Approaches to teaching spelling

There are several approaches to learning spelling. Some students may find that one of these approaches works well for them and find another approach difficult. It is important to encourage students to try all spelling approaches.


Auditory approach

Phonics is one of the most important teaching methods used to improve spelling.  A phonic approach includes a number of key skills. These are -knowing the sounds of letters, breaking up words into syllables and recognising patterns.  Students should:

  • Build up a good knowledge of the sounds made by each letter, blends (for example blat the start of black and blue, and str in street and string), and digraphs (words with ch, sh, ph, th and wh).
  • Sound out and spell the beginning of the word – this will make it easier to locate the word in the dictionary.
  • Break words into syllables and sound each syllable out one at a time. This is an essential skill in learning to become a more competent speller.
  • Become aware of common prefixes and suffixes for example un, dis-, con-, –ing, -ed, -tion, – ly.
  • Recognisepatterns – words that sounds the same will usually be spelt in the same way, for example night, right, bright, fight, flight,.


Other auditory approaches

Silent letters can often cause a problem, but pronouncing the word as it is spelt can overcome this, for example Wed-nes-day, Feb- ru-ary, knife. Sometimes silent letters can be remembered by associating it with another form of the word where the letter can be heard distinctly, for example muscle – muscular, sign – signature.

Music or chanting can be used as an auditory memory support for a word that a student finds particularly difficult for example, right – “there’s an r”, there’s an “i”, there’s a “g, h, t”.


Visual approach

  • The students should keep their own personal spelling dictionary or notebook.
  • Highlighting the difficult part of a word will help the student to remember the word . As the student checks through their spelling notebook, their attention will be drawn to the word, or to the part of a word that caused difficulty.
  • Looking for smaller words within words can help with the difficult part of a word: for example hearing, police, secretary, arranged, piece of pie, strawberry.
  • Look-cover-write-check– This is a well know strategy for learning to spell that involves looking at the word, covering it, writing it and then checking to see if the word is correct.
  • Ask your student to try several possible ways of spelling a word to see if one ‘looks right’.
  • Encourage the students to actively notice words when they are out and about such as street names or the names of shops and businesses. This will help in developing their overall visual memory. Even watching TV can be a good opportunity to notice words on the screen, for example weather maps, news items, advertisements and sub-titles.


Kinasthetic approach

  • With a weak student, show them how to trace letters of a new word and then practisewriting it out.
  • Use Clozeexercises for single letters, like the word street, for example: S T _ E E T, S T R E _ T, S _ R E E T
  • If a spelling is wrong, make sure the student rewrites the whole word and does not just correct over a misspelling.
  • Most importantly, ask the student to use the word in his/her writing.



  • A mnemonic is a memory aid. One example of a mnemonic is Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain, to help learners remember the sequence and coloursof the rainbow, which are red, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. It can be also used as a strategy to remember how to spell a word. For example, a mnemonic to remember how to spell the word necessary is ‘1 collar and 2 socks’, one ‘s’ and two ‘c’s’, as it is a common mistake to forget which letters are doubled.
  • Other mnemonics can be created in the form of nonsense stories. These can help trigger the memory for a learner trying to remember a difficult word. For example, if a student found the middle part of the words hospital difficult, tell a story about someone falling into a pit and being brought to hospital. Another example would be the word accommodation – Telling a story about going on holidays with twin babies who need two cots (cc) and two mattresses (mm), or finally, to create a story about Tom who works in customer All of these may help the learner to remember some difficult words. It is a good idea to encourage students to create their own nonsense stories around some difficult words.



  • Discussing the origin of words can often help students remember the spelling of difficult words. For example, from the Greek word ‘ped’, meaning ‘foot’, comes peddle, pedicure and pedestrian.


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