How important is good spelling, really? Is it still vital in a world of typed documents, emails and autocorrect? Isn’t it the quality of writing we should be worried about, rather than the spelling of the words themselves? Perhaps, as Mark Twain observed, ‘anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word lacks imagination’.
The truth is that in the current educational climate good spelling matters a great deal. The 2014 National Curriculum places great emphasis on correct spelling and at the end of KS2 every child sits a spelling test. Good spelling is also a significant aspect of the writing curriculum at school. That means every child spelling words such as ‘receive’, ‘solemn’, ‘conscience’ correctly in their writing and not mixing up words such as ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’ and ‘stationery’ and ‘stationary’. Certainly a challenge for many 11-year-olds. And plenty of grown-ups for that matter.
Aside from the statutory requirements, learning to spell well is extremely useful if we want our children to become confident writers. If they are constantly stopping to think about how words are spelled while they write, it can interrupt the flow of their thoughts, taking them away from what we want them to be thinking about: their choice of words and how they construct those words into sentences that communicate exactly what they want to say. If they’re confident spellers, they’re also much more likely to make adventurous vocabulary choices, selecting the exact word to communicate their message, rather than playing it safe and using a word they already know how to spell.
Obviously there’s a lot more to being a strong writer than spelling, but anything we can do to help our children develop in this area is going to help them as they move through their education. Here are some tips for helping children with their spelling at home:
1. Encourage children to ‘have a go’ at spelling a new word. Only help if they ask you to.
2. Make sure children remember to use their phonics as they try to spell a word. Encouraging children to break the word they want to spell into its individual sounds and then try to match those sounds to the letters of the alphabet is really important. The chances are these have been painstakingly taught at school in KS1, and for older children it’s about making sure they keep this skill fresh. Reminding children to segment ‘catch’ into its three sounds – ‘c’ ‘a’ ‘tch’ – sounds like such a basic way of supporting spelling, but practising it is so important.
3. Ask children to write down the words that they need to remember how to spell. The physical act of writing the words by hand helps to anchor the spelling in children’s memories and encourages them to think about the letters that represent the sounds in the word. You just don’t get the same benefits if children type the words into a PC or tablet.
4. Hidden words is a game that you can prepare yourself. Write the words on your child’s spelling list, hidden in a series of letters. Now that they are hidden, ask your child to find them. For example:
sfhplayknc – play
qrubitpdh – bit
nvzbikejfa – bike
Your child could circle the hidden words with coloured pens. To raise the challenge, you could set a time limit on the game. For example, how many words can you find in one minute?
5. Making silly sentences can be great fun. Challenge your child to write a silly sentence, including as many of the words on their spelling list as possible. For example, your child may have to learn ‘room, took, hoop, foot, book’. They could make up a silly sentence such as ‘The boy took his book across the room but got his foot caught in a hoop’. Again they could draw illustrations to go with the sentences.
6. Remind children to read through their writing and check for spelling errors. They need to develop a feel for whether a word looks right. They could underline words they are not sure of and then you could both check with a dictionary.
7. ‘Over-pronunciation’ is a great spelling strategy. So for ‘Wednesday’ encourage children to say ‘Wed-nes-day’ as they write. There are lots of words which feature sounds that aren’t always pronounced clearly (such as words ending in -ed), so asking children to over-pronounce these when spelling can also be useful (for example, teaching children to say ‘hopped’ or ‘skipped’ instead of ‘jumpt’ can be a huge help).
8. There are few resources more motivating than a highlighter pen for primary-aged children. You can focus children’s attention on the tricky bits in a word by asking them to highlight them. For example, show them that receive has ‘ei’ in the middle and ask them to write the word, and then highlight or underline this part to help them remember.
Finally, remember that learning to spell is a gradual process and children need to go through this at their own pace. Children learn best at home when they enjoy what they are doing so try to keep spelling activities fun and lively. Enjoy!
More from Oxford Owl
- Five creative ways to help with spelling homework.
- Help with spelling – including information about spelling at school, and free activities.
- Videos: Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling made easy.
- The Big Spell: tips of the week.
The Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary is an easy home and school reference tool and supports the teaching of reading and spelling through synthetic phonics. A unique dictionary, it helps parents and teachers explain, for example, how ‘sun’ and ‘Cinderella’ both start with the ‘s’ sound. With colourful illustrations by Alex Brychta and the familiar Oxford Reading Tree characters, this is a fun way to prepare for the phonics screening check.
A fun activity workbook for children, aged 5 – 7 years, to do at home. This first book focuses on recognizing vowels and consonants, recognizing syllables, prefixes and suffixes, and developing strategies for remembering how to spell hard words. Comes with stickers to reward your child!
My Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Kit has been specially designed to make spelling, punctuation and grammar fun for your child! It provides practice and support for spelling, punctuation and grammar in line with the National Curriculum for children aged 6 and above, through workbooks that include the Oxford Reading Tree characters Biff, Chip and Kipper. The kit contains colourful workbooks, flashcards, games and a reward chart with stickers to help build your child’s confidence. A leaflet with helpful hints and tips is provided for parents.
Read with Biff, Chip and Kipper Spelling Games wipe-clean flashcards with pen are a fun way for children to develop their spelling skills, and they support the way children are taught to write at school. These fun spelling games have been specially created to support the National Curriculum and complement the Read with Biff, Chip & Kipper My Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Kit.
This set of 55 cards includes support for parents,fun games and useful tips for using the flashcards.
This essential primary guide to grammar, punctuation, and spelling has a clear, colour layout and is fun to use. The first part provides a reference section of simple rules, tips, and examples to improve literacy skills for the test at the end of primary school. The second part is an easy-to-use alphabetical word list of common tricky words. This list highlights, using analysis from the Oxford Children’s Corpus, words that are most frequently misspelt by this age group (age 8+), to target and rectify these common mistakes.
Developed with Oxford Dictionaries, these workbooks are designed to help establish competent spelling and the confident understanding of the words expected by National Curriculum tests.