Spelling is probably one of the most challenging areas for students with learning differences. Reading and spelling are closely related processes and yet despite this connection, the process of spelling or encoding, is much more challenging than reading or decoding. The reason for this is because spelling requires a child to produce a task, whereas reading requires a child to recognize a task. Recognizing is way easier on the brain than producing. On today’s post I am going to share with you some spelling strategies that will work for your students that have learning differences.

Group your Students by Spelling Level

Not every student in a classroom is going to be at the same spelling level. Spelling must be taught in a logical order that makes sense to the student. This means that you will need to find each student’s spelling level first, and then group the students together by level. Each group will learn and move forward together. 

Use Systematic Phonics

Students with learning differences benefit from systematic phonics, beginning with the alphabetic principles in the initial stages of spelling development and advancing to more complex principles as they progress.  

Using a structured, systematic and cumulative approach when teaching spelling to students with learning differences is so important. 

This means that a student learns a spelling rule, practices the spelling rule a lot and then progresses to the next rule but keeps practicing the ‘already learned’ spelling rules.

Use Structure When Picking Your Spelling Words

Lets say that you are teaching the spelling rule ur. Your current spelling list will then include ur words like surf, urchin, burlap, hurt, etc. 

First, you will teach and practice the spelling rule a lot using multisensory activities and a lot of repetition. (Multisensory activities are listed below.)

Then, you can dictate words and sentences with the spelling rule in it to make sure the student is applying the rule correctly. 

The words and sentences that you are dictating will also include all the previously learned spelling rules. 

If the student or group has not mastered the spelling rule, keep practicing until they get it. Obviously the goal here is to get the spelling words to “stick.”

Next, you will want to read sentences that contain the spelling rule you are teaching so that your student can recognize the spelling rule in text. Always monitor progress and never teach a new spelling rule until the current spelling rule is mastered.


Finally, you will want to read a text or story with the spelling rule skill that you are working on included. This will need to be a decodable text that includes not only the new skill but all the previously learned skills as well.  

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 spelling strategy 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). Here are some fun multisensory activities that you can use:

Letter Tiles

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

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 sky writing, the student will stretch his or her arm out as far as it can go. The student then uses the 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 student to use the entire body to form the letters! 

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.

Sand/Salt Tray

Add some fine sand or salt into a pencil box. You can have your students use the pads of their index and middle fingers to write the spelling words in the sand. 

I made a short tutorial on YouTube on how to make your own DIY Sand Tray for the Orton-Gillingham lesson. If you want to see this video, click on this link HERE:

I Have a Spelling Resource for You!

The PRIDE Reading Program will be a life-changer 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
  • Teaches spelling words in a systematic, structured and sequential process
  • Uses all of the spelling strategies mentioned in this post!

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 blog 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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