Even though we live in the age of spelling software and autocorrection, spelling remains a crucial part of communication. In young children, spelling—along with reading, comprehension, and writing—is one of the fundamental skills in literacy development.
When a student has difficulty with spelling, it leads to problems expressing thoughts and ideas through writing. Without intervention, it could persist and negatively affect the child’s academic performance. In later life, poor spelling skills could interfere with one’s ability to communicate effectively both in his or her personal life and career.
Importance of Spelling Skills
For toddlers and young children, communication begins with gestures, body language, and vocalizations. Over time, this progresses to verbal communication as children learn to get a better understanding of language.
As children develop literacy skills, they make connections between verbal and written expression. They learn fundamental skills for effective writing, like identifying letters by sight and associating written patterns with sounds. These skills are explicitly taught and need consistent formal instruction.
According to research, spelling is crucial in developing and improving one’s reading ability. Good spelling skills help a learner master the alphabetic system as it applies to reading. Not to mention, the ability to see the connection between words of the same origin and understand word relationships is essential in comprehension. Along with strong vocabulary knowledge, a child equipped with an understanding of letters and word patterns can tackle and comprehend more complex texts.
Common Spelling Mistakes and Difficulties
Spelling can be a struggle for many students, particularly for those with learning disabilities or communication disorders. To ensure that a child becomes a competent speller, teachers and tutors must first identify the student’s specific area of struggle.
Some of the most common spelling difficulties are:
- Trouble remembering letters in a word one can read easily – Instead of actually reading the word, a student may be “slighting” some letters and relying on the initial letter and context.
- Struggles to figure out possible spellings of words one can say – A child may have difficulties recognizing separate phonemes or may not have knowledge of letter-sound correspondences.
- Guessing unfamiliar words based on context clues and reading some letters.
- Representing a few sounds correctly when writing but skips other sounds or adds extra letters unrelated to sounds in the word.
These difficulties typically manifest in spelling mistakes, such as the following:
- Using the wrong consonant or vowel (for example, kap invece di cap or boll invece di ball)
- Leaving out consonants or vowels (tiking invece di ticking e grat invece di great)
- Dropping one consonant when it should be doubled (barel invece di barrel)
- Struggling to remember when an “e” should be dropped (hikeing invece di hiking) or kept as a silent letter (hik invece di hike)
- Reversing the order of letters (mial invece di mail)
- Writing -ys in plural words instead of -ies (berrys invece di berries)
- Spelling words phonetically instead of using a suffix (attenshin invece di attention)
- Interchanging the use of s and c (absense invece di absence or cleance invece di cleanse)
- Forgetting basic spelling rules such as “i before e except after c” (decieve invece di deceive)
How to Improve Spelling Skills
A child begins to master the spelling of certain words when he has committed to memory the connection between its letters and phonemes. Phonemes are the distinct sounds we hear when a word is spoken.
In the English language, memorization is key because of the irregularities in English spelling. Such irregularities can be particularly tricky for young learners, even more so for children with learning disabilities.
Some strategies that parents or teachers can use to help a student remember irregular or longer words are:
- Allow the child to pronounce each syllable in a word to let them hear more of the sounds.
- Take note of unexpected letters and help the child store it in his or her memory by singling out and discussing the letter.
- Point out letter patterns in words to help the student spot irregularities and improve memory.
When it comes to improving a child’s spelling skills, research-based strategies must be implemented. These include:
- Teaching phonemic awareness to help students understand letter-sound correspondence as well as the parts of a word
- The whole-word approach or memorizing the spelling of a word without breaking it down into individual parts
- Teaching morphological awareness to help students identify chunks in words, word families, and word parts
- Explicitly teaching spelling rules (long and short vowels, double consonants, silent letters, etc.)
- Using a multimodal or multisensory approach in spelling instruction
Multimodal Spelling Tutoring
Many schools teach spelling with a bias toward visual modalities. A fun, systematic, and multisensory approach is best for all learners to learn spelling rules and patterns of English words. This means incorporating auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities should be used in helping students remember and learn how to spell.
An example of the multisensory approach to spelling would be the Trace, Copy, and Recall method. Students analyze words and group them accordingly, e.g., regular, irregular, and rules, e.g., the Rabbit Rule or the Dropping Rule. Reading practice is also encouraged as a part of spelling tutoring; it helps students develop the mental formation of sight words.
Our tutors work with multisensory approaches that include building phonemic awareness; strengthening sound-symbol associations; the seven types of syllables; roots, prefixes, and suffixes of words; and grammar, syntax, and vocabulary instruction.
Find out more about our literacy tutoring services and get to know our literacy specialists here!