Helping your child become a good speller

There is no magic potion when it comes to helping your child become a confident speller, but there are ways to make it easier.

At a glance

  • Use everyday opportunities to draw your child's attention to words.
  • Talk to your child about how you spell and what you do when you don't know how to spell a word.
  • When your child comes to words they can't spell, encourage them to look at the new words, say them, cover them with their hand, write them from memory, and then check them.
  • When learning to spell an unknown word, first talk about what the word means.

At school

Your child learns to understand:

  • how words sound
  • how words look
  • how words change form, for example, from ‘jump' to ‘jumped'
  • where words come from.

Your child:

  • usually spends time each day studying words
  • learns that spelling is a tool that is closely linked to writing and reading
  • learns that accurate spelling matters and that it's important to check their writing for mistakes.

How to help your child with spelling

Explain to your child that some words can be sounded out, but not all English words can be spelt correctly by ‘sounding out', for example, the words ‘you' and ‘said'.

  • Talk to your child about how you spell, and what you do when you don't know how to spell a word.
  • Encourage your child to write at home on paper and on the computer, for example filling in forms, writing notes to family members, writing phone messages and reminder notes, making lists, replying to letters and emails, and sending cards.
  • Provide a dictionary and use it together. Remember that dictionaries are more useful if your child knows about the alphabet and how a dictionary works.
  • Encourage your child to first try spelling unknown words themselves, and then praise the parts of the word that are correct and suggest what else is needed.

Say, cover, write, check

When learning to spell an unknown word, first talk about what the word means, then try learning to spell it using the following technique:

  • look carefully at the word
  • say the word
  • cover the word
  • write it from memory
  • uncover and check your attempt against the correct word
  • repeat as needed.

What you can do when your child asks how to spell a word

  • Encourage your child to have a go first, and then discuss their effort.
  • Make sure they have access to a dictionary (if they have learnt to read) and know how to use it.
  • Simply tell your child how the word is spelt and talk about it together.

Should you correct your child's spelling?

  • First, encourage your child to check their work and find any mistakes.
  • If they have made a mistake with a common word, ask them to try to fix it without your help.
  • It's always useful to show your child the correct spelling of a word.

What you can do when your child finds spelling too hard

Be supportive. Remember that when you child is learning to write, they will not be able to accurately spell all the words they want to write.

If your child seems to be having ongoing problems, talk to their teacher.

What if you aren't a good speller?

No problem. Use a dictionary or a spell checker on the computer and work out how to spell words together.

Should you let your child use a spellchecker?

Yes. Spell checkers can be useful, but remind your child that they still need to be thinking when they use it. Your child will need your support:

  • when the word is spelt correctly but it is not the right word, for example ‘shore' and ‘sure'
  • when the computer gives suggestions but your child still doesn't know which word is correct
  • when the computer uses American spellings.
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