How to Teach Spelling: Strategies for Helping Your Students

Image of a Teacher Holding a piece of paper with the Letter A on it while working with a student. The text on image is "How to Teach Spelling: Strategies for Helping your Students".

How to teach spelling to students is a question that is on all the mind of teachers. Teaching spelling to students with disabilities can seriously be tricky. In fact, without explicit instruction in phonemes and graphemes, spelling is TOUGH! While reading the book Speech to Print, I was blown away by this quote.

“Linguist, speech-language teachers, actors, singers, and anthropologists are among those professionals who study the forms and functions of language. Curiously, teachers seldom do, even though the listening, speaking, reading, and writing proficiencies touted in our academic standards require language proficiency.” – Louisa Cook Moates

Why aren’t teachers taught more about teaching reading, spelling, and writing. Luckily, in this blog post series, I’ll share what I know to help your students master spelling!

Textbooks don’t have everything you need. But often times, that’s all we have available. While I don’t think textbook spelling is bad for all learners, I do think there are times when we need to find an alternative, especially for students with disabilities. In many cases, we need to find spelling lists that are more appropriate for our students.

When trying to decide what you should do with your students, consider the following questions.

Questions to Determine if Your Students Should Do Textbook Spelling

  1. Do you students do well with memorization
  2. What strengths and weaknesses caused the student to be identified for special education services?
  3. What decoding and encoding skills do they have?
  4. What is the best use of their time to help with their goals?
  5. Are the words developmentally appropriate?
  6. Do the words follow a particular sequence?

Researched Based Strategies for Helping Students with Spelling

Practice One Skill Unit Mastered

While this might SEEM like the most simple strategy, it is often skipped. We throw so much at our students, that they can’t keep up. They’re never mastering one skill before moving on to the next. We wouldn’t ask students to read words with vowel teams if they haven’t mastered reading CVC words.

While I think it is ok to expose them to grade level phonics instruction, I would spend more time practicing and explicitly teaching things within their level.

List of Spelling Rules

Allow students to create their own list of spelling rules. For me, I make cheat sheets for myself all the time. Why can’t our students do the same? Let them create their own reference.

Rapping the Rule

Just like the previous strategy, our students need things to reference later. Teach your students raps, songs, or rhymes to help them remember common spelling words. This will appeal to many of our learners and give them something to access as they attempt to recall a grapheme.

Use Sand or Salt for Practicing Graphemes

I love to appeal my kids’ multi-sensory side. By giving your students the chance to practice in sand or salt, your students can practice both phonemes and graphemes in a quick, easy, and multi-sensory way!

Find Words in a Text that Fit the Rule

Once students KNOW a rule, give them the chance to find the word in a passage. It’s important for them to be able to see the rule in real life.

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