Teaching your child how to spell words is essential. Research shows us that poor spelling actually reflects an underlying language disorder. If your child has difficulty spelling, and you complete a comprehensive language assessment, you will find below average scores somewhere in the language profile.
Research also shows us that teaching reading does not always help with spelling; but when spelling is taught properly, reading scores also go up. Why?
Why Spelling Is Important
Reading is a word identification task – like a multiple-choice test question. There are lots of cues of information to help you “recognize” the word or answer. You can learn just enough about words to be able to recognize them to read.
Spelling, on the other hand, is like a long answer test question. You are staring at a blank page with no “clues” – all you are equipped with is what you have in your head! So, to be able to spell, you have to know words at a deeper level.
Spelling requires encoding – to turn the sounds of spoken language into print – written language, or a visual form of language. So, spelling requires coding. Teaching coding skills also teaches children THE code of how letters and sounds go together. Children who can code (spell) can also decode (read).
There. Spelling matters. And, teaching spelling properly has a BIG impact on language, reading, writing, and spelling. That’s functional!
It’s a skill that goes hand in hand with reading, which means it’s important in effective learning and development.
While it’s true that your child should be able to acquire these skills at school, it’s important that you follow up with their education at home. After all, home is where your child will spend a significant portion of their time, and the environment presents many opportunities for you to play an active role in your child’s development.
That being said, some children struggle with spelling. As noted, that is a red flag that an underlying language disorder is at work. The issue must be addressed so that your child can progress alongside their peers. If you are faced with this situation, here are a few tips to help you address it.
1. Build a Story Around Complex Words
Complex words are challenging, especially for children. One way to help them spell complex words better is by creating a story around the word. This deepens their connection to meaning, which is an important part of word storage. Discuss any synonyms and antonyms related to the word’s meaning. See if you can discover any rhyming words, or make up some pretend words that rhyme.
2. Multiple Exposures; have a list of target spelling words
Creating a story around the word, using the word many times in writing a story, or finding ways to integrate the word into play by writing it on letters, post-it notes, play menus, etc. will increase the number of visual exposures to the word. The way a word looks is an important layer of processing for spelling, and also helps with word recognition (reading).
Have a list of words that you are practising. Vary the order in which target words are presented so children don’t rely too heavily on straight “memorization” – for spelling, we MUST help the brain integrate what a word means, what it looks like, and what it sounds like. This is a very different process than simply memorizing the way a word looks.
3. Engage with the word at a deeper level, and integrate multiple sensory experiences.
Write down the words on paper. Say the sounds that each letter or groups of letters make. Note any tricky spelling letter groups, like “aigh” grouping together in the word “straight”. How many syllables are there in the word? How many letters are vowels, and how many are consonants? Explain to your child how to visualize the word in the mind and have them close their eyes and picture the word, letter by letter. After the visualization, ask your child to spell the word out loud. As a challenge, see if they can spell it backward!
3. Sound it Out First
Many spelling errors are made by using the wrong number of letters – too few, or too many. Sound out the word first, and mark those sounds using dots, lines, circles, or a physical object – Lego block, ball, even snacks. For every sound you say, place an object or make a mark on the paper. Then, spell by sound. Each object or mark represents a sound. Each sound needs at least one letter to spell it. Rather than trying to remember and spell the whole word by a memory of how it “looks”, make sense of the word by spelling using logical letters for each sound in the sequence. When you are done, see if it looks right. If not, trial some alternate allowable spelling letters.
4. Printing and handwriting
As mentioned, say the sounds while forming the letters. Handwriting is becoming a lost art, but research shows it is very valuable for developing fine motor skills as well as integrating and consolidating letter-sound knowledge in the brain. Many children prefer to type and use spell-check; however, for words on your spelling list, practise printing and writing them. Say the corresponding sound as you write the letter(s) that go with each sound.
5. Use Videos
Let’s face it—videos have become an essential tool in learning. The best thing about it is that there are many spelling videos that you can watch with your child to help them with their spelling. Choose short ones that are highly entertaining to keep your child engaged. After watching the video, you can ask your child to spell the words on their own.
There are many resources out there to help you teach your child how to spell. Spelling is an important aspect of language. Therefore, if you want your child to communicate better, make sure he or she knows how to spell words correctly.
If your child is having trouble with spelling and you need additional help, you can enroll your child in language and literacy therapy. Remember that a spelling issue indicates an underlying language problem and will impact reading too.
Improving your children’s language skills will pay off in the end, so make sure that you spend the time and effort to help your child and improving their chances of success.
We’re a speech, language and literacy learning center in Calgary, AB, that offers spelling therapy for all students, helping them overcome their learning difficulties. Contact us today to find out more!