Wondering how to help your child with spelling?
Helping with homework is a delicate balance. The purpose of homework is practice, so we shouldn’t expect students to do it perfectly all on their own, or else the assignment is just a waste of time. But what help can you give them that keeps them active and learning instead of having you do all the work?
Here are some tips for helping your child with spelling words at home.
Grade and subject make a difference
Early grades/Spelling homework
When your kids are young and learning to spell, a big part of the point of homework is to practice spelling skills. A good spelling program will have your child practicing spelling words in a pattern they have learned at school, such as all words with silent e, or all words that have -tch at the end of the word. If the spelling list has a lot of different patterns or your child is really struggling with the words that are assigned, it’s worth a conversation with the teacher about ways to make this work more productive for your child.
If the homework is not spelling homework, teachers in first and second grade are used to figuring out spelling mysteries from their students. If your child is struggling to spell a word like because or television, you can encourage them to write the sounds they hear or use the patterns they know. If the uncertainty of an unknown spelling makes your child uncomfortable, it’s OK to give them the spelling of a word, or to help them make a list of words they often forget that they can hang in their homework area or keep in their folder.
What doesn’t work for younger children is telling them to “look it up.” Using a dictionary is an advanced skill that involves a lot of decision-making and executive functioning skills. Kids will learn to use a dictionary to look up definitions long before they can use a dictionary to check spelling.
Bonus tip: If you have a smart speaker at home or your child has access to a tablet or phone, it’s possible to use speech-to-text to help a child with spelling words. For example, Alexa responds to, “Alexa, how do you spell…” My kids love the independence of checking words themselves.
Middle Grades/Written responses
Kids from about third grade up might have to write responses of one or more sentences on their own, eventually expanding to paragraphs or essays as they move into middle school. These writing prompts are a great opportunity to coach your child to revise and edit their writing to fix their spelling. They should learn to use the available resources, like the text they read or the words in the question they are answering, to check their spelling.
Here are some stages many students move through as they learn to do this independently:
- Early on, they might not notice their own spelling errors, so you might underline misspelled words when you proofread their work.
- They begin to learn more about what correct spelling looks like. You might tell them “I see 2 misspelled words in this paragraph. Do you know what they might be?”
- They also become more aware of their common errors. You can say, “Check the tricky words list in your folder and see if you got those right.”
High school and college
By the time students get to high school, the bulk of their longer writing assignments will probably be typed. They need to learn how to appropriately use spellcheck and spelling suggestions. I once knew a very bright engineering student who accepted all the spelling and grammer suggestions given by Word and ended up with a long, important paper that was almost totally unreadable. Human friends had to go back through the draft and try to undo all the computer’s errors.
Spellcheck is an incredible tool, but plan to work through it with your teen the first few times and teach them that computers are really good at doing things over and over again, very quickly, but they aren’t smart.
If your teen continues to struggle with spelling, so much that it impacts the quality of their writing, there are some easy-to-use software options that can help.
- Speech-to-text: Using Google Voice (included with Docs) or a standalone product like Dragon Dictation, writers can speak their draft into their device. Learning to use this effectively, including punctuation and editing, can take some time.
- Word prediction: Co:Writer is software that I more often recommend for younger students, but it has the helpful feature of customized dictionaries for different subject matter, so writers can have suggestoins from content-specific vocabulary, which is helpful in classes like science or history where words that aren’t common in our everyday speech come up often.
- Grammarly: Grammarly is a subscription-based spelling and grammar checker that gives some explanation for the changes it recommends, including noting when a change makes the writing less wordy or more readable. This can help writers fine tune their emails and short notes, as well as longer papers.
What if they need more spelling help?
Most students make spelling errors. Whether it’s not knowing whether to write there, their or they’re, or having difficulty with less common words like conscience and photosynthesis, mistakes happen. For the majority of students, learning to be aware of the mistakes they tend to make and learning that good spelling is a part of clear communication is the path to better, more careful spelling. But other students have done the same work as their classmates and continue to make an unusual number of errors in spelling. If you are concerned that your child’s reading and spelling development, reach out to the teacher and consider whether more evaluations would be helpful. Poor spelling can be a sign of a learning disability like dyslexia, or a sign that they haven’t gotten the spelling instruction that they need.
For these struggling students, they may need more explicit instruction in letters and sounds (including rules like using -tch at the end of words with short vowels, like fetch) and spelling rules (like doubling the final consonant before adding -ed, like in the word begged).
Learning the history of words, whether they come to English by way of French, Greek or another language, can also help students know which pattern to choose. Some students become better spellers when they study a language like Greek or Latin that has a large influence on English.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for ways to help your child with spelling, the key is to help them find resources and learn a process that will help them avoid and correct errors. Find a middle ground between “It’s your homework, look it up” and spelling out the word every time. Giving too much (or too little) help won’t help your child learn to spell better, but giving the right support can help them grow in confidence and independence!
If your child is struggling with spelling and they need more than tips and strategies to help them, contact us today about 1:1 online structured literacy tutoring with our Orton Gillingham tutors.