It’s well known by now that spelling ability shouldn’t be taken as a sole indicator of a child’s intelligence. That said, it’s a skill that’s undeniably hard to master - something that it can be very easy for some adults to forget! Particularly young children in KS1 often have particular difficulty in expressing themselves in the written form, which is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to have the right school exercise books, and educational books and resources.
Most early spelling words will need to be memorised, particularly high-frequency service words such as articles, pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions. For these types of words, one tried-and-tested strategy that many teachers prefer is to set weekly quizzes. Now, that’s one way of helping students with their spelling. Here are a couple of others!
Write words out by hand
We’ll start with the obvious; when it comes right down to it, rote practice and memorisation might not be the most exciting prospect, but there’s no question as to its effectiveness. Encouraging children to write out a word several times, by hand, helps them to remember it. The physical act of writing it essentially solidifies the spelling in children’s memories.
However, a careful balance needs to be struck with this method; if it’s used too often, or for too long, it’s easy for children to become bored and mentally disengaged. And if they become disengaged for too long, the technique naturally becomes less effective.
If any child struggles noticeably with a condition like dyspraxia or dysgraphia, then it may be an option for them to use a computer or tablet. This is a compromise though, as it’s the physical act of writing that helps the words to stick - typing them on a tablet or computer doesn’t have quite the same effect.
Encourage reading, and say things out loud
Reading in class, and encouraging children to read at home, can both pay dividends when it comes to helping them with their long term spelling. The more they see individual words written down, the easier it becomes to transfer this knowledge into long-form memory. You may be able to provide them with particular benefit by specifically selecting certain stories that contain many examples of the word (or words) that you want to teach.
It can also be useful to have children say the words out loud, either as an isolated activity or as they’re writing them. With particularly long and complex words like Wednesday, it can really help to encourage them to over-pronounce these wherever possible. Encouraging children to break the word up into its component parts (in this case, Wed Nes Day) can help them to associate the letters with their phonetic sounds, assisting with their spelling in the long run.
Let them get creative!
Of course, once you’ve laid good foundations with the standard effective techniques, don’t hesitate to get them in touch with their artistic side - it can be immensely valuable when they’re learning words. For example, you could provide them with coloured construction paper - also known as sugar paper - and markers, so that they can get the tricky words down onto the page in a colourful, creative way. Some children are particularly visual learners, and they stand to gain the most significant benefits.
Another similar approach is to work with children to cut out letters from magazines (under supervision obviously!) and help them glue together their own ‘ransom note’ style words. Building these words from scratch from their component letters can introduce more clarity and fun into their learning, making them more likely to retain the information later on. In fact, speaking of which…
Play games, both competitive and cooperative
Playing and learning have always been closely intertwined, and that sense of fun is especially important to difficult tasks like learning to spell. Research says that the more cognitive attention that children that children give a task, the more fun they’ll have, and the better they’ll learn. It doesn’t hurt that some children are naturally competitive, and that natural drive can be harnessed to motivate them in their learning.
Quizzes are one very common example of this, but these games don’t necessarily always have to pit students against each other. You can also engage them in co-operative tasks, such as a class game of hangman, so that they can help each other in working towards a common goal.
A few more bits of general advice
As well as active games and initiatives, it’s also a good plan to keep certain difficult words permanently on display in your classroom. The more often that children see a word, the easier it becomes to internalise its spelling, as passive input ultimately transfers into active knowledge.
It probably goes without saying, but maintaining a consistently supportive and patient approach is vital too. It’s particularly easy for younger children to feel stressed or pressured with spelling, and that stress can all too quickly end up posing an obstacle to their learning.
If you spot that individual children are struggling noticeably, you may want to develop tailored solutions to help them. If they’re visual learners for example, you can consider visual aids for the entire classroom, or perhaps look at setting them tailored bits of homework that can help them improve in the specific areas they’re having trouble with. That can work wonders for their confidence, as it gives them the freedom and space to practice their spelling in a supportive, caring environment at home, rather than worrying about the opinions of their classmates, and enduring all the self-consciousness that might entail.
If you find that some students are still having particular difficulty, it’s worth considering whether they may be showing signs of dyslexia. If so, one of the first things you’ll need to do is ensure that you’ve got the right classroom equipment to properly account for their needs, and that’s exactly where we can help here at EPSL.
With more than 40 years of experience behind us, we provide a fantastic range of plain express exercise books and personalised exercise books, which can be tailored to become perfect for children with dyslexia. If you’ve got any questions, you can count on us to provide answers in as much or as little detail as you need. Feel free to give us a call on 01254 686 500!