10 ways to help your children learn their spelling lists

Most children bring home spelling lists to be learned by a certain date.

The best kinds of spelling lists contain words that the children are going to encounter in their other school work – vocabulary related to a topic they are studying, for instance. This is the best kind of list because the meaning of the words will be of relevance to the children, and they will be encountered several times in the classroom, thus helping to reinforce both meaning and spelling.

Other useful spelling lists are individual ones, based on the spelling difficulties your child has demonstrated in his or her writing.

You might like to try some of these strategies at home to help your child remember how to spell the words on a spelling list:

  1. Do a pre-test so that you and your child work out which words you need to concentrate on.  There’s no point in going over the words that he or she can already spell, and it makes the list shorter, which is a feel-good factor.
  2. Where relevant, use highlighters to mark words inside words. The word ‘recently’ contains the word ‘cent’.  Together, make up a sentence to act as a mnemonic – a reminder to help recall. For example, ‘Recently I lost a cent down the sink.’
  3. Say each of the words aloud three times, asking your child to repeat them after you. First say the word normally. Then say the word slowly, in syllables, to make sure your child hears each of the sounds.  Finally repeat the word again normally. (For example, 1. ‘recently’  2. ‘re-cent-ly’  3. ‘recently’.)
  4. Make sure that your child understands the meaning of each word and can use it in a sentence that shows its meaning. Ask if the word is like another one he or she already knows.  Making connections helps children to remember, and understanding the meaning of a word helps children to spell it correctly.
  5. Play games such as hangman or make a word search using the spelling list words.
  6. Ask your child to look carefully at each word in turn before closing his/her eyes and trying to visualise the shape of the word.  Ask him or her to notice where the short letters (the vowels and c, m, n, r, s, v, w, x, z) occur in the word, and  to identify the tall letters (b, d, f, h, k, l, t ) and the letters that go below the line (g, j, p, q, y).
  7. If there is a pattern to the words in the spelling list, help your child to identify the pattern and to highlight where it occurs in each word. For example, the pattern might be that the words all contain a digraph (that is, two vowels combined to make one sound such as ‘ea’, ‘aw’, ‘ ie’ or ‘ou’).
  8. Put the spelling list on the refrigerator or somewhere easy to access. Test your child on the words in the spelling list more than once, but don’t test all of the words at once.  Do them in groups at random times, so that the whole thing doesn’t become too painful.  Try to make it into a game.
  9. If the spelling list is based on a specific spelling rule, identify the rule and highlight the part of the word that applies the rule.  Ask your child to think of other words that use the same spelling rule.
  10. Get your child to use this strategy to help him or her remember the spelling:  Look.  Say. Cover.  Write.  Check.

    First look carefully at the word, noting the letters and the shape of the word.  Then say the word aloud, first in full and then in syllables.  Cover the word and then write it down.  Check to see whether you have written the word correctly.
    If your child makes a mistake, look at the incorrectly written word to see where the error has occurred.  Is a letter omitted? Is a syllable omitted? (If so, practise ‘sounding out’ the word aloud so that your child can hear each of the sounds individually.) Has your child represented a sound by an incorrect combination of letters? (For example, the sound ‘ay’ can be represented by the letters ‘ai’, ‘ay’ and ‘ane’.  A child might write the word ‘complain’ as ‘complane’ or – less likely – ‘complayne’.)

(The Spelling element at www.otisa.com.au contains a series of activities based on common spelling rules and strategies for learning to spell.)