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Six Tips to Help Your Student Improve Their Spelling Skills

By Dr. Raymond Huntington

Some children get the hang of spelling from a young age, while others seem to struggle with it for the rest of their time as students. And while your child can trudge through school as a mediocre speller, skills like reading and writing are easier when they’re strong at spelling.

It’s best to tackle spelling problems early. Here are six tips to help your student improve their skills and become a better speller—and student:

  1. Build a reading habit. There are spelling rules, but there are also plenty of exceptions to those rules. Children who read often tend to be better at spelling because they’re more familiar with words used in context. From a young age, encourage your child to adopt a nightly reading habit. This will get them familiar with word formation, pronunciation and memorization of words that aren’t spelled as they sound.
  2. Start with the sight words. One of the first building blocks of reading in elementary school is learning sight words, which are frequently used English words that students are encouraged to memorize by sight. Often, these words are irregular in nature (think the, come, down, and four), so memorizing how they are spelled and pronounced helps students become more capable, fluent readers.
  3. Help your child sound out words and parts of words. Another building block skill that early readers will work on is understanding the sounds that different combinations of letters make. Make sure your child understands how to sound out individual letters, knows the difference between consonants and vowels, and is able to sound out consonant blends (sl, sm, sp), digraphs (two letters that make one sound, such as ch or sh), and diphthongs (two vowels that form one syllable, such as au).
  4. Teach common spelling rules. Knowing the basic spelling rules will help your child a lot when it comes to spelling. The teacher probably has a handout for you to work on at home, but here are some of the most common that your child should know:
  • “I” before “e” except after “c” or when something sounds like “a,” as in “weigh.”
  • Add “s” to make nouns and verbs plural (cat becomes cats).
  • Add “es” to make words that end in “x,” “s,” “z,” “ch” and “sh” plural (wish becomes wishes).
  • With words ending in “y” preceded by a consonant, change the “y” to “i” and add “es” to make plural (body becomes bodies). Otherwise, if ending in “y,” add “s” to make plural (toy becomes toys).
  • With words ending in “f,” change the “f” to a “v” and add “es” to make plural (hoof becomes hooves).
  • Add apostrophes to show possessive:
    • ‘s to make a singular word possessive (child’s)
    • s’ to make a plural word possessive (students’)
    • With plural words that end in “s,” add an apostrophe after the “s” (horses’)
  1. Point out word families. The English language is vast, but you can help your child feel less overwhelmed about spelling by teaching them about spelling patterns and word families. So, grouping words into families with similar patterns or endings is a great way to help build your child’s spelling confidence. Examples:
    • Once your child knows how to spell sight, they can more easily spell fight, flight and
    • Once your child knows how to spell real, they can more easily spell deal, heal, steal and
  2. Follow the “look, spell, see, write” approach. Practice makes better! When practicing spelling, have your child follow this approach:
    • Look at the word and read it aloud.
    • Spell it out letter by letter.
    • Look again and picture the word with eyes closed.
    • Write the word on a separate piece of paper.
    • Check the spelling, and if incorrect, start over. If correct, write the word a second time.

Spelling isn’t easy for many students, but it can be improved upon with practice, a reading habit (i.e., regular exposure to the written word) and more practice! That said, continued spelling problems can sometimes be indicators of something else, such as dyslexia or poor reading skills. If your child is a poor speller—and if this is combined with other challenges like reading or writing—call Huntington. We’ll perform a diagnostic assessment to determine what’s really going on and help your child make improvements.