Learning strategies

In writing this, I hope to share some of the learning strategies that I have used both in the classroom as a teacher, and as a mum with my own kids…

Multisensory Spelling

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As a parent, I have first hand experience of what can only be described as that re-occurring nightmare of trying to help my kids learn their spellings. My kids both found learning spellings challenging and my attempts to help them usually ended in frustration and tears (and I'm not just talking about the kids). They also did little to help their self-esteem and learning. Spelling homework became a weekly battle, usually avoided until the night before the test. Not exactly the best strategy, I know!

But there are strategies that you can use to help you to support your child learn spellings. I just wish I had known about them ten years ago!

Learning spelling lists and high frequency words can be challenging for many learners, particularly those with dyslexic tendencies.

  • Some individuals with learning differences find phonological processing and memory retention challenging. They may struggle to distinguish the phonemes (small units of speech sounds) in words and to break words into smaller parts that help them to spell them.

  • Some individuals find it challenging to learn how letter sounds correspond to letter names and to recall the right letters to spell the sounds they hear in words.

Individuals attempting to learn to spell words in English are also faced with remembering irregular spelling patterns and high frequency words e.g. the, was, and, you

Try this spelling strategy:

  1. Write down the word that your child is learning to spell. Look at it together. Encourage your child to say the word and spell it out by saying the names of the letters in the word in order. (You can help them with this.) Make sure that they know what the word means.
  • Looking at the word helps your child to create a picture, a visual memory of it.
  • The auditory input they get from hearing the word and spelling it out aloud with letter names helps them to create an auditory memory of it.
  1. Encourage your child to trace over the word you have written several times, saying the letter names as they trace over it. Then ask them to write the word three or four times, saying the letter names as they write it.
  • This reinforces your child's visual and auditory memory of the spelling and helps them to develop a muscle memory of the motor task of writing the word (it helps their hand to remember how the movements that spell the word feel.)
  1. Encourage your child to write the word from memory and to compare their spelling of the word with the one you wrote down in Step 1 of this spelling strategy. Are the two spellings the same or different? Why?
  • Try writing out the word with missing letters. Can your child fill in the missing letters?

  • Encourage your child to be a spelling doctor. Write out the word but mis-spell it. Can your child spot what is wrong with the word and fix it?

  • Can your child write the word with their eyes shut? (You might need to guide their hand to paper.)

Below are a few ideas that may make repeatedly writing out a spelling more engaging for your child and help them to create a visual image of the word.

Remember to encourage them to say the letter names as they spell the words to create auditory memories of spellings.

  • Tracing over the word with different coloured highlighters or pens

  • Write the word using different coloured pens or pencils (rainbow writing) and in different sized letters e.g. write it big, write it small.

  • Write the word in the sky using your finger as a pencil.

  • Write the word in shaving cream,a sand or salt tray or with a paint brush and water.

  • Cut out letters from magazines and comics and use them to build the spelling word together. Mix up the letters and rebuild the word again. Try using magnetic letters, letters chalked or painted on pebbles, written on lego bricks, or on scrabble tiles in the same way.

  • Paint the word with a paint brush or your finger.

  • Make the word using pipe cleaners or letters cut out of sandpaper. Encourage your child to feel the shape of the letters and the word.

  • Look at the shape of the word. Draw a box/frame around each letter in it to help create a visual image (picture) of the word.

Other spelling strategies you could try:

  • Play matching-pair word games with spelling words. These provide your child with repeated opportunities to see the words. The more times they see a word, the more likely they are to create a visual memory of it and be able to read and spell it.

  • Use mnemonics to help remember spellings. Make up silly sentences where the first letter of each word makes up the word to be spelled. e.g. because - big elephants can always understand small elephants

  • Look for smaller words in the spelling word. e.g. there is a 'hen' in when

  • Talk to your child about how words are made up of syllables and each syllable has a vowel sound in it. Say a word and count the number of syllables in it. Encourage your child to spell the word a syllable at a time.

  • Look at the word structure of the spellings. Do any of the words being learnt have the same spelling patterns in the same parts of the words?

e.g. prefixes at the beginning, like un- and dis- suffixes at the end, like -tion and -ness

  • Investigate the etymology of a word. Enter it into an online Etymological dictionary and talk about what you find out.

The development of etymological knowledge could help your child develop their spelling skills because it explicitly promotes the development of:

  • an awareness of and interest in words

  • morphological awareness and the ability to make connections between the meanings of words

  • the ability to identify and retrieve spelling patterns for common roots, prefixes, suffixes and word derivations

  • metacognitive and metalinguistic awareness and the ability to manipulate structural features of language

But whatever strategies you decide to use to help your child learn their spellings, make it fun!

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