Teachers’ tips to make tricky spellings easy
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.
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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.
- 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|
Copy it, copy it, recall it
Use a chart like this:
|Copy it||Copy it||Recall it|
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 and Check.
So, they look at the word...
Cover the word...
Write the word...
And finally check it.
Download our Look, Cover, Write and Check blank template to apply this method to your child's spelling words.
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 acrostic
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 acrostic, which can be easier to remember than the word itself. Try these, or have your child make up their own!
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.
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.