How to Improve Your Child’s Spelling
Improving your children’s spelling can be a frustrating process, especially when they cannot seem to spell a certain word no matter how many times they have written it out. Memorising information is easier when you understand it, but a lot of English words are spelled in a way that does not seem logical. Why do we spell ‘telephone’ with a ‘ph’ instead of an ‘f’? Why do silent letters like the ‘d’ in ‘Wednesday’ exist?
Despite its confusing properties, there is still a system in English spelling. There are patterns that your child can pick up as they read and write more.
By the way, you can download the ‘Spelling list of 150 Commonly Misspelled words’ by clicking the blue button below:
Here are some methods on how to help them memorise new words and improve their spelling along the way.
1. Keep a Vocabulary Bank
A vocabulary bank is a good way to keep track of new words that your child learns. A vocabulary bank can be kept in the form of a notebook or flashcards.
Flashcards may work better for younger children as they are visual teaching tools. The word can be written on one side of the card, and the definition on the other side. On the same side as the word definition, your child can write a sentence of their own as an example of how to use the word. They are more likely to remember a word once they come up with their own sentence, rather than try to memorise the usage of the word from a sentence they read elsewhere.
Knowing the definitions of the new words your child learns is extremely important. Your child can remember the word better if the meaning and usage of the word is can be understood and applied. If the word seems meaningless to your child, he or she will not see the point of remembering it. Therefore, it is very important to make sure your child understands the meaning of every word they are tested on or put into their vocabulary banks.
2. The alphabet, consonants and vowels
There are 26 letters in the alphabet, 5 of which are vowels and 21 are consonants. Once your child knows which alphabets are vowels and which are consonants, picking up spelling rules will be easier as they can start to learn how to spell by sound.
3. Prefix and suffix
Prefixes are a group of letters placed before a root word, and suffixes are the letters placed after the root word. A prefix or suffix is added to modify the root word’s meaning or conjugation, and it is spelled the same no matter which root word it is added to. The more prefixes and suffixes your children know, the less likely they are to fumble over the spelling of certain words, and the wider their vocabulary becomes.
Prefixes and suffixes can give clues to what a word means.
For example, the ‘un’ in unhappy, unhelpful, or untidy is a prefix. By adding ‘un’ to a root word, the word becomes the opposite of its original meaning. Unhappy means ‘not happy’, unhelpful means ‘not helpful’, and untidy means ‘not tidy’. If your children comes across the word ‘uncomfortable’, they will immediately understand what it means ‘not comfortable’ as they are already familiar with the prefix.
Another example – by adding the suffix ‘-ly’, we can change a lot of word forms into adverbs. ‘Quickly’, ‘Slowly’…etc.
Your child can then learn simple spelling rules related to suffixes like how the letter ‘i’ is usually used to replace words ending with the letter ‘y’, when adding the suffix ‘-ly’. (i.e, ‘happily’, merrily.)
To train your child on the usage of prefixes or suffixes, you can get a grammar assessment book and check if the book contains this topic. Doing some simple assessments on prefixes or suffixes is a quick way to help your child’s spelling.
4. Spelling Rules
Although spelling the spelling of English words can seem very confusing, for the most part, English still follows a system. You can find examples of spelling rules with a quick Google search. Here are a few common ones:
- Every word has at least one vowel or consonant that sounds like a vowel. The letter ‘y’ is a consonant, but it sounds like a vowel, as in ‘fly’, ‘likely’ or ‘syllable’.
- Every syllable has at least one vowel.
- To change a word that ends with a “vowel + y” to its plural form, just add an ‘s’ (keys, trays, delays).
- To change a word that ends with a “consonant + y” to its plural form, remove the ‘y’ and add ‘ies’ (babies, cries, skies).
- When conjugating words, use double consonants for words with short vowel sounds. For example, ‘hop’ to ‘hopping’, ‘run’ to ‘running’, and ‘win’ to ‘winning’.
- Adding ‘ed’ to the end of a word changes it to its past tense. But look out for several exceptions like ‘woke’, ‘slept’, and ‘flew’.
Of course, spelling rules cannot be learned all at once. Instead, when a passage contains words that can be used as examples for spelling rules, you can point them out to your child and make them aware of these patterns.
However, there are some words that do not follow the spelling rules. Those exceptions will leave us no choice but to memorise the spelling by practice.
If your child has trouble memorising the spelling of a particularly difficult word, try using mnemonics. Mnemonics can help us remember a large amount of information, especially when the information has an order. A popular example of a mnemonic is ‘My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies’, which aids us in remembering the order of the planets from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Here are some ways you can use mnemonics for spelling:
- Come up with sentences that are fun for your child to memorise. For example, ‘necessary’ could stand for ‘Never Eat Chips, Eat Salad Sandwiches, And Remain Young’. Creating these sentences can even be an activity to do with your child. If they invent the sentence themselves, they are more likely to remember it.
- Creating rhymes can help with memorising spelling rules. An example is ‘I before E, except after C. (thief, receive); Or when sounding like A, in neighbour or weigh’. When words contain ‘i’ and ‘e’ together, it can be confusing which letter comes first. By using the rhyme, we can remember that ‘i’ always comes before ‘e’, unless ‘c’ is the letter in front of the vowels or when there is an ‘ay’ sound in the word.
