letter in a fancy pattern.


14. Finger Tracing

Use your finger to spell out each of your words on your mum or dad’s back. Then ask them to write them on your back for you to spell out.


Alongside this structured daily approach, I encourage families to make words and wordplay part of every day. Games like Scrabble, Boggle and Bananagrams rely on spelling. Children often enjoy word-wheels and wordsearches and there are wordsearch maker websites which allow you to create a wordsearch personalised for your child’s current word list or interests.

I also recommend using www.spellingframe.co.uk, a free website, which takes the children though exercises, mini tests and games for much more practice.


As you can tell this is not a quick fix, but it does reap rewards. Children will start to see the benefits and hopefully notice patterns and relationships between words. In turn this should make them more confident to put pen to paper without worrying about making spelling mistakes.




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