Spelling Advice for Parents and Teachers

Are any of you parents struggling with writing activities with your children at home? Do they all of a sudden not remember how to spell even the most basic words? Does the head go down as soon as they meet a challenge? Are you a teacher whose pupils’ parents are contacting you worried about their child’s spelling? Is there anything you suggest in your weekly work for pupils to help them in spelling strategy acquisition?

This article will hopefully give parents some ideas to help their children become more independent spellers and relieve some of the anxiety they might be experiencing during written activities. Teachers may also find this article useful and can share this advice to any concerned parent and within their own school community These strategies are based on the renown work of the literary legend Marie Clay, the founder of Reading Recovery.

Getting started

There is nothing more frustrating for a child than to have to continuously rub out their work when they get something ‘wrong’.  I think we have all fallen into the trap of having to get everything right on the first go, resulting in feelings of frustration during writing for the child.

But imagine if you could help your child build a growth mindset when it comes to writing and spelling in particular. Imagine if your child changed from ‘I just don’t know how to spell this, tell me Mom!’ to ‘I’ve had a go but will you help me check it’. The first step towards achieving this change in mindset is to have something for your child to try out words before it goes into the final piece of writing. Granted some words they will write straight down as they will believe they have the correct spelling, but there will be a lot more that they will have to stop to think about. You can give your child a blank page, a mini whiteboard and marker or give them a ‘Have a go’ copy that they can have next to them each time they are writing. This is hugely important in helping them realise that writing is a process, and good writers have to edit and have a go of words!

The following tips are for when they have stopped and are looking for you to step in and spell for them!

Idea 1 – Clap the word!

This strategy is all about developing phonological awareness, tuning the ear to hear the parts in words. How often do you hear ‘Mom, how do you spell….?’ A simple strategy to begin with is to prompt them to ‘clap the word!’ What this does is help the children break the word into ‘chunks’, making the task of spelling that particular word a more manageable task. For example, if your child needs to spell ‘going’. Ask them to clap it. It is much easier to spell ‘go’ and ‘ing’ than attempting the whole thing in one go. This works effectively even with older children, as we know even as ‘fluent spellers’, we often use that strategy when spelling more complicated longer words. Look how beneficial it would be for the child trying to spell ‘immigration’ or ‘gardening’.

                        Clap the word!

Idea 2 – Stretch the word!

What does it mean to stretch a word? Children often omit a particular letter inhttps://youtu.be/6cviAPu1h7c a word because of quick pronunciation of that word. For example, some children may write ‘wet for went’, ‘sip for slip’ or ‘shos for shops’. Some sounds can get ‘buried’ so that when children go to write a certain word things get ‘lost’. Slowly saying a word can help children to hear every sound in a word. Ask your child to pretend they have a piece of blu-tack/chewing gum in their hand and to stretch it with both hands as far as it goes while saying the word they are trying to spell. You will be amazed how they will hear a missed sound using this stretching technique!


Idea 3 – Box the word!

The next strategy comes from a teaching technique called ‘Elkonin Boxes’. It gives your child a visual to support their spelling using a box. Rule of thumb is each sound gets a box! Ask your child to stretch the word, draw an appropriate sized box for them and get them to push the sounds in with their finger.  They can write in whatever letters they know. If a box is empty, then the child immediately sees a gap and will be prompted to try again.


Idea  – Connect the word!

The final tip is to get your child thinking about how words are connected! This is called word analogy. Help your child to use a known word to help them write a new word. For example, if your child wanted to spell the word ‘them’, you might prompt them to write the word ‘the’ and add the ‘m’. Helping them to make a connection for the next time they write it. If they wanted to write ‘starting’. Let them start with a small chunk they might know. You might get them to write the word ‘car’. Change it to ‘star’, then ‘start’, then ‘starting’. See more examples below.


Mix them up and stay positive!

Some of these spelling strategies are best used together but it really depends on the type of word. One strategy will be more useful at different times. Sometimes you might start with clapping the word, then stretching the word, thinking about a word that it sounds like would also help. It is always good to look at your child’s attempt with a positive mindset and see the parts they got right, and support them in the parts they still need to learn!

If your child was able to practice these strategies and come back to school with a new found confidence and a few of these in their back pocket to try when they are ‘stuck’ wouldn’t that be just super!  

Check out my video demonstration of these strategies on https://youtu.be/6cviAPu1h7c 

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