Excellent! Your pupils have learned all their phonemes and graphemes, so they can spell perfectly…
If only life were that simple! Thanks to the many diverse influences that have contributed to our linguistic history, the way we spell words in our wonderfully rich vocabulary is far from constant.
Yes, there are plenty of words that do follow the rules. An extraordinary large number don’t, however, yet we are still expected to be able to spell many of them.
Learning by rote will only take you so far. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that can help. If you are looking for some tips for how to teach spelling strategies, you’ve come to the right place.
Reading as a spelling strategy
First of all, don’t underestimate the importance of reading as a spelling teacher. A healthy diet of well-written texts regularly exposes children to correctly spelled words. Many of these spellings will sink in. At the very least, it will improve the chances that the children will know what looks right and learn a few sight words.
Spelling instruction – what looks right
Towards the beginning of their writing careers, we give children credit for using phonetically plausible spellings. As our expectations increase, we advise pupils to think about what the possible options might be when it comes to representing the sounds with graphemes, then choose the one that ‘looks right’. They will only have a chance of knowing what looks right if they read on a regular basis.
Correct spelling tricky territory
The problems really start when children are confronted words that do not follow their spelling expectations. Whether they call them red words, tricky words or common exception words, it is important that they don’t think of them as words where the spelling is wrong. Assuming the word is spelled correctly, then it simply that the spelling pattern’s rare or does not follow a grapheme phoneme correspondences (GPC) they have learnt so far. It’s an important distinction.
Spelling clues for difficult words
Rather inconveniently, a large number of the first words we expect children to learn are common exception words. If you felt like it, you could even make whole sentences out of the ones they are expected to know by the end of Year 1, for example: I said you were the one to go to my school. Fortunately, there are lots of clever ways you can help pupils to remember how to spell many of these words. Sometimes called clued spelling, these techniques involve things like using little catchphrases to remember unusual letter strings. For example, you could suggest that pupils say “o u would if you could,” or “o u are in the house,” to help them remember the ou letter string. A simple internet search will reveal that there are many other examples around but it can be more memorable to make up your own.
Spelling activities to practise different words
Once your pupils are beginning to get their heads around common exception words, you could put their skills to the test with our common exception words spelling packs. These cover all the CEW for Years 1 and 2, and contain a range of attractively designed activities for embedding their knowledge, from finding the words in a sentence and unscrambling anagrams of them to using them in a sentence of their own.
Statutory word list spelling lessons
By the time they get to Key Stage 2, the scene has changed to the statutory spelling words. As you no doubt know, there are separate lists of commonly appearing yet somewhat atypical words for Years 3 and 4 and Years 5 and 6. Our SSW practice packs for years 5/6 and 3/4 provide activities to help pupils read, spell and understand all the words on the list in time for the spelling test part of the grammar, punctuation and spelling SATs.
Struggling speller issues – homophones
Not surprisingly, homophones, or near homophones, are another area of focus. Use memorable tricks to help pupils remember which witch is which. Berry or bury? You bury something underground. Hear or here? You hear with your ear. And, of course, there’s the classic piece of pie. Just because you’ve heard them before doesn’t make them redundant. To keep other homophone reminders at the forefront of their minds, why not use our spelling patterns display pack for Year 4?
Roots, suffixes and prefixes in English
Many spelling mistakes could be avoided simply by knowing how words are put together. There are usually pretty clear rules for adding suffixes and prefixes to root words. For example, knowing that il- is a prefix can help you remember that words like illegal and illogical have a double l because the prefix ends with an l and the root word also begins with one. Learning those can be a good way of addressing a number of spelling problems in one fell swoop. You can also employ a lasting reminder by using our spelling patterns display packs.
The end game – becoming a good speller
Having used these strategies and resources to get your pupils’ spelling skills up to scratch, the final piece of the puzzle is to get them match fit for their SATs. Our Year 6 spelling revision challenge mats could help you there, although we do have plenty of other spelling revision resources available too.
Spelling isn’t easy, but at least you are now well armed with strategies for helping pupils improve their percentages of correctly spelled words. Perfection might be a little too much to hope for but it’s worth aiming as high as possible. Now, can you spot the Year 3 and 4 Statutory Spelling Word in that last sentence?