Will the “natural speller” please stand up?
Having homeschooled 7 children, I eventually figured out that either kids come as “natural spellers” or they don’t. And if they don’t, you have to teach them to spell.
The natural speller can see the word in their head. You might see them writing it with their finger in the air when they are figuring out the spelling of a word. Spelling comes pretty easily to this child.
The “has-to-be-taught” speller is just as intelligent. In fact, spelling doesn’t have much to do with intelligence. As soon as the “has-to-be-taught” speller gets some memory clues or rules to go by, they can spell just as well as anyone. Of my 7 children, a few of them are natural spellers.
For the natural spellers, it is pretty much a waste of time to give them spelling lists, spelling tests, workbooks, or spelling activities. They will get it eventually, no matter what you inflict upon them. They can see the word in their mind’s eye and the more times they see it, read it or write it, the easier it gets. For a natural speller, I have found the best exercise is to correct their daily journal writing, and help them analyze a misspelled word. Once it is pointed out, they can practice that word—write it a few times each day perhaps. A memory clue is big help, such as pointing out the word end in the word friend (a friend is a friend to the end). Once they can see the right spelling, they generally do great at self-correction in the future.
Here are a few spelling memory clues to get you thinking:
hear–you hear with your ear. See the word ear in hear.
here and there are places. You can see here in there.
Separate the word into syllables: to-get-her
If you are going somewhere together, you have “to get her” first.
Separate the word into syllables: to-morrow
The meaning is “on the morrow, or the next day”. Remembering that helps you not put an extra “m” in the word.
How long will a friend stick with you? to the end! If you can see the word end in your friend, you spelled it correctly!
The main thing is to talk through the misspelled word with your child the first time you spot it. Just dissecting it is often enough to help a natural speller see and correct his mistake. When my son spelled rock as roc, I asked him to spell sock, clock, block, lock, etc. As he put the ck on the end of each word, he quickly recognized the pattern and fixed rock without another word from me.
You never know for sure which kids will be natural spellers, so I start all children off writing with a Spelling Dictionary by their side from about age 6 and up. If they get in the habit of looking up words they are stumped on, instead of puzzling (and misspelling them), it seems to get them off to a better start.
From there, we advance to using How to Spell it, which is a unique dictionary in which children can look up misspelled words (rather than the other way around). Words are spelled as they sound, with the correct spelling highlighted.
From day one of homeschool, I have my children keep a school journal. This is an easy way to teach spelling, as they learn to spell right along with learning to write, and the spelling words are the words they use in their everyday conversation.
When it is time for some formal rules, I reach for Better Spelling in 30 Minutes a Day. This book is great for older children who need some spelling help, or as a guidebook for you, as a teacher, to get the rules down so you can teach better. Workbook contains exercises that allow you to identify weak spelling areas and practice to improve them, tricks for spelling those commonly misspelled words, proofreading practice so you can learn to spot an error, and an answer key in the back of the book so you can check your answers as you go. Of course, you don’t have to spend 30 minutes a day, but I’m certain this book will improve your spelling even if you only spend a few minutes!
Good spelling is just about as important as brushed hair or a washed face. It is often the first impression we will make. In a day when email or texting is a common form of communication, spelling matters. Believe me, I have seen my share of misspelled job applications—and they are not very impressive. It’s worth it to teach our kids to spell!
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