struggling spellers

While it is only one aspect of writing, one of the most common challenges children run into with writing is spelling. When encountering words children cannot spell, they do one of several things: ask for help, look it up, try it out or shutdown. The child who shuts down is likely the child who struggles with spelling even seemingly simple words.

The tips in this post will help you help your struggling speller.

Children learn to spell through:

  • reading
  • writing
  • phonics
  • visual memory
  • direct teaching of spelling rules
  • vocabulary study in context

6 areas that stump spellers:

  1. lack of phonemic awareness (sound-symbol relationship)
  2. not enough exposure to letter patterns (ex: /ough/ or /augh/)
  3. little to no knowledge of word origins
  4. small repertoire of vocabulary words
  5. lack of explicitly taught spelling strategies
  6. fear of taking risks

How to help a struggling speller:

Contrary to what you might have learned as a student yourself, spelling is not learned by memorizing lists of words. Instead, children learn various strategies and apply them to their writing.

Here are some tips to helping your struggling spellers:

  1. Read and write. Since spelling goes hand-in-hand with reading and writing, both of these need to be fostered daily. It’s simple: read daily, write daily.
  2. Model. As with everything else you do, model the spelling strategies you use as you write, for instance, a grocery list, by thinking aloud. Children need to see adults writing and spelling for authentic purposes. They need to understand the importance of correct spelling. They also need to see adults making errors and then using strategies to help them spell words correctly.
  3. Keep it inclusive. Don’t make spelling a separate subject of the homeschool day. Spelling can be explored all day long in all activities and subjects. Point out words as you read recipes, on your drive to grandma’s, at the grocery store, during a science experiment, etc. As your child attempts to write throughout the day, keep track of words he has difficulty with in a little notebook.
  4. Focus on meaningful spelling. After you have a list of words your child regularly struggles with (you have them written in a notebook, as outlined in #3), use those words as spelling lists for your child. The most motivating way for struggling learners to tackle spelling is to spell words that mean something to them. Yes, words like “Superman” or “Nickelodeon” are perfectly accepted, if this is what your child wants to learn to spell.
  5. Teach spelling strategies. Children need to learn and practice strategies for effective spelling. Some strategies include learning mnemonics (memory tricks and rules), using visual memory, looking in a reference book, using spell-check, and even asking an adult.
  6. Encourage risk-taking. Reluctant or struggling spellers often withdraw from taking risks with spelling for fear of making an error. By doing all of the above, you are empowering and motivating your child to take risks with spelling. Be gentle and understanding. You will see strides in no time.
  7. Learn from the spelling errors. Hold yourself back from correcting the spelling errors right off the bat. Instead, analyze the errors your child makes. Is the issue phonic? Are the errors related to a lack of meaning of the words? Does he make reversals? Over time, you will see a pattern that can help you understand exactly what your child is struggling with which will help guide your lessons.

What struggles does your child have with spelling?

About Gabriella Volpe

Gabriella Volpe is a homeschooling mom of a child with special needs, a certified teacher and the homeschool consultant for families of children with special needs. She knows first-hand what it means to struggle with educational planning for a child who does not fit the system and is limited by resources and products intended for children without disabilities. She helps parents find ways to adapt and modify the curriculum so they don’t have to spend hours figuring it out on their own. You can find her at

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