Spelling is an important skill to master because it helps improve both reading and writing skills.  Building a strong spelling foundation requires explicit and direct instruction and not long random spelling lists that kids are required to memorize.  By teaching our children how to spell with logic and structure, we are helping them remember their spelling words long after those weekly classroom tests.  On today’s post I am going to give you tips and strategies on how to teach spelling words effectively.

How Do You Pick the Spelling Lists?

Children progress through different stages of spelling development at a different pace.  Not every child in a classroom is going to be at the same place. Spelling must be taught in a logical order that makes sense to the child.  When you teach spelling words, you should use structure and logic.

I teach spelling and reading simultaneously.  My spelling lessons are taught in a planned sequence using an Orton-Gillingham approach.  I use systematic phonics, beginning with the alphabetic principles in the initial stages of spelling development and advancing to more complex principles as the students progress.  Systematic phonics is a key component when you teach spelling words, because if a student can decode, they can spell.

For a really good systematic phonics reading and spelling program click  >HERE<  


Phonemic Awareness

The most important and sometimes most difficult task in learning to spell is developing strong phonemic awareness.  Phonemic Awareness is the foundation of spelling instruction. Without it, a child can not learn to spell. Phonemic awareness includes rhyming, sound segmentation and syllable division.


Rhyming draws attention to the different sounds in our language and that words actually come apart.  For example, if your child knows that jig and pig rhyme, they are focused on the ending ig.  

You can teach rhyming by asking your students to identify and practice rhymes by manipulating, adding, deleting or substituting sounds in words.  Some examples of doing this are:

  • “Tell me all the words you know that rhyme with the word “hat.”
  • “Close your eyes.  I am going to say 2 words.  If they rhyme, raise your hand.  If they don’t shake your head.”
  • “Say the word hat.  Good.  Say the word hat again, but change the h to b.  (bat).  
  • “Listen to these 3 words –   mop, plop, flop, tag.  Which of these does not rhyme?”
  • “Can you finish my sentence for me.  The cat sat on the _______.”

Segmenting Sounds

To be ready to spell, a child not only needs to know the letters of the alphabet, but also must be aware that his or her own speech is made up of segments that differ from letters.  These segments are called phonemes or sounds. The word hat has three sounds, /h/, /a/, /t/.  The word ship also has 3 sounds, /sh/, /i/, /p/.  Phonemes do not correspond one-to-one with letters since some sounds are represented with two letters like sh, ch, th and ng.  When you teach phonemic awareness to your student, you need to teach them to separate sounds in words.  

You can ask your student to clap for the number of sounds he or she hears in a word.  For example, “say the word pat.  Clap for each sound you hear in the word pat.”  Your student can also tap on the desk for each sound or stomp their fists.  I like to use sound chips. The child listens to a word and then moves the sound token into a box for each sound in the word.  



Breaking up words into syllables or chunks is another important part of phonemic awareness.  Syllabication helps children learn to spell difficult words. If your student gets stuck on a difficult word, he or she can use the syllabication rules to figure it out.  

One activity that helps a child pull apart the syllables in a word is to count them.  This can be done by clapping each syllable. You can start by counting (actually clapping) the number of syllables in your child’s own name.  Ja-son (clap, clap).  Jon-a-than.  (clap, calp, clap).  You can also clap out the days of the week.  Tues-day, the months of the year, Sep-tem-ber and fun words like cu-cum-ber or Cin-der-el-la.  

For those children who are having difficulties understanding syllables, try using “chin dropping.”  This technique will help a child really “feel” the syllables. Place your hand under your chin, palm down.  Now, say a multisyllabic word aloud. Every time your chin drops, that is one syllable. Some other ideas for teaching syllable division include:

  • Stamping feet
  • Tapping the table
  • Beating musical instruments
  • Tap sticks together


Multisensory Spelling Activities

When you teach spelling words, make it fun, memorable and interactive by using multisensory activities.  Studies from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development have shown that for children with difficulties learning to spell, a multisensory teaching method is the most effective way for these students to learn.  Multisensory teaching means the teacher must tap into all learning modalities – see it (visual), feel it (tactile), hear and say it (auditory), and move with it (kinesthetic).

Letter Tiles

Have the letter tiles in alphabetical order on a desktop.  Dictate a spelling word to your child. Have the child repeat the word and then bring down each letter in the word to build the word in front of them.  Letter tiles are really helpful in building lasting memories to help make those difficult words really “stick.”



Roll out the playdough so it becomes a flat surface. From here the kids can get really creative.

  • Use a pencil, chopsticks or even a golf tee and write the spelling words onto the surface of the playdough.
  • Stick letter tiles onto the play dough so that they stand up and build the spelling words.
  • Use letter magnets and letter stamps onto the surface of the playdough to build the spelling words.
  • The kids can also build the spelling words with the playdough by forming it into the letter shapes.

Use Shaving Cream

This activity never gets old! Spread shaving cream out on a flat surface or tray and then let the child write out the letters or words or sentences. This is really messy but oh so fun! Sometimes I like to change it up by using pudding or whipped cream.  You can also put shaving cream on a mirror in the bathroom – makes cleaning up a bit easier.

Use Body Language

This is a really fun way to help kids learn about how some letters reach above the middle space on a sheet of lined paper and how some letters stay inside the lines and how some letters dip down below the lines. In charades, you can have your child’s body resemble each letter.  For tall letters like t, b, f, etc. the child will jump up. For medium size letters like a, e, o, etc. the child will stand in place.  For letters that dip down like g, j, p, etc. the child will crouch. So for the word tag, the child will jump up for t, stand still for a and crouch down for g.   

Trace Over Highlighter

Using a highlighter write spelling words on a piece of paper. Now let your student pick out their favorite color markers or pens and trace over your letters making sure that the color they use is darker than the highlighter you used.

Sky Writing

When using the sky writing, the child will stretch her arm out as far as it can go. The child then uses their pointer and middle finger to form the letters in the air at least two feet high. This form of writing in the air allows the child to feel the energy flow from her body into the sky as she is using her entire body to form the letters!

This whole body movement helps the student cement the idea of how each letter is formed, both physically, visually and audibly. This whole body experience uses muscle memory to store the information into the brain which is used later on when spelling the words on paper.

Do you want to watch a quick 2 minute video of me teaching with Sky Writing?  >CLICK HERE<

I Have A Resource For You!

The PRIDE Reading Program will be a life-saver for you!  

If you are looking for an Orton-Gillingham reading and spelling program that is:

  • Very easy to use
  • Heavily scripted out
  • Very affordable
  • Structured, sequential and cumulative 

Then check out the PRIDE Reading Program

This program is 100% scripted and you can easily teach the PRIDE Orton-Gillingham method at home or in the classroom.

Check it out >HERE<

Thank you for reading my post today!

Karina Richland, M.A., is the author of the PRIDE Reading Program, a multisensory Orton-Gillingham reading, writing and comprehension curriculum that is available worldwide for parents, tutors, teachers and homeschoolers of struggling readers. Karina has an extensive background in working with students of all ages and various learning modalities. She has spent many years researching learning differences and differentiated teaching practices. You can reach her by email at info@pridereadingprogram.com or visit the website at www.pridereadingprogram.com

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