Kids should learn how to spell while they are learning how to read. Spelling is encoding, while reading is decoding. The two skills are linked, and gains in one area can facilitate gains in the other. Teaching spelling does NOT involve teaching kids to memorize words. Quite the opposite.
Teaching spelling involves:
- teaching kids to segment sounds,
- map them onto graphemes (spelling units) and
- write the word sound-by -sound.
For example, a child should NOT memorize how to spell play.
Instead, the child should learn how to segment play into it’s 3 phonemes: p-l-ay. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. This ability to segment sounds does not involve text or writing letters.
Next, the child writes the sounds in order. She links each phoneme (sound) to each grapheme (spelling unit). She should’ve learned the phonemes/graphemes in her phonics lessons.
For example, she should be able to identify that the sound /p/ is written as “p”, the sound /l/ is written as “l”, and the sound /ay/ is written as “ai,” “a_e” or “ay.”
[You can write long a 3 ways: ai as in sail, a_e as in made, or _ay as in play.]
If you teach with explicit, systematic phonics instruction, the child will be able to map the sounds onto the correct spelling units.
For systematic phonics books (pdfs), enter our shop.
A sophisticated speller that knows phonics will identify that she has to chose between the long a sounds for that last sound in play. She’ll identify that she can spell the long a sound 3 different ways: a_e, ai or _ay. She’ll pick _ay because it is the only one that can occur at the end of a word as in slay, bay, tray… and play. That _ay sound is always at the end. Thus, she’ll write play accurately, not through memorization, but through a strategic process.
In this manner, she’ll be able to write many, many words. As she learns phonics, she’ll be able to write most words in English correctly.
In order to get to this level, however, the child needs explicit, systematic phonics lessons. She needs to learn the phonics sounds directly and one at a time.
Teaching spelling is an important part of phonics lessons.
A good speller is almost always a good reader.
Over time, a good reader will likely become a good speller.
Kids need to learn explicitly that the code is reversible. If the letters “ay” say the sound /ay/ then it holds that the sound /ay/ can be written with the letters “ay.” As expert adult readers this sounds intuitive. However, with k-3 students, educators need to teach kids directly that that the code is reversible.
“…Children cannot teach themselves to spell simply by reading or through creative writing… (McGuiness, 247).
Kids need explicit phonics instruction to learn how to spell.
Spelling also improves reading ability.
Ehri and Wilce found that kindergarten children trained for a few weeks in spelling exercises in which orally presented words were segmented and then spelled with lettered tiles had an advantage over controls in reading new words… (Uhry & Clark, p. 128).
How to teach spelling step-by-step.
Prepare a list of 5 words and 1-2 sentences.
Make sure the sentences also contain recent sight words the student has learned. The first five words must be phonetic words comprised only of phonics sounds the child has already learned. Thus, if the child has learned short vowels a sample spelling list might look like:
- Jill had a dog.
- They were in the sand box.
If the student has learned silent e, here’s a sample spelling list:
- Jane ran a mile.
- They would like a cup of milk.
Notice how list 2 contains silent e and short vowel words? This learning strategy is called interleaving: mixing old content with new. It ensures that children don’t guess. It also gives students an opportunity to review.
Provide your student with age appropriate lined paper.
You can find printable k-2 paper here.
Draw five lines on the board:
_ _ _ _ _
Draw the lines large enough so the child can point one finger to each line. During spelling, each line will represent a phoneme (the smallest unit of sound). This is a sound segmentation activity.
Kids can also use their fingers to segment sounds. Alternatively, you can use objects, like jewels from JoAnns, toy cars, or blocks, to segment sounds.
Say the spelling word. Then, say the word in a sentence.
For example, “Sat. Matt sat on the couch.”
Have your student segment the spelling words by pointing to a line/toy for each sound.
For example, have your student segment “sat” into the sounds: “Sssss-aaaaa-t.” Make sure your student holds continuous sounds and clips stop sounds. Notice how the number of sounds don’t always correlate with the number of letters. With “smile” for example there are 4 sounds (s-m-i-l) and 5 letters.
Student writes word sound-by sound. Use a phonics chart.
If there are multiple spelling patterns for one sound as in the long o sound (ow, ow, o_e), have your student use a phonics sound chart to select the correct spelling.
Provide immediate feedback.
If the student made an error, go back, say the word slowly sound-by-sound, and help the child dictate the sound-spelling correlations one at a time.
Go through all the words and sentences in the same manner.
Kids should not memorize lists of spelling words each week. Instead, they should learn how to spell sound-by-sound.
Kids can read phonics books to help build their decoding skills.