The spelling hack every teacher should know

If 50% of English-speaking adults struggle with spelling, what does that say about our teaching?

Is it that the English language is so difficult to learn or that our teaching methods are lacking?

Spelling is an exact science, yet it seems that spellings of words are constantly changing. There’s the creation of new words, foreign language influences, texting, advertising slogans and marketing jargon along with a more relaxed attitude to spelling in general, and it’s all having an impact.

So… how do we help a child through school who is struggling with spelling? And believe me this is an area where children who struggle with literacy struggle the most.

Here’s a spelling hack every teacher and parent needs to know to get their child or student back on the have-a-go-at-spelling bandwagon.

You will need a drum or similar musical instrument and 1 cm graph paper.

Let’s use the word hippopotamus as our example. How many syllables does it have?

Let’s count them; hip – po – pot – a – mus. That’s five.

Ask your student to use the drum to beat out the syllables. That’s step one.

Step two is to write the syllables out using the graph paper.

Like this…

You can see how the long, complicated, word hippopotamus has been made into a series of easy to read, shorter words.

What was once an overwhelmingly long, and for some, a scary word, now looks easy to attack, decode and spell. You can do this with all spelling words for lower grades or keywords in subject areas for higher levels.

As teachers, we are trying to give our students the confidence to have a go at spelling words they feel are outside their comfort zone. We want students to write what they know about a subject or a topic. We don’t want them being limited because they are choosing to write only the words they know how to spell. Students will do this to avoid red cross-outs all over their work and the embarrassment that comes with it. As long as you can understand which word they were intending to use, you have the opportunity to see what they know. Isn’t that more important than every word being spelt correctly? We want our Grade 6 or Year 8 student writing to their ability. The older student who writes like a Grade 3 student will be penalized marks wise if they continue to choose smaller words they can spell.

It’s all about momentum. If you give your students permission to have a go and use words that are reflective of their spoken vocabulary, the quality of their written work will go up exponentially.

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