How To Teach Spelling
In Logical Steps

If you don’t know how to teach spelling and need help…you’ve come to the right place.

Perhaps you are a parent, tutor, student or even a teacher. By sharing my experiences, I am sure I can make the process easier for you. Over the years I have taught spelling to a range of students from preschoolers through to adults.

Key Points About How To Teach Spelling

  • Everyone, including the best spellers, find some words difficult to spell.
  • Spelling and reading are almost opposites. Reading involves looking at letters on a page and turning them into sounds. Spelling is more difficult because you have nothing to see. You have to think about the sounds in your head then turn them into letters. Next they must be put into the correct sequence.

  • Spelling needs to be taught in logical stages to make sense.
  • Children and adults generally, but also those with learning difficulties can always make good progress… so don’t give up on them. It is important to monitor how they are progressing compared with others but do not become anxious if they are not learning as quickly. The secret is to be patient and teach at their speed not the speed you wish they could learn at.
  • If you are attempting to teach your own child and feel it’s not working, find a good tutor to help them. You will both feel better.
  • · Learning to spell should be enjoyable. Relax and keep it light. For younger children make games out of spelling. They love moveable letters as they can manipulate them quickly, and easily alter them if they make a mistake. It also allows them to experiment and learn what works and what doesn't. fun and your child will love learning to spell and will be more likely to remember what they have learned.

How To Teach Spelling to Beginner Readers

In the first year or two of learning to read it is possible to start learning to spell at the same time. This is how I teach spelling.

Stage 1: Alphabet letters and the sounds they make.

  • Often children know the names of the letters in the alphabet because they have been taught The Alphabet song.

  • Now it is time to learn the sounds the letters make.
  • They must be pronounced correctly from the outset.
  • The secret when learning to teach spelling is to teach the sounds in a particular sequence, perhaps one a day or one every few days, depending on how quickly your child is learning. Often schools will teach only one a week.
  • I start with the letters…a m s t c r h f…as they can at the next stage be turned into words which your child can start reading then spelling. Many four year olds are capable of learning both this and stage 2 below before they go to school, if taught this way.

Stage 2: The first words I teach

  • These are… am as at. They learn them by slowly and carefully sounding out each letter because they have been taught the… a m s t.... in the first few weeks. This might appear simple but to some children it can seem complex… so move at your child’s pace.
  • If your child knows their sounds, they should be able to learn to spell them. Some may be able to write them using a pencil while others may not have yet developed the fine motor skills to do this. In this case you can write large letters on squares of paper then cut them up or use a good set of clear lower case moveable letters.
  • Often beginner readers can’t hear the individual sounds in a word when you say them at normal speed. They are said too quickly for their brains to process.
  • This is what I do. I say the word am at normal speed, and then tell them I am going to turn a magic key in my back which will make me speak like a slowly, like a robot.

  • I jokingly make the sound of a key turning. I say the word am again then say the word really slowly like this….aaaaaaaammmmmmm. I look excited and say “Wow, it works!”
  • I say to the child, “If I turn a magic key in your back you might be able to say it in slow motion like me. Shall I try? “ (Children always say yes, so I make the sound of the key turning again)

  • I repeat the ‘aaaaaaaammmmm’ sound then ask them to repeat it once or twice.
  • Then I ask if they can hear the first sound (aaaaaa). If they can’t, I repeat the whole word slowly and ask again if they can tell me the sound the first letter makes.
  • Next, ask if they can find the moveable letter that matches the sound ...aaaa.
  • Reinforce them by saying, “That’s great, you’ve found the …aaaa…sound. Now let’s see if we can find the next sound in the word am….aaaammmmmmmmmmmmmm. Can you tell me what it is? Now, can you find the (moveable) letter that makes that sound?”
  • Repeat this exercise until they understand and before you know it, your child has spelled their first word!
  • Do this exercise again to spell as, then at. That’s three words they’ve learned to spell.
  • If your child is having difficulty…go back a step.

Stage 3: Word Families

  • There are many different word families or words with similar patterns in spelling. Start when you are learning how to teach spelling with the easiest word families. They are what teachers call CVCs (which just means consonant, vowel, consonant.) Each CVC word starts with a consonant, has one vowel in the middle, then finishes with a consonant.
  • I teach them like this. I start with the vowel a in the middle and work through the different words families below, with that particular vowel. This means your child will really know this vowel sound before they move to the next. After this I move on to word families with the vowel e…then i o u as you can see below.

The a Word Families

at family ... cat mat sat rat bat fat

an family ... ban fan man pan ran

ad family ... bad dad had lad mad pad

ap family ... cap gap lap map nap tap

The e Word Families

et family ... bet get jet let met net pet set vet wet yet

en family ... ten den hen Jen men pen

ed family ... bed fed led red Ted

The i Word Families

in family ... bin din pin tin win

id family ... bid did hid kid lid rid

ig family ... big dig fig jig pig wig

ip family ...dip hip lip nip pip rip sip tip zip

it family ... bit fit hit kit lit mit pit sit

The o Word Families

ot family ... cot dot got hot jot lot not pot rot tot

og family ... bog cog dog fog hog jog log

op family ... hop lop mop pop top

ob family ...Bob cob dob hob job mob sob

ox family ... box fox

The u Word Families

ub family ... cub hub rub tub

ug family ... bug dug hug jug mug rug tug

un family ... bun fun run sun

Stage 4: Consonant Blends

The next set of word patterns you should focus on when you are learning how to teach spelling is consonant blends. Below I have a link to an article on them. There I explain...

  • what they are
  • what order they should be taught in
  • a fun method of how to teach the spelling of them by breaking them up. Get this right and your child will find them much easier to learn.
  • Click to go to Consonant Blends.

Teach your student the method I explain on that page and it will make learning to spell them more logical. After they’ve practised breaking them up, they will be ready to rebuild them by spelling them.

Consonant blends which occur at the ends of words like ng and nk, are a little more difficult to say and therefore to spell. This is because they sound nasal and it's not as easy to distinguish between the letters.

Teach them to your student this way.

  • exaggerate the individual sounds and show them the moveable letters that make those sounds
  • point to your nose and laugh when making nasal sounds. This will help your child remember that it sounds nasal.
  • when practising end blends, keep it simpler at the start, by ensuring there are no blends at the beginning of the word as as well e.g. list sold pond. The words in the example start with a single sound. Once words like these have been conquered, then try words with blends at either end like flash sting stamp.
  • dictate the words listed in the Consonant Blends article and ask your student to write them. If writing is difficult, they can use the moveable cards.

Stage 5: Complex Spelling

How to teach spelling at the next level is more complex.

I have covered this aspect of spelling in a separate article on this website.

When you click on the first link below it will tell you how to approach difficult words and crack their codes. You will see examples of misspelt words and how to tackle the errors.

Go From How To Teach Spelling To Difficult Spelling Words

How To Teach Spelling To Correct Spelling Of Words

How to Teach Phonics To Phonics Literacy Homepage

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