To help our students develop math fact fluency we teach them strategies. Spelling is no different. Kids need to have a range of spelling strategies if they are to become better spellers. They should be able to ask themselves, “What can I do to help me spell this word?”
There are four main teaching strategies for spelling:
- Phonological strategies – how words sound
- Visual strategies – how words look
- Morphemic strategies – the meaning of words and how words can be changed
- Etymology based strategies – the origins of words
We need to teach these strategies explicitly.
Understanding Spelling Strategies
To be able to use their phonological knowledge, students should understand that words are made up of letters and those letters represent sounds in speech. They should also understand that some sounds have single letters (c-a-t) while other words are represented with groups of letters (th-ir-d) and that single sounds can be blended together (br, scr).
Students need to be taught that some sounds can be represented by different letters (e, ee, ea, ei) and that other letters may have more than one sound (hat, was, apron). Likewise, they need to understand that we can chunk groups of sounds together and make words (yel-low).
Visual strategies help students identify incorrect spelling. Students notice visual patterns in words and begin to develop a visual memory for them. They start to recognize possible and impossible letter sequences. In addition, they gain an understanding that if they know how to spell one word (tail) they can use the information to spell another (snail).
Visual strategies help students to self monitor and ask questions of their spelling.
- Does it look right?
- Which part of the word doesn’t look right?
- What other letter/s represent that sound?
- Does any part of the word look like another word I know?
When we teach morphemic strategies we are teaching students the link between spelling and the word’s meaning. We look at homonyms, homographs, and homophones. Students explore prefixes, suffixes, plurals, and word tense. They begin to understand that by adding or removing parts of a word, its meaning can change. They also start to combine words to make new meanings with compound words.
Etymological strategies help students understand that our English language has borrowed words or parts of words from other languages. Knowing this helps explain how words are spelled.
Providing Motivating Practice
Just like teaching mental math strategies, students need to practice the spelling strategies and word knowledge you’ve taught them. Spelling games are a great tool to help consolidate this. They’re perfect for building a positive attitude towards spelling and providing motivation to learn their new words.