Help Your Child Learn Those Weekly Lists of Spelling Words

by Maria Chesley Fisk, Ph.D.

Different teachers use different strategies to help children learn to spell words correctly, or what I call "the adult way." Many teachers ask children to learn lists of words for Friday quizzes. Fortunately, most spelling textbooks these days group words that follow a pattern. So pan, man, and fan might be on one list and mane, sane, and pane on another. Recognizing and using patterns is an important thinking skill.

Quiz written on blackboardBut kids also need to know that the English language is a little crazy and irregular, and that the spelling of some words really doesn't follow a pattern. Words like through, knife, and Tuesday just have to be memorized—and memorizing is a skill that you child will need for more than spelling in the coming years. You can use trial and error (see the Trial and error might help tool in the analytical section of Teach Your Kids to Think!) to find practice strategies that work for your child and your schedule. When memorizing the spelling of words, repetition is important. Also know that if your child can read the word, spell it out loud, and write it down, she knows it better than if she can only do one of those correctly.

Here are some practice strategies:

  • If the words follow a spelling pattern, emphasize the pattern. For example, if the pattern is __an, write _an in large letters on an index card. Cut a slit on the _ and above it. Write the letters at the first of the words vertically on a strip of paper that you can slide through the slits to reveal one letter at a time. Ask your child to read and then spell each word aloud.
  • Your child looks at the first word on the list, reads it, closes her eyes and spells it aloud, then goes on to the next word. She can mix it up a little by starting at the bottom of the list or alternating top, bottom, top, bottom….

  • Call out each word, and your child writes each down. Then your child looks at the list, compares his spelling, and circles each incorrectly spelled word. Then he writes each incorrect word two or three times.

  • Ask your child to spell each of the words she missed yesterday out loud. Point out the syllables in each word and try spelling syllable by syllable (a dictionary can help with the syllables). Share any other tricks you use to spell the words, for example jokingly say them the way they are spelled such as pe-o-ple or Wed-nes-day.

  • Your child writes a word he is struggling with on the left side of a piece of paper. Then he folds the left side of the paper so that the word is hidden (make sure it is spelled correctly). Next, he writes the word again and then uncovers the hidden one and checks to be sure it is correct.

  • The day before the test, give a practice test in the same way the teacher will give the test. If the teacher calls out each word, uses it in a sentence, and then the students write it down, then pretend you are the teacher and do the same. If any words are missed, your child can use any of the strategies above to learn them.

  • On test day, consider setting the spelling list by your child's breakfast for a final review or asking her to spell challenging words aloud on the way to school.

Maria Chesley FiskMaria is a parent involvement expert, author of Teach Your Kids to Think, co-founder of the home - school communication system ParentSquare, and realistic mom of two.