For most children, good spelling takes practice; it's not something that just comes naturally. Good spellers typically use effective spelling strategies--whether they realize it or not--while poor spellers typically don't even realize that such strategies exist. Fortunately, effective spelling strategies can be taught to children, and spelling will be much easier for them.
Spelling strategies fall under four main categories: phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic. A successful and effective spelling program uses all four of these strategies:
- When a person listens for each sound in a word and then attempts to represent those sounds with a letter or letter combination, he's using a phonetic spelling strategy. This is a good place to start with beginning spellers. You teach this spelling strategy by teaching them the basic phonograms.
- A purely phonetic approach is a good place to start, but it isn't effective as a single strategy. The second type of spelling strategy includes recognizing the rules and generalizations of the English language. If a student understands that the /k/ sound is spelled "ck" when it comes after a single short vowel sound, spelling a word such as chicken will be much easier.
- The third strategy involves improving visual memory. Word Banks can help children improve visual memory. Word Banks that focus on a single concept, such as the /j/ sound spelled as “dge,” help the child remember words related to that concept. Visual memory strategies also come into play when dealing with homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently). Two more ways to develop visual memory for the correct spelling of words is through extensive reading and word games.
- Morphemic spelling strategies are based on the knowledge of how the meaning of a word influences its spelling. Morphemic strategies include understanding how to add suffixes and prefixes to base words, how to form compound words, and the study of Greek and Latin roots.
In addition to the four main spelling strategies listed above, it is helpful to students to know these other useful strategies, including:
- Building a personal list of words the student tends to misspell, and referring to that list often
- Learning how to use an electronic spell-checker or dictionary to verify spelling
- Applying a limited number of mnemonic devices
Marie Rippel is the author of All About Spelling, the spelling program that is guaranteed to work.