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Educational research on how best to teach spelling

(37 Posts)
ReallyTired Thu 30-Jan-14 11:26:36

What is the most effective way to teach spelling. Anedotally look cover right check has not worked for my children. Is there a high quality spelling scheme that parents can use with their children that follow a logical progression. (Ie. systematically teaches them spelling rules)

MrsSteptoe Thu 30-Jan-14 11:32:08

The CPE graded workbooks I used discussed spelling rules, I think, though obviously rules only go so far in English.
Reading out loud is helpful too. Forces them to look more attentively at the page. Also good for learning how to use punctuation correctly.
We also played spelling tag - I'd say the first letter, he'd say the second, I'd say the third. Not completely answering your question, as you were asking about systems that teach rules, but FWIW.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Thu 30-Jan-14 11:44:50

Hmmm.... I don't know anything about spelling schemes (do they actually work in English?) and this isn't any use for a spelling test tomorrow - but in the long term dictation can be very, very helpful. For all the reasons above and also obviously because they're using the words in context.

I've seen some true "lightbulb" moments when a child is given their own dictation to correct from the original.

You would need to make it happen quite regularly...

MrsSteptoe Thu 30-Jan-14 11:52:13

Interesting, zerosomegame

ZeroSomeGameThingy Thu 30-Jan-14 12:11:03

Yeah... I'm a bit obsessed with retro - educational methods.grin My DM says I should have been a teacher - but I would have been the one crying at the front of the classroom.

Even in my own schooldays no-one used dictation (in English.) But it played quite a large part in prep for French O'level and I found it astonishingly helpful for understanding where I was going wrong.

So I tried it not too long ago (in English) on a child preparing for entrance exams. It got him actually writing in different styles and noticing punctuation as you said. But what he liked most was being given the book to correct his own work. Lots of <head, hand> moments on his part.

Then I let him give me dictation. Evil child chose the Orkneyinga Saga. I made so many mistakes.blush

MrsSteptoe Thu 30-Jan-14 12:59:06

Wish I'd tried that while he was preparing for 11+. I'll bear it in mind, though.

PastSellByDate Thu 30-Jan-14 13:58:51

We found GCP literacy workbooks Year 4/5 very helpful - in giving practice on spelling rules/ changing nouns to adjectives or adverbs, changing 'y' to ie when adding 's' etc...

I think part of the problem with English is that when you get down to it we've borrowed words from all over - so understanding rules helps, but there are often exceptions.

Sometimes you have to understand the origin of the word to understand the reasons for the spelling - for example why is there a 'b' in doubt?

Answer here:

And if you ever wondered why plurals are not straightforward in english (goose to geese, man to men, etc...) have a gander at this:

or how the word onion can teach us so much about our amazingly English language:


MrsSteptoe Thu 30-Jan-14 14:10:10

I put CPE above. I think it's CGP. Sorry. That might be what *pastsellbydate means as well. Ironically, on a thread about spelling.

MrsSteptoe Thu 30-Jan-14 14:10:27

Oops, sorry about the misplaced bold as well.

maizieD Thu 30-Jan-14 15:24:17

Look, Say, cover, Write & Check is pretty useless! You could use a modified version (though spelling from a dictated word is better):

1)Read the word, note any sound spellings which might be tricky, (e.g is an /ee/ sound spelled 'ee', 'ea', 'ie' etc.?)

2)Cover and repeat the word

3)Segment the word (i.e break it into its component 'sound'

4)Write the word by spelling each sound in the order in which it comes in the word.SAY each sound as you write its spelling (this is really important for promoting automatic recall)

5)Check by decoding and blending the word exactly as it is written (not what you 'think' you've written!) does it 'sound' correct

6)Check with the original written word

Repeated writing of a word (correctly spelled, of course) and saying the word as it is written also helps to reinforce kinaesthetic memory of the 'feel' of how it should be written.

Spelling is not really a visual skill at all, though if you are very familiar with the 'look' of a word you may be able to instantly tell if it is misspelled.

I have seen the Apples & Pears programme (Promethean Trust)highly recommended as a spelling programme.

maizieD Thu 30-Jan-14 15:25:29

Sorry, 3) should say 'component sounds' of course

Mashabell Thu 30-Jan-14 15:38:44

There is no method for teaching spelling that works reliably with all children, because learning to spell English involves a humungous amount of rote-learning. Different children learn in different ways, and nearly 1 in 2 never become really proficient, no matter what teachers or parents do, because they simply cannot cope with all that memorising.

Some sounds have quite reliable spelling patterns.
Most consonants don't have many exceptions. A few vowel spellings don't either (a, ar, o, oi, -oy, ou, wa, qua for /wo/quo), but most are unpredictable and really just have to be learned word by word.

