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Teaching spelling

Introduction to teaching spelling

Spelling will only improve with writing practice but poor spellers are often reluctant to write. When working on spelling, the emphasis should always be on ‘having a go’, rather than on the correct spelling of every word.

It is important for tutors to realise that they do not ‘teach’ spelling as such, but rather equip the learner with a number of strategies they can use to help them with their spelling. Many students believe that English spelling has no structure. However, it is important to point out to learners that many words do follow a pattern.

Most of all, it is essential to approach spelling in the context of the student’s needs. We remember things that interest us most and are relevant to our lives. A builder might like to spell words that relate to his trade, such as ladder or mahogany.

 

Spelling and memory

  • It is important to remember that spelling is about recall and is therefore a much more difficult skill than reading.
  • Our memory works by building links. For example, linking the word ‘hear’ to the word ‘ear’. Also, linking root words such as the word ‘sign’ to ‘signature’.
  • We remember things more easily if we organisethem into groups, patterns or categories. For example words ending in ‘ight’ – night, light, bright, sight.
  • We remember unusual things. For example that February has an ‘r’ in the middle.
  • We remember things better if we already know something about them.  For example, knowing that occupation words often end in ‘cian’.
  • We cannot emphasiseenough the importance of revision to help spelling stay in our long-term memory.

 

Points to remember when tutoring spelling

  • Try to assist your student to identify which letters make what sound.
  • Try to assist your student to break up words into syllables.
  • Analysewhy your student makes a particular mistake, show them and let them analyse their own mistakes.
  • If the problem is not phonic, use whatever strategy your student finds useful, for example look, cover, write, check and/or mnemonics.
  • Strictly limit the amount of rules you introduce and try not to confuse your student with a list of exceptions.
  • Encourage your student to use a dictionary.

Approaches to teaching spelling

There are several approaches to learning spelling – encourage your student to try them all and find out which one works best for them.


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Analysing spelling mistakes

Most spelling mistakes can be categorised into five common kinds of mistakes that can be worked on individually.


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Dictionary work

Learning to use a dictionary is a complex process requiring specific knowledge and regular practice so try to always include some time for dictionary work.


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