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Helping your Child with Spelling

Some parents requested information on how to help their children with spelling. The following suggestions might be helpful. If your child is having a real difficulty with spelling, please draw the class teacher’s attention to the difficulties.

Confidence

  • Confidence in spelling is really important. This can be difficult to maintain if your child has a lot of incorrect words. However, if he/she is genuinely trying to learn the words and to improve his/her spellings it is important to focus on the number of words he/she has correct rather than the number of incorrect words.
  • Improving spelling for weak spellers can be difficult. Children need to be praised for their efforts. However it is not an excuse for them to opt out and/or give up. They will only see an improvement if they make a genuine effort.
  • Both parents and teachers are very familiar with the situation where a child works very well at spellings, gets full marks in spelling tests, but continues to spell the same words incorrectly in written work. This can be puzzling for parents, but the real test for improvement in spellings is when words are spelled correctly in written work. This is why we now “test” spellings through dictation. It is important to remain confident and to acknowledge small improvements.

Look, Cover, Write, Check, Use

  • Spelling is a written exercise – therefore your child needs to write out spellings to learn them.
  • The method used and promoted in the school is “Look, Cover, Write, Check and Use” – this is a widely accepted method of learning spellings. Your child has used the method in school – child looks at the word, memorising shape of word and letter order. When child feels he/ she knows the word he/she covers it and writes it without looking at the original. Then child checks it him/herself. If it is incorrect he/she looks at original again memorising it. If it is correct he/she covers that work and writes a sentence using the word and again checks to see if it is spelled correctly. If it is incorrect in the sentence the child needs to go back to beginning again.
  • To ensure child continues to remember words learned, he/she needs to go back on them over the following days.
  • When child is doing any written work, it is important that he/she forms the habit of checking his/her own work for correct spellings before handing it to a parent or teacher for correction. Child needs to be the first “corrector” of his/her work.
  • Spelling is a visual exercise so it is essential that child learns to look carefully at words to ensure letter order is correct.

Visual Skills & Visual Memory

  • If your child has poor visual skills and /or poor visual memory – this will often be indicated by words being written with letters in incorrect position eg girls written as grils, their written as thier etc – there are fun activities that will help improve the skill. Some suggestions are:
    - Spot the difference
    - Memory match games
    - Using lego/blocks – child repeats a pattern you have made
    - Odd-one-out
    - Which part is missing from a picture.
    - Kims game – show child tray with several items on it. Remove one item while child is not looking. Can he/she remember which item is missing.

Auditory Skills

  • Some children may have poor auditory skills – they may have difficulty in hearing differences in words such as van for fan etc. It is important to have the child’s hearing checked. Even when they have no problem with hearing they may still have difficulty in this area and it can result in bizarre spelling – not related to the word at all. It is helpful for children to use as many senses as possible when learning spellings. Tracing the word in the air or in a tray of sand/rice can be very helpful. Playing “Chinese whispers” can encourage child to listen carefully – first person whispers a sentence to next person, who in turn whispers it to the next. Did the final person get the correct message?
  • Some children misspell words because they mispronounce them. While it is important not to make the child feel self-conscious about mispronunciations it is important to encourage correct pronunciation from an early age. If the child always says “crips” for “crisps” or “are” for “our” they, most likely, will spell the word incorrectly.
  • If a child has poor long term memory it will be difficult for him/her to remember the spelling in the long term. He/she will know the word when you ask it but will spell it incorrectly later in school. You can improve long term memory by playing simple games I went shopping and I bought a ........ – each person adds another item to the list and child needs to remember them. Can you say your phone number backwards?

Phonics

  • An awareness of letter sounds is essential for good spelling. Children learn letter sounds in school, but can be helped by simple games such as “I spy with my little eye”. As your child gets older playing “word tennis” can help him/her to focus on sounds. I say apple, next person says elephant, next person turnip etc.
  • Many early spelling patterns are learned through simple phonics. If a child can spell pan, he/she will quickly spell man, van etc. It is important to emphasise such patterns to your child. It is also helpful to draw attention to compound words as the child gets older. If he/she can spell tooth and brush then it is easy to spell toothbrush if you are aware of the two smaller words. Some children do not make this automatic association and may leave out part of the word.
  • An awareness of syllables is very important as your child learns more complex words. Clapping out syllables helps to draw attention to the number of syllables in the word. If child is conscious of the syllables he/she is less likely to leave out part of the word. Frequently children who have difficulty with spelling may spell the first and last syllable but leave out the middle of the word.
  • Children can use mnemonics to help spell difficult words eg enough – “oh you little devil!” or “oh you love doughnuts!”
  • It is important that children learn to spell commonly used words as these appear constantly in their written work. In school children work on “oops Words!” (words which are frequently used regularly spelled incorrectly ) and it is helpful if they practise them at home. Spelling Games
  • It is very helpful if spelling is associated with fun. There are some games which help with spelling and which children enjoy Hangman. Shannon’s game – somewhat similar to hangman, but first letter is given and child must get second letter before moving on to third letter. This helps children to become aware of letter strings – ough etc – and also to eliminate letters which never follows another eg p never follows n etc Staircases – like word tennis but in written form. Cat e n n i sweet. Wordsearches Computer Softwear – eg Wordshark - many different programmes available.

Many of these suggestions are from an excellent publication called “ Improving Children’s Spelling” by Brendan Culligan (ISBN number 0 9531664 0 6). It is a guide for teachers and parents and it costs approx €16. It can be bought online from O’Mahony’s bookshop in Limerick (www.omahonys.ie), but it probably available in other bookshops too.

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