6. Spelling Lists
There are thousands of words in the English language, so building a vast vocabulary can be very overwhelming. Create spelling lists of different themes for your child and have them study those so that it will not be as daunting for them. You can even find words from your child’s vocabulary bank to create a spelling list. Make sure to limit your children to mastering a few words each time and not burden them with the task of memorising an overly-long spelling list in a few days.
Each list should have a theme. For example, words with the same prefix or suffix, or words that sound the same. Your child can also highlight any similarities they find among the words in the spelling list, which will help them pick out spelling patterns and rules. Also, remember to test them on both the spelling and definition of the words.
7. Using Colours
Colours can be used as cues to help us recall information. Encourage your child to use colours in their vocabulary banks and spelling lists. You can get your child to split up long and difficult words and write the groups of letters in different colours or highlight the different syllables in different colours.
For example: Embarrassed.
Using colours as a visual learning tool can help us absorb large amounts of information.
8. Reading Subtitles
Streaming platforms like Netflix offers subtitles for their TV shows and movies. YouTube has an option for closed captions as well. As your child watches their shows or videos with the subtitles turned on, they are subconsciously picking up new words, the context of the words, and their spelling from what they read in the subtitles. Turning on the subtitles is a simple way to to create learning opportunities during leisure time.
9. Common Words
Make lists of common nouns, adjectives or verbs. You can do a quick search online for lists of commonly misspelt words or ask your child to list the words they use in their day-to-day life. Common words are often easy to spell as well. Once they have mastered the common words, reading and writing will become much smoother for them. You will be surprised by how many words your child already knows how to spell! It can also give them the confidence boost they need. Then, they will be able to focus on more difficult words.
10. Writing Lists
Creating to-do lists is a simple writing practice your child can carry out every day. It is a quick exercise as complete sentences are not required. Your child will not feel pressured to be grammatically correct as they are simply listing things down, and thus feel more confident about what they are writing. This helps them practise their vocabulary as well as spelling.
Ask your children to write a list of tasks they need to do or some activities they would like to do for the day. For example, what is the homework they need to finish, what other activities they plan to do (practising the piano, walk the dog), or errands they have to run (water the plants). Be sure to point out any spelling mistake they may make. Writing lists only takes a few minutes and can help them memorise common words too.
11. Word games
Make spelling fun for your kids! There are plenty of spelling games that can engage them. If possible, review the words they have learned from the game to make sure they understand the meaning of each word. But it may also be a good idea to step back and just let your children enjoy the games. (If it feels too much like learning, they may just get turned off.)
- There are many spelling practice games on the App store that are either free or low-cost, such as Spelling Master by ACKAD Developer and Spelling Game by Edubuzzkids.
- You can also try word games such as Word Champ and Word Wow Big City (however, most free apps come with advertisements, so be sure to monitor your child’s gameplay).
- Spelling and word games can be found online as well, such as spellingtraining.com, homespellingwords.com, and funenglishgames.com. These games use images and colours to engage your child and help them learn while having fun.
- Crossword puzzles or word search games can also help your child pick up words to add to their vocabulary bank and at the same time, notice the spelling of the words.
- Hangman is a simple, evergreen game. Ask your child to choose a theme (for example, sports, songs, or jobs) and think of a word that falls under that theme. This game never gets old!
12. Incorporate spelling into art
Grow your child’s vocabulary and creativity simultaneously! Writing a word over and over again as a way to learn its spelling can be very dull and pointless. Incorporate arts and crafts into the exercise to make it more engaging, and your child can at least look forward to the outcome of their exercise. (Perhaps this method may be more suitable for preschool children!)
Here is one way to combine spelling and art:
- Print out a black-and-white drawing with thick lines. Instead of colouring in the drawing, ask your child to fill it in with the word (or words) they are learning, until the whole drawing is “coloured in”. (See the picture of the duck above.)
- You can ask your child to fill in the picture with words associated with the drawing, like adjectives that could describe it. It gives the word they are writing more meaning when it is relevant or attached to the picture.
13. Reading Aloud
Encourage your kids to read aloud. Select a passage that will be interesting to them, for example, a paragraph from their favourite storybook, and ask them to read it out. This can help their vocabulary and allow them to associate the spelling of a word with how it is pronounced. Yes, some words do not always spell like how they sound, but the majority of words still do do. When they come across a difficult word, ask them to read it out slowly, syllable by syllable.
14. Encouragement and Patience
Improving spelling is a long process. When your child seems tired of repeatedly spelling a word they have trouble with, take a step back. You can go through the definition of the word with them and ask them if they know other words that mean the same thing or if a phrase can be used to replace it. After all, it is easier to write “his cheeks turned red” than to memorise the spelling of “embarrassed”. (Hey, that’s an exam-smart tip your child can use for composition writing!)
There are always other words we can use to express ourselves. Being unable to spell a difficult word is not something to become discouraged or distressed over. Reward your children with praise when they use a new word or phrase in daily conversation to help them feel more confident about their vocabulary. Encourage your kids to keep reading and practising their spelling, and both you and your child will definitely see results.
You can download the ‘Spelling list of 150 Commonly Misspelled words’ by clicking the blue button below