Teachers’ tricks to make spelling easy

KS1 boy doing spelling homework
Does making your child prepare for the weekly spelling test make your heart sink? Forget mindless drilling – primary teacher and preparing-for-spelling-tests veteran Phoebe Doyle has found ways to take some of the stress out of learning tricky words.

Highlight the hard bit

Frequently, there will be one part of a word that trips up your child each time. Look at the word together and highlight the part that they find particularly tricky. For example:

Night  Separate  Was  Receive   Weird
What   Two   Friend   Said   Cheap

Or there may be two parts that need attention, for instance;

Accommodate  Address   Necessary

Once you’ve done the highlighting together, get them to write out the word again without looking. This time they’ll be more focused on getting that tricky bit right, and will be able to remember how it looks.

Make the spelling stick

If one or two parts of a particular word just don’t seem to ‘sink in’ by simply highlighting them, try to think of other ways to help them stick.
For example:

  • With weird, people often get the i and e confused. Help by saying we are weird, so your child remembers that we is the first part of the word.
  • For the double s in dessert: desserts are both sweet and sugary.
  • For a word with two ‘tricky’ parts, like necessary, think Cats Eat Salty Sardines to remember the c and the double s (see 'Make it an acronym' below).

Break it down

Try breaking down polysyllabic words to make each syllable easier to remember. Even young children may be doing this at school – they might call syllables ‘beats’. Help them decipher how many ‘beats’ or syllables there are in a word by clapping the word together, one clap per syllable.

So, for two-syllable words…
Danger        Dan / ger
Windmill      Wind / mill
Option          Op / tion

And for three-syllable words…
Relation      Re / la / tion
Beautiful     Beau / ti / ful

It may help to segment the words into a chart like this:

Syllable 1 Syllable 2 Syllable 3
Re la tion

Copy it, copy it, recall it

Use a chart like this:

Copy it Copy it Recall it
What What What

After your child has copied the word twice, fold the paper over so they can’t see what they’ve written and ask them to have a go at writing the word unaided. They should be able to recall the spelling without looking.

Another classic technique is known as Look, cover, write, check.
So, they look at the word...
Cover the word...
Write the word...
And finally check it.

Create pictures in your mind

It’s a well-researched memory trick: if you can conjure up a visual image, what you’re trying to remember (in this case spellings!) may come more readily.

For example, if your child is learning ‘bank’ but writing ‘banc’, help them remember it’s a ‘kicking K’ by saying, “I kicked my legs into the bank”. If they’re writing ‘cat’ as ‘kat’ remind them it’s a ‘curly c’ by saying, “The cat likes to curl up and go to sleep”.  Encourage your child to invent their own ways of remembering words; if they have thought up the image themselves, it will be a more powerful tool.

Say it as it’s spelled

To remember double s, really stress and extend the sound: fussssssss.
To remember double z, again stress and extend it: buzzzzzzzz.
Same for double e: seeeeeeeeem.
To remember ea instead of ee, pronounce it as two separate sounds: cre – a –m.

Make it an acronym

Sometimes, visualising a difficult word in a different way can suddenly make it stick. Create a phrase from each letter of a word and turn it into an acronym, which can be easier to remember than the word itself. Try these, or have your child make up their own!
Because: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
Ocean: Only Cats’ Eyes Are Narrow
Rhythm: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move
Necessary: Never Eat Chips Eat Salad Sandwiches And Raspberry Yoghurt
If this strategy really works with your child, our Thinkalink! book is essential further reading. Here, author Andy Salmon demonstrates the technique brilliantly.

In the palm of your hands

If your child is a kinaesthetic learner (in other words they learn best through doing), ask them to write each letter of the word into the palm of their hand or onto their leg with their finger. With enough repetitions, they’ll remember how the word felt to write (this is known as muscle memory).

Sing the word

This is reportedly one of the most popular methods used by contestants at American Spelling Bees. Simply learn the word by saying or singing the letters out loud, developing a melody. This melody should then imprint in your child’s memory; if they forget a spelling they will still remember how the word’s rhythm and sound, which will serve as a prompt.

Try some more unusual, yet effective methods to help your child learn how to spell, then reinforce what you've learned with our range of free spelling worksheets.