Spelling Strategies and Techniques For Students and Adults

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Being an adequate speller does not mean you can spell all words correctly. You must have a basic spelling vocabulary of at least 2,800 words to form the core of spelling instruction. By adulthood, you should already recognize up to 40,000 words.

It’s not too late to improve your spelling skills. Check out these spelling strategies and techniques for students and adults. These guidelines are easier to follow than you think. 

Spelling Strategies for Early Learners

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Elementary school children should continuously learn to spell. The scientific studies of reading show that spelling scores drop by third grade despite high scores in the first grade. Here are some spelling strategies to consider for early learners. 

Sight Words

Knowledge of sight words is essential if you teach spelling to first-graders—pair phonetic spelling with the provision of a larger bank of words. 

For example, you can give them a weekly word bank of ten items to practice. Then, ask them to fill boxes with the correct letters to form the proper spelling. 

These boxes should be the same size as the letter to give them clues. Knowledge of letter appearance will greatly help visual learners who need to improve their spelling abilities.

Make an additional list of words with more items so they will increase their spelling and vocabulary skills. But ensure that weaker spellers are keeping up with these weekly word banks. 

Repeat the classroom activity if necessary, until everyone gets their spelling right. 


Rhyming is a common feature of curriculum-aligned spelling lessons. These words let learners understand that common sounds may also mean common spellings. Examples include dog, fog, and log. 

Ask learners how many rhyming words they can think of. Let them spell each term until they realize the pattern generated from the familiar sound.

Encourage Phonetic Spelling

Spelling the words phonetically before students memorize the correct form is one way to teach early learners basic spelling. Take a look at this phonetic spelling strategy to use in the teaching of spelling.

  1. Accentuate every syllable as you slowly read an unfamiliar word to the learner.
  2. Ask the learners to write the word as a spelling practice.
  3. Let them share the spellings of the word’s individual sounds. 
  4. Take action with students by asking them to check each phoneme according to the proper spelling.
  5. Teach them to remember correct spelling through rules or comparing similar terms.

Spelling Strategies for More Advanced Students

Complex approaches are essential when you’re teaching advanced learners how to spell. Rhyming and phonetic spelling become ineffective strategies when you’re trying to spell “temperature,” “pharaoh,” and “logorrhea.”

More advanced individuals should be able to combine these spelling strategies as they get better. With enough practice, they may even unconsciously adopt these techniques. And, using a spelling checking program can even help develop this skill.

Use Rule-Based Strategies

Teaching spelling strategies includes making individuals familiar with common spelling rules. Here are some simple spelling patterns that intermediate to advanced students should know.

  • Double consonants “f,” “s,” and “l” at the end of one-syllable words.
  • Avoid false spelling rules that lead to confusion.
  • When a word ends with the /k/ sound, use “k” or “ck” instead of “c.”
  • Some words use “es” instead of “s” to show their plural form, depending on the last letter.

Once the student is familiar with these spelling rules, you can play a game of Scramble Spelling. It will allow them to make intelligent guesses of words and proper spellings.

Rule-based strategies also entail irregular spelling patterns. Advanced students should know that around half of the English words have irregular spellings. 

The vowel sound is responsible for most misspellings in irregular form. One good example is the schwa sound.


Self-checking is a chance for students to understand the mistakes in their spelling so they can remember them. Ask them to bring dictionaries to class to evaluate their spelling progress after every quiz.

Visual Spelling Strategies

Good spellers know a word is spelled correctly when it “looks right.” If you want to be like them, all you need to do is read a lot. Reading from a young age helps kids develop visual memory of words. 

For example, advanced kindergarteners remember the spelling of “bed” because the word looks like an actual bed. Visual memory is also essential when it comes to differentiating between “for” and “four” or “pray” and “prey.”

Morphemic Spelling Strategies

This spelling strategy is based on the relationship between a word’s meaning and spelling. It involves understanding root words, derivatives, and Greek and Latin origins. Morphemic spelling strategies also encompass the knowledge of prefixes and suffixes in forming words.

How Do Teachers Teach Spelling?

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According to the National Reading Panel Report, phonemic awareness and phonics instruction positively impacts spelling skills among primary school students. 

But it does not include spelling as a vital component of comprehensive literacy instruction. Researchers develop these abilities every time they improve their reading skills. 

But many educationalists have challenged this view, stating that spelling should be part of the curriculum. Here are some ways teachers should teach spelling.

Teach High-Frequency Words

Many studies suggest that only a few words account for all the words that students use in their essays, reflections, and other forms of writing. In fact, 100 words are responsible for 50% of the words they use. 

This information shows that English teachers should focus on high-frequency words when teaching basic spelling. It’s a strategy for students to be competent in their writing. These words include regular and irregular spellings that must be emphasized and studied.

The first ten high-frequency words with irregular spellings include:

  • The.
  • Of.
  • A.
  • To.
  • You.
  • Was.
  • Are.
  • They.
  • From.
  • Have. 

Teach Frequently Misspelled Words

Around 37% of words are misspelled if a learner spells them merely based on sound symbol correspondences. A data-driven teacher focuses on teaching these commonly misspelled words to prevent learners from committing mistakes.