I analysed the 7,000 most used English words (the sort of words that an average 16-yr-old is likely to have come across) for spelling regularities and irregularities and found 4,217 with one or more unpredictably used letters, from 'said, friend, head' to 'azure' and 'xylophone'.

The best way to learn them is to write a lot and to learn from your mistakes, and use the old LOOK, SAY, COVER, WRITE, CHECK method for the ones that keep causing u trouble.

If it was up to me, i would modernise English spelling and reduce at least some of the most time-consuming inconsistencies, but most people seem to want to continue putting kids throught the torture they had to endure. English-speaking kids world-wide could become much better educated if English spelling became more regular and they did not have to expend so much time on learning to read and write.
Masha Bell

ZeroSomeGameThingy Thu 30-Jan-14 15:58:56

Hmmm again.....

OP While you're waiting for the English language to be officially modernised hmm - can I suggest something else?

I'm quite surprised that maizieD doesn't think English spelling is visual.... For me (and I don't mean now when my brain cells are beating each other up and falling off buildings...) it's always been at least 90% visual familiarity (reading/writing) and 10% understanding what the word means and where it came from.

So <prevaricating>........


(Don't hate me.)

ekuiz Thu 30-Jan-14 16:00:21

If you want to see how much rote-learning English spelling involves, no matter what method you use, take a look at this: ?

maizieD Thu 30-Jan-14 16:11:10


It only approaches anything near visual if you are askilled reader and so familiar with a word that you can visualise it correctly, and, you have that sort of mind. Most people don't bother. They sound their way through it. Or, they 'know' it so well that kinaesthetic memory takes over.

columngollum Thu 30-Jan-14 16:16:04

They sound their way through it

I don't know anybody in real life who uses phonics to check their own spelling.

How many ms and cs in accommodation? Let me just sound that out, hang on...

I can hear three in there, no, two. Nope, I can hear another one!

ReallyTired Thu 30-Jan-14 19:36:55

thanks for the recommendation. I have heard of apples and pears but I was a little horrified at the price.

I have this book

but there isn't enough over learning.

CecilyP Fri 31-Jan-14 10:41:28


It only approaches anything near visual if you are askilled reader and so familiar with a word that you can visualise it correctly, and, you have that sort of mind. Most people don't bother. They sound their way through it. Or, they 'know' it so well that kinaesthetic memory takes over.^

Sounding your way through a word would be a bit hit and miss when you are talking about Engish. You could achieve phonically plausible spelling, but it is unlikely you would achieve correct spelling. Obviously, you won't be able to visualise a word if you have never read it and are therefore unfamiliar with it. But, taking basic phonic knowledge as a given, I do believe that visual memory is what distinguishes naturally good spellers from poor spellers. It is not a matter of bothering, it is just that, if you have that kind of memory, you can, as you just know which of however many phonically plausible alternatives is the correct one - there no real effort involved.

For kinesthetic memory to take over you must have spelt a word correctly dozens of times and I think it only happens with a handful of words - I know that sometimes when I go to write the boys version of my name, I end up writing my name without thinking.

CecilyP Fri 31-Jan-14 10:50:03

ReallyTired, what sort of age group are you looking for?

ReallyTired Fri 31-Jan-14 10:54:02

My son is twelve years old and his spelling is poor. Dd is four year old and I don't trust the school to teach her. Dd's school is officially inadequate and if anything standards are falling.

I suppose I am more interested in teaching spelling to a four year old as ds is not interested.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Fri 31-Jan-14 11:04:04

RT I suspect I read your thread title in a hurry yesterday because I somehow didn't notice that you wanted "research" rather than "meandering anecdote". blush Apologies.

But please don't give up on your 12 year old.

In fact - get him to read to his Ds.....

CecilyP Fri 31-Jan-14 12:23:55

I have absolutely no suggestions for a 4-year-old, (and I am not sure I would pre-empt any difficulties) but for a secondary age child I would recommend a book called 'Signposts to Spelling' by Joy Pollock, copies of which are available at a somewhat bizarre range of prices on Amazon. First published in 1980, it covers different spelling rules, letter patterns and spelling history with lists of useful words as examples, and does go some way to making English spelling seem less random than it might initially appear.

If all else fails, I would also recommend the electronic spell-checker.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Fri 31-Jan-14 12:44:34

Oh, CecilyP I cannot believe I've just clicked "Buy" on a book, with no real clue as to its innards, purely because other copies are £54....

CecilyP Fri 31-Jan-14 13:12:06

Yes, for 1p plus postage you couldn't go far wrong, but even I wouldn't pay �54!

RosemaryandThyme Sat 01-Feb-14 17:03:59

The Ruth Miskin GET Spelling series (used in Read write Inc schools from age 7 but can be used for younger children at home) each a4 booklet covers somewhere around 20 rules, numerous examples and three pages of practice per rule. 10 mins a day. Can buy as a whole series or individually on ebay.

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