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How to Teach Spelling

Mom helping son with spelling lesson

Parents and teachers often ask how to teach spelling to their children. Is there one best approach? Is there one spelling program recommended above all others? And even, "Can't you just give me the magic formula to turn my struggling speller into a Super Speller?"

As you might expect, there is not a single approach on how to teach spelling that is best for all students, all parents and all teachers. However, there are some general guidelines I've found over the years that can be applied to almost every situation.

How to Teach Spelling

1. Use three kinds of experiences for the learner: auditory, visual and kinesthetic. In other other words, allow students to hear the correct spelling of words, see the spellings, and have 'hands-on" experiences.  Here are a few ideas for young learners who do best with kinesthetic experiences

family at table doing school work and reading the newspaper

A) Spell words using Scrabble tiles, Boggle letter cubes, magnetic letters, or even letters cut from newspapers and magazines.

 B) Trace the correct spellings of words. Or spell words by gluing string onto construction paper. 

C) Find spelling words on cereal boxes, toy packages and other everyday items.

2. Teach spelling words that make sense to the child. It is a waste of your valuable time (and the student's attention) to teach words -- even if found in a traditional spelling book -- that the student is unlikely to use and have little meaning.

On the other hand, you should include words from the student's science and social studies lessons, as well as words related to news events and special calendar days.

teacher and student working at student's desk

3. Give students the foundation for spelling successfully. That means making sure students understand the sounds made by consonants, short vowel sounds, long vowel sounds, diphthongs, and more. Teach some of the most consistent rules and spelling strategies.

A visitor writes: "I have found your site to be very helpful. I have a 1st grader who gets 20 words every week to study for homework. ...Lately she has been getting a few corrections. The tips on your site have helped me a great deal, especially the Scrabble idea. Thanks."  -- Claudia, Jamaica

4. Simplify spelling whenever possible. Introduce words that have similar patterns at the same time. For example, teach aloud, around, count, ground, and sound during the same week.  Group tricky words together.  Show students er words in one list: perfect, alert, concern, perfume, expert. Then show them ur words in another list: turkey, return, hurricane, curtain.

If students remember the spelling of one word in the group and some of the other words that belong in the same group, it's easier to spell the tricky syllables correctly.

5. Provide lots of practice in lots of formats. Oral exercises, puzzles, worksheets, and games all have their place in successful spelling programs. Spelling homework is important, too. All of these activities, believe it or not, can be fun!

More Spelling Practice Ideas

 Please note that we have many specific ideas for providing spelling practice which can be adapted to various grade levels. 

Here are some of my favorites:

first grader standing on hands, upside down

AnyWord Spelling Practice eBooks

For more fun spelling practice, try our AnyWord Spelling Practice Series. In these three eBooks, you'll  find word play worksheets, writing prompts and partner games and activities that work with almost any list of spelling words!

  1. Spelling Words Well
  2. Lessons
  3. How to Teach Spelling


Spelling Words Well logo

Think a Spell brain teaser eBook

Think-A-Spell! A fun collection of brain teasers and spelling challenges. Best for ages 10 to adult. 

AnyWord Spelling Practice eBooks

AnyWord Spelling Practice Series Worksheets, Games and Prompts that work with almost ANY spelling words!

Fun Spelling Worksheets for Grades 1-2

Fun Spelling Worksheets for Grades 1 and 2    50 All-new reproducible pages for early learners!

Gigantic 78 cover 275 px

Gigantic Spelling Bee Word Lists with definitions, sentences and languages

Spelling Bee Toolbox Gr 35 cover 275 px

Spelling Bee Toolboxes for Grades 3/5 and 6/8   All the resources you need for a successful bee! 

monumental grade 56 cover 275px

Monumental Spelling Bee Word Lists for grades 3/4, 5/6 and 7/8 with definitions, sentences and languages

mammoth grade 34 cover 275 px

Mammoth Spelling Bee Word Lists  for grades 3/4, 5/6 and 7/8  with sentences, definitions, and languages

Young Spellers cover 275 px

Young Spellers Spelling Bee Word List for Grades 1 & 2 only 

100 Diff Words Vol 1 275 px

100 Difficult Spelling Bee Words with Definitions, Sentences and Pronunciations, Volumes 1 and 2

600 Spelling Bee Words & Sentences

600 Spelling Bee Words & Sentences for Gr 3/5 & 6/8 Extra words & sentences at two levels

101 Word Play Puzzlers 275 px

101 Word Play Puzzlers   Discover the FUN of letters & words as you solve each unique puzzle. Great vocabulary & spelling practice!