Homophones are the most recurring spelling problems. These are words with the same sound but different spellings. One example is “there” vs. “their” vs. “they’re.” 

Try Different Spelling Programs

Signs for Sounds is an instructional design for teaching spelling to beginners. It includes systematic phonics instruction for educators to teach proper spelling through regular and irregular patterns. 

The spelling program also encourages teachers to re-teach frequently misspelled terms every week.

Another program to try is Read Naturally GATE, which concentrates on high-frequency words and phonics. Teach ordered steps on spelling short words using featured sounds. 

Some teacher-led instructions cater to individual students for one-on-one tutorials, while others are for group learning sessions. Find a program that suits your current teaching setup. 

Adapt to Distance Learning

Students can enhance their spelling skills even without classroom lectures. Record a classroom video for asynchronous learning. It can be a spelling tutorial about common patterns.

You may also design a downloadable spelling lesson plan that parents can use for child practice. 

But make sure to give your students constant teacher feedback despite the learning modality. Feedback from teachers should assist students in making adjustments for better spelling progress.

Make Learning More Fun for Children

Teaching spelling strategies to children can be more fun if you make a spelling wand. Paste any object at the edge of a pencil to create an interesting pointer.

You can also make phonetic spelling instruction more enjoyable by using magnetic letters, Play-Doh, and other toys.

You can also initiate a game of Word Spelling Search, where students search for words on a puzzle. 

Use the Test-Study-Test Technique to Teach Spelling

This spelling tutorial is the most effective strategy, where students correct their mistakes after a pretest. 

Then, the teacher should spell each word while the learner follows with their eyes or pencil. This method lets the learner examine the problematic words and correct them.

Spelling Strategies for Adults

An adult speller learns differently from a child. Although most adults learn more quickly than kids, many have difficulty understanding standard spelling rules. Other adult learners who lack spelling knowledge may have developed poor spelling habits over the years.

The irregularity of the English language makes the eight-year spelling curriculum a requirement in every classroom. A teacher should teach English spelling to learners through reading, writing, and many spelling activities. 

If a child misses these lessons, their way of learning excellent spelling skills in adulthood would be different. That’s because adults focus less on spelling once they start working in various fields. 

Their basic spelling vocabulary also doesn’t improve as rapidly as children. That’s because of the lack of attention to this subject. 

Adult English language learners may also experience difficulty with their spelling because of inadequate letter-sound correspondence. Teaching spelling becomes even more complicated if the adult learner’s first language uses a different alphabet system.

Here are some spelling techniques to try for adults.

Spell Out Loud

This tip is a no-brainer for every auditory learner. Spelling aloud allows the adult learner to acquire active knowledge of a combination of letters and sounds. In other words, it helps learners understand the direct correspondence between the written letters and sounds.

Create lists of words you want to practice and spell them out loud wherever you are. Spell them in the shower, while cooking, or before bedtime to develop confidence with letter sounds.

Hearing yourself pronounce the word and spell it might be easier than memorizing complex spelling rules. It’s helpful for learners who find visual spelling strategies challenging.

Look for Patterns

Spotting words with the same letter combinations will help you learn English spelling rules immediately. List down words you encounter with similar spelling rules. It will help you remember and guess the spelling of unfamiliar words. 

The most popular consistencies in spellings include common vowel spellings like differentiating between “ie” and “ei.”

Research the Etymology 

Googling where a word came from is one of the most effective spelling strategies for adults. It’s ideal for advanced learners who want to know the correct spellings for words, helping them understand regular spelling patterns.

Understanding the origin of the word also gives your insights into alternative spellings. For instance, you might learn that a certain word is in its American spelling but has other versions. One common spelling difference is American English’s “color” and British English’s “colour.”

This spelling will motivate you to perform extensive reading which, in turn, also improves your spelling abilities. Have this productive learning session regularly to enhance your muscle memory.

Have Authentic Writing Opportunities

Poor spellers also have trouble writing. But practicing your composition can make you an effective speller.

Exploration into writing can also improve other areas of your knowledge, including critical thinking, research, and reflection. Try writing a letter to your loved one or keeping a journal until you develop confident writing. 

Spelling Difficulties in Children

Children with spelling difficulties require a different approach than early and adult learners. They have trouble remembering even the most common spelling patterns because of a potential disability.

Difficulty with spelling may be a sign of dyslexia. Dyslexic students struggle with writing even though they are “normal” in other classroom activities. Their handwriting becomes an issue because they have a hard time recognizing letters.

Poor spellers cannot remember letters because they can’t understand the features represented by English letters. Recognizing phonemes is another challenge for children with this learning disability. 

In other words, dyslexia can significantly impact the lives of children. Combining a dyslexic student with fellow students with the same disability is essential for classroom fairness. 

Try an inventive spelling approach to make learning easier. It involves spelling words the way they sound. 

Always Practice Your Spelling Skills

There’s no shame in admitting that you struggle to spell a few words. You can always learn new spelling strategies, whether you’re a kid or an adult. Learning these techniques gives you more ability to communicate with people.

I hope these spelling techniques and strategies help you produce better content.