For Teachers Updated February 13, 2018

How to Teach Spelling Words to Students of Any School Age

By The Room 241 Team November 6, 2012

Although teaching spelling  is frequently neglected in favor of modern advancements such as computer spell check, spelling is actually a very valuable skill. Any teacher who has graded a paper full of homophones know how easy it is for people to mix up words that sound the same to the ear but are spelled quite differently. Learning to spell well will also help students when they need to hand write notes or assignments and this skill will help them to type faster as they get older.

Spelling teaching does not have to be a complicated process. It requires understanding the learning methods and the stages in spelling capability and being able to guide students through the appropriate steps. Here are some tips to help students master spelling.

Understand how students learn to spell

Although it was once believed that students learned to spell through rote memorization, this is no longer deemed correct. Students, instead, progress through a series of stages in which they come to understand the written word at a progressively deeper level. For example, at the earliest stages of learning, students may not grasp letters as anything more than visual representations of words. They have not yet made the connection to the letters and the different speech sounds they hear.

As they get older, they begin to shift and understand that the letters they see represent different sounds they make. Once they have the connection between the letters and sounds, students begin to develop their own spelling for different words based on what they hear. These spellings are often inaccurate, as the students do not yet understand the complexities related to the word structure. As they age, they will begin to master the different letter combinations and spelling patterns which will enable them to sound out more complex words and be able to read and write at a progressively higher level.

Emphasize a student’s understanding of letters and sounds

When students enter school, they are already at the age where they should be ready to learn the alphabet and the letter sounds if they have not already. Teachers should work on placing an emphasis on the letter sounds and connecting these sounds to different letters. It is this emphasis that will help the student begin to make the connection between the letters and the sounds they use to communicate. A teacher who understands how students learn to spell will be a great asset and will be able to help the students on a much deeper level. As students make this connection, teachers should encourage students to practice their spelling, even if it is incorrect, to help them get used to expressing themselves in writing.

Look for ways to integrate lessons based on where the students are

Once the teachers have realized their students have mastered basic phonics and have made the connection between letters and sound, they know they are ready for the next level. When this occurs, the teacher can begin to introduce different, complex letter sequences for different sounds, for example ‘tion’ or ‘ch’. These letter combinations should be presented with many examples and opportunities for usage. As the students are able to practice these spelling concepts, they will be further cemented in their mind and help them to apply the sound to other words not reviewed in class. Teachers should also present students with common guidelines to help them remember tricky letter combinations such as “I before E except after C except when sounding like A in neighbor or weigh.”

Present prefixes and suffixes

Prefixes and suffixes are important aspects of spelling because they have specific spellings and specific meanings. They change aspects of the original word. By teaching students to understand and interpret these letter combinations, they will be able to enhance their reading and writing capabilities.

Spelling teaching is a lesson that will benefit students long into the future. While they may typically have computers, spell checks, and online dictionaries at their fingertips, there are always times when they will be on their own. These high tech devices also often miss homophones and other confusing areas of spelling. Understanding how written English works also helps to enhance the reading abilities of students as well as their speaking skills.

Are you an educator who’s interested in focusing within this area of education? Learn about our Master of Education Curriculum & Instruction concentration in reading and literacy intervention—which focuses on polishing your instructional skills for the teaching of reading in the general education classroom.

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