The challenge of learning to spell

Accurate spelling can be quite a challenge when you are learning to write, and this can often persists for many people into adulthood.

It is hardly surprising that this is so. The English language has developed over centuries, and has been influenced by a plethora of other languages and cultures. This has given us a rich and wonderful language which is spoken all over the world.


Complex rules

The development of the English language has also produced complex and multi-layered spelling rules and patterns, so it is hardly surprising that many children find it difficult. For instance, the sound 'ow' (as in row) can be spelt in many different ways: oa, ow, o-e and oe. To add to the confusion, the letters 'oe' can also be used to represent the sound oo, as well as that in 'shoe'. Children are taught spelling patterns but it can be a real challenge to apply them accurately, especially while you are also trying to think about the content, grammar and punctuation of your writing!

Spelling is only one aspect of writing

Children need to be encouraged to write freely and imaginatively.

Writing is a form of expression. One of our children used to spend hours writing while sitting under a tree in our garden. At school he was learning to spell and use punctuation but his home writing book was an expression of his ideas and imagination, with less regard to the accuracy of them both.

Today he is an excellent writer, and I often reflect that this free writing was an important part of this. We encourage children with spoken language but do not constantly correct them as they begin to talk. Gradually they learn to express themselves with great clarity: I think this is the same for writing, and spelling is part of this.

How to help your child

  • Read with, and to, your child as much as possible. Through reading, children will be absorbing the patterns and rules of spelling.
  • If your child becomes worried about weekly spelling tests, reassure them that they can only do their best (do this all the time for everything and use it with your friends too!) and remind them that spelling in only a small part of writing.
  • Encourage them to write freely to express themselves, write about things that interest them and things they want to communicate.
  • Use mnemonics to help them (eg: SAID = snails and insects dance, BECAUSE = big elephants can always understand small elephants)
  • Draw pictures to aid their memory (eg: OLD = draw a picture of an old face for the o and make l into a walking stick)
  • Use colours to practise spelling to make it fun and visual. A wipeable whiteboard is great for learning spellings as they can quickly adjust mistakes, which encourages confidence.
  • When learning groups of spelling, encourage them to use the method of 'Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check', rather than just copying them. They will learn them more effectively.
  • Explain to them how complex English is – they love this and it really encourages them to persevere.
  • Provide an age-appropriate dictionary and thesaurus to encourage independence.
  • Talk to them about spell-checks and auto-correct to help them be aware of technology to support spelling.

Sue and Maryanne x

Tutor Your Child.

Please contact us if you would like more information about how to help your child:

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