Spelling for the Thoroughly Befuddled

One of the most dreaded traditional school activities is the weekly spelling quiz. Did you know that only three to five students in any classroom get A's consistently on the weekly spelling test?

I was one of those students. As a child, I would see a word once and know it for the rest of my life. On the rare occasion that I ran across a really tricky word, I would write it a few times, picture it in my head, make a clue for it, and presto! That was the end of that!

Why could I do that so easily? Because I am a Print/Writing learner. I was born with my brain already set for reading and spelling. But the majority of students (who grow up to be the majority of adults), are not Print/Writing learners. They are Picture or Hands-On learners, or some other type.

To these students our language doesn't make sense. It doesn't matter how many times you explain that there are rules; there are so many rule-breakers that the rules are not trustworthy!

I am going to give you a strategy that works for many of these students. But first, it is important to understand what doesn't work and why:

  1. Reading more doesn't make you a better speller. Reading and spelling are two different processes - you can be a great reader and poor speller.
  2. Looking up words in the dictionary just causes more frustration. If you're a poor speller, you know this can be torture; if you can't spell a word, you usually can't find it.
  3. Writing the words over and over doesn't work. This is still the strategy of choice for kids to practice their misspelled words. It has never worked in the past (if it had, all adults who did this in school would be great spellers), and it will not work now. These students are not Writing learners; if they were, they wouldn't have difficulty spelling in the first place!

In an ideal learning environment, students who are not natural spellers would not have spelling workbooks and wouldn't have to memorize 10 to 20 words every week that have no consistent pattern. They would be taught word families first, then gradually one or two "strange" words per week, using strategies that work for their learning styles.

If you are homeschooling, you can ditch the spelling workbook:

  • If your child is a natural speller, he/she doesn’t need it – it’s just busy work.


  • For those who struggle with spelling, if they know the basic sounds and can spell phonetically, have them choose a couple of "weird" words a week to learn, and use the strategy below.


If your child is in traditional school, follow these steps:

  1. Go over the spelling words of the week and eliminate the words your child already knows..
  2. From the remaining words, ask your child to choose three or four. Then use the strategy below.
  3. Talk to the child's teacher and work together as a team. The teacher can track the effectiveness of this strategy for the words that are chosen each week.

Here's the strategy:

Choose a word and make a game out of thinking up memory tricks for that word. For example, to remember "etc." you might notice that the first two letters are ET (as in the cute alien). Most people that misspell this word reverse the order of the "c" and "t." But once they realize that "ET" is in there, it's easy to tack the "c" on at the end and they never misspell it again!

Or how about "friend"? The i and e cause the most trouble. Try writing on a card: fr I end. Then draw a face and hair on the big I, adding arms and legs. And finally, say, "I am a friend to the end."

Five-by-eight cards are great for this. Each word gets its own card. You might need to get your child started by working together at first, but have the child make his own cards. The tricks can be anything; have lots of colored pencils and crayons available and have fun!

And, remember, it's not the end of the world if you're not a great speller. It only becomes a handicap if your child feels bad about it. Be your children's Success Coaches by acknowledging and encouraging what they are good at, and they will grow up to be confident and successful, because they will know they are valuable, and are gifted to do something special in the world.

Thank you to Mariaemma Willis, M.S. for sharing with us this week.

Mariaemma Willis, M.S.Mariaemma is the co-founder of LearningSuccess™ Institute and SchoolAtHomeMadeEasier.com, and co-author of the books Mid-Life Crisis Begins in Kindergarten and
Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.

She also co-developed the Self-Portrait™ Power Traits Assessment, an online tool that provides immediate insights and recommendations for a person’s learning styles.

Would you like to assess your child's learning strengths to create a more effective and enjoyable experience? Save 43% at the Club on The LearningSuccess™ Institute's Self-Portrait™ Power Traits assessment HERE.