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Learn to Read: Spelling

IMPORTANT: Use words in lists, activities and books for spelling every time you work with a learner!

How To video for beginning spelling

TIP: Be sure you always have your student read
her or his spelling sound or word back to you

Incorporate spelling with each phonetic skill you are working on. If you are working on letter sounds ask the learner(s) to spell some of the individual dictated sounds. If you are working on cvc, ask the learner(s) to spell some phonetically regular cvc words (mom, tip). Once the learner is spelling words and/or syllables be sure to add some nonsense words!

Spelling starts with individual letter sounds.  After teaching vowel sounds practice spelling just these sounds. (“Which vowel sound do you hear in mop?” Student writes down an o.) 

Write every day: Use the spelling activities included in the steps, but also do a little spelling every day by using the words on the poster or wordlists for each step. Physically writing the letters, sounds and words is important to building motor memory.

Change one sound: We have many spelling practice sheets where the learner changes one sounds to make a new word. These do a great job at focusing the learner(s) on the individual sounds in words, and this focus is proven to advance reading skills! (You can also create your own.) Here is an example of this kind of spelling practice sheet.

Click for: Approximate Beginning-Spelling-Sequence

The following spelling review tests were designed come after the group of skills are taught, and include the skills previously taught.  These are also embedded in the Steps.

  • Spelling Review #1  Open, Closed, Magic e, Vowel Teams, & Bossy r. There is a section for each, so the student knows which syllable type to use.  The last section contains multiple syllable words.  The key is for the student to say the word in its syllables (for example: de/part/ment).  This way the student is not spelling a long word, she or he is spelling three individual syllables.
  • Spelling Review # 2 diphthongs/digraphs, -cle and all six syllable types in multiple syllable words

Spelling With Endings
You can start spelling with endings as soon as you have gone through the magic e syllable. See the Adding Suffixes (Endings) page for more on this.

Spelling Sight Words

When practicing spelling sight words (common words that do not follow the rules) we still want to have the learner(s) focus on the actual sounds in the word, we just want to discover and discuss the unexpected spelling of the sound that is spelled unexpectedly. Here is an example for how to teach the spelling of the word “said”:

  1. Say the word “said”
  2. How many sounds do you hear in the word “said?”  Three /s/ /ĕ/ /d/
  3. Draw 3 lines, one for each sound.  _____ ____ _____
  4. What is the first sound in “said?” (or start with last – mix it up, but leave irregular sound for last).
  5. Yes /s/.  What letter could we write to show /s/?  Yes! draw s on the first line
  6. What is the last sound in “said?”
  7. Yes /d/.  What letter could we use to show /d/? Yes! draw d on the first line
  8. What is the middle sound of the word “said?”
  9. Yes /ĕ/ (short e).  Now this is a tricky word.  The sound /ĕ/ is written with an ai.  We are going to put a heart on the ai since we need to know this by heart. 

*I usually explain that ai says /ā/ (long a) so this word should be pronounced /s/ /ā/ /d/.  Maybe people used to say it that way a long time ago?  Sometimes I say it that way to remember how to spell it.

PowerPoint: First 16 Cheater Sight Words Spelling Practice
Spell word, say word, trace word while saying each letter, underline word from left to right while saying whole word again, make a picture of the word in head, look again, then move to white light slide to try to spell on own. The bright white blank slide gives students enough light in a darkened room to write the word down as they visualize the word in their minds.

Word Chains: A powerful Spelling Strategy

To read and write we need to hear each individual sound in words in the correct order, and know how to represent those sounds with letters. Word chains help learners focus on these critical skills while also providing a structure to give learners support. In word chains students identify the sounds in a word, write a line for each sound, and then identify one sound that needs to be changed to make the next word, and then decide how to change it. For example:

T: How many sounds do you hear in the word “bat?”
S: 3 sounds: /b/, /ă/, /t/
T: Look at the word at the top of your paper. What does it say?
S: “Bat!”
T: How many sounds in the word “sat?”
S: 3 sounds: /s/ /ă/ /t/
T: Yes! Please draw 3 lines, one for each sound ____ ____ ____
T: Which sound would I need change to change “bat” to “sat?”
S: Change /b/ to /s/
(The correct answer is that the first sound needs to be changed from /b/ to /s/. However, there are many ways to support the student who is not ready to provide that answer. For example: Are the words “bat” “sat” the same or different? What is different? Is the first sound different? (The second sound? The last sound?) The first sound is different. What is the first sound in the word “bat?” What is the first sound in the word “sat?” What do we need to change the /b/ to in order to make it say “sat?”)
T: Yes! Please write letters for each of the three sounds on your 3 sound lines to spell “sat.”

Remember we are talking about sounds! A sound can be represented by more than one letter. One sound needs to be changed to change “b r i ck” to “b r i dge” – the last sound /k/ (spelled ck after a short vowel) is changed to the sound /j/ (spelled dge after a short vowel). Also, sometimes a silent letter makes the sound change: In order to change “k i t” to “k i te” we need to change the middle sound /ĭ/ to an /ī/ by adding a silent letter e to the end of the word.

*With students who struggle with the physical act of writing, rearranging letter cards instead of writing can be effective.

* Once things are automatic, supports like first identifying each sound out loud and drawing a line for each sound can be dropped. Then it sounds like “Next change trick into trike.”

Click here for a beginning sample CVC Word Chain list with directions

Teacher icon Teacher Information

1. Learners should be practicing spelling the skills each step of the way. Writing the words from the lists, games etc. that follow the patterns the learner is working with strengthen learning. Learners are using what they know about letters and sounds to have the power to create their own written words. This is a figuring out task, not a memorization one. We first want students to correctly use letters to represent a word, which means “laik” for the word “lake” shows the learner knows correct spellings for those sounds. Much of spelling correctly comes after the learner has read lots and had made mental images of many, many words, thus a word “looks right”.

2. There is also a much smaller place for memorizing how to spell common words they want to write often. A word or two can be chosen by the learner that they want to be consistent with (like the word said or they). Then practice this word or two by making a mental image of it, repeating the letters out loud, and writing it at different times throughout each day for many days until it is automatic.

3. What’s next: Move quickly to studying the meanings and spellings of morphemes, (the smallest meaningful units) and how they are put together to make words. In the beginning we are teaching students to spell based on the most common way(s) to spell the sounds they hear. However, English spelling is based on the meanings of the morphemes and etymology (the history of words). For example the word ‘sign’ comes from the Latin word signum, which means “mark, sign.” We know to spell sign with a ‘gn’ since it is related to words where we can hear the /ḡ/ sound like: signal, signify, and even designate. When the morpheme ‘sign’ is not the last syllable, the g is pronounced. Though this is not the focus of this website, spelling using meaningful chunks of words is definitely what is next!

Map Sounds to Letters

First map the sounds in the word to the letter(s) representing the sounds, even if it is not a letter combination that has been taught yet. Only an unusual sound/letter combination needs to be remembered “by heart.” Mapping the sounds to the letters is how we remember what words look like. See example below:

Map sounds to the letters that spell those sounds.  Teach spelling

Be sure to reinforce what you know and are learning about words:
Schwa Sound: Any vowel might say /u/. Point out this happens in many common words like: the, of, was, some, from…

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