"I" Before "E", But Not After "C"

The word "separate" has "a rat" in it. Remember this spelling tip and you'll always spell it correctly!

The word “separate” has “a rat” in it. Remember this spelling tip and you’ll always spell it correctly!

I am a product of the public schools of the 1960’s. I was taught the spelling ditty: “i” before “e” but not after “c”, and a host of other rules. Spelling rules seem to be made for the logical, perhaps, mathematical minds (not mine), but I am a good speller. How does that work?

I have used many a spelling book and program with my kids over the years, and I am convinced that Ruth Beechick, skilled teacher and curriculum developer, knew what she was talking about. Ruth Beechick did not like spelling workbooks, and taught that spelling out of the context of one’s writing is seldom remembered and can be an exercise in futility. After homeschooling for 20 years, I have to agree.

So, how do you teach kids to spell?

Get them to write. Let them write about their interests—those are the words they need to know how to spell anyway, as they will be using those words often. As you correct their writing, help them correct their misspelled words and transfer them to a spelling list. Every day, have them write those words 3 times. On Friday, test them on their words. Whatever is missed goes onto next week’s spelling list, until it is mastered. Every Friday, when you give a spelling test, go back and pull words randomly from previously mastered spelling lists to keep them fresh in your child’s memory.

Do whatever you can to help them make sense of the spelling of the word when they first transfer it from their writing to their spelling list. If you can simplify a rule to the point that a child remembers it, go ahead.

More often, though, I find myself drawing a little memory clue next to the word, or underlining some of the letters to solidify a crazy spelling. Find a reason to remember a difficult spelling sequence. For example, I point out to my children that the commonly misspelled word, “friend”, is easy to remember if you know that a “friend is with you to the end“. Once a child can see the word “end” in “friend“, it is easy to spell it correctly.

Look for that pesky creature, “a rat”, when you spell “separate”. There is “a rat” in “sep a rat e”! Once you can see it, you’ll never spell it wrong again!

Children often struggle with the correct spelling of the words”their” and “there”. How does one remember? Look at the word “there”. “There” is a place, a location. You are either “here” or “there”. The word “here” is part of the word “there“. Have children search for the word “here”. If they see it in the word “there“, they are talking about a place.

Which “hear” hears? “Here” or “hear”? You “hear” with the word that has an “ear” it it: hear!

If you all want to be “together”, then you better go “to get her“.  Just combine the words “to”, “get”, “her” and you have the correct spelling!

For very logical types, a spelling rule might hold some weight. But for the majority of children, I have found memory clues to be very powerful in teaching spelling!


May I recommend:

Natural Speller versus Has-to-be-Taught

Spelling Clues

Teach Any Child to Spell

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