Spelling help

If you have more than one child, you probably know that kids learn in different ways. Spelling is a subject that really points that out. In teaching my older Ethiopian daughters, I’ve come to a new realization of the utter randomness of English spelling. Yes, there are rules. But there are also many, many exceptions that follow no rules and that you just have to memorize.

Recently I came across an article about teaching your right-brained child that I think may offer me some help.  This week I am going to try that technique, starting with this Commonly Used Words list, and see if I can help my kids get a better grasp of some basic words.

What have you used to help your kids learn to spell?


  1. We are using Spelling Power. It’s okay but I can’t say I love it. One of my friends was talking the other day about not needing to use a spelling curriculum if your children are good readers. I don’t think that’s true! Two of my older children and myself are voracious readers and none of us can spell worth a lick 🙁 I’m just glad for spell check!

  2. My kids absolutely loved Explode the Code when they were little. It was like a fun comic book to them and they begged to do more pages than they were supposed to do! It helped with their reading AND their spelling.

  3. We just started All About Spelling with my youngest two, who struggle with “words”, my older “wordy” daughter uses Spelling Power to polish her natural gift of spelling.

  4. Just went to an HSLDA seminar with Dianne Craft this weekend. We have one struggling learner and that is why we were there. But I have to say that I noticed a number of things that would help with kids that aren’t struggling. Her sessions were fantastic and many of them are recorded and for sale on her web site. I know you can also order the recording of all the sessions from the HSLDA seminar and they are pretty cheap (7?). Also, if you are an HSLDA member you can talk to Dianne and some of the other struggling learners consultants at no cost. They really are there to help with anything you need. Fantastic folks!

  5. I don’t homeschool but I taught elem for a decade and now work as an educational consultant and can tell you from research that spelling is in no way connected to innate intelligence! Isn’t that a relief??? Especially in English. When I taught in Indonesia I used to make my kids chant “Crazy English Language” whenever we came across a “rule” that was broken. Which was EVERY DAY. 😉

    I think High Frequency word lists are very powerful- common words that we read and spell on a daily basis- some of which just have to be memorized b/c there’s no rhyme or reason to them. (“people”- why is there an “O” in that word???) There are many lists out there- Dolch, Fry, etc… they all pretty much have the same words in them. Making a chart and adding a few words to it a week can be pretty helpful for helping kids learn these high frequency words.

    Also helping kids to find patterns in words rather than rules- that’s helpful. A good book is “Words Their Way:- lots of research but also lots of activities.

  6. I’m left handed- and learned to spell by learning each word by sight. I was a good reader, and that worked for me. My two sons are right-handed, and I helped them learn the same way. Worked for them too. Both my sons were reading well before they started school.

  7. We use spellingcity.com to reinforce our spelling words. I just input the words each week and the kids play games with their words. The site is great and it’s free!

    • Thanks, Allison– I’ve got that site open this minute!


      • I’ll second the http://www.spellingcity.com recommendation — my kids LOVE that site and I love that I’m not giving spelling tests to 4 different kids! Spelling city can do it for me and then I can just check the results to see what they are and what additional help may be needed. The kids like to take a ‘test’ midway through the week to see what they still need to work on! lots of ways to use that site. And… it’s FREE!!! (my price range!)

  8. This is actually not an answer about spelling… sorry! However, My daughter struggled greatly with learning her alphabet. She’s an auditory learner in addition to having sensory integration issues. Visually she could not identify her letters on flashcards. She also has difficulty writing what she sees. Finally one day the Lord gave me the idea to whisper the letter and it’s sound to her and write it on her back with my fingertip. She was quickly able to identify the letters and within no time learned them. We were both thrilled!

  9. We’re not spelling yet, but I used to teach english to ESL students and it’s not surprising how difficult spelling is for native and new speakers alike. I WISH I could find it, but did a great news lesson on how children in the UK tend to lag behind in literacy rates because of the wonky way we spell our words in english. Like anything “ough”! There are rules of course, but it’s not as intuitive as spanish (which is spelled the way it sounds), eg, and much of it relies on memorization.

    It’s tough (uh huh) but who’s going to change it? Who wants to change it?? Some do, but I don’t know…my vote is no.

  10. I have a struggling learner as well. She did not do well with Spelling Power. I did try some right brain activities and it did not work either. I am however now using Sequential Spelling and she is doing great. I can’t believe it. It is basically making word families for spelling. She gets most of her words right daily without any problem. Where as with spelling power she would not have any idea because of not understanding all the rules. The rules make not sense to her and frankly I have a hard time keeping them straight myself. I did not use Explode the code with her but with another child. And he is a great speller. So I am now using Explode the Code with the rest of the kids.

  11. When you have email entries for a drawing, how do you pick a winner? If you do not read each winner and thus pick the one that responded in a way you were looking for, how do you decide who wins? Say you were to receive 10,000 entries for something, how is the winner picked?
    Thanks in advance for answering. Something that has always confused me about email entries to contests.

    • HI Laura,
      I get all my blog comments via email, so I do read them all. I use random.org to choose winners of my personal contests, like the book giveaway above.

      With some of my Blogher contests that are sponsored by specific companies (like the La Creme one where they give away a gift card and allow alternate methods of entering) the company adds my comments plus their alternate entries and tells me who the winner is.

      Hope that helps!!

  12. We switched to “All About Spelling” this year for my 7 year old, who was really struggling with spelling. It is FANTASTIC. We just work on it for 15 minutes a day, and his spelling has come so far. . It does teach rules, but also exceptions to the rules. The part he likes the best is the “jail” for words that aren’t following the rules 🙂 My son is very black and white about everything, so spelling before AAS made him crazy! He is rarely frustrated with spelling now. I think, if your child was really good at memorizing by site, this program might be overkill.

  13. We switched to Sequential Spelling for my 8 year old and I love it. I think it is really a 2nd or 3rd grade book, even though she is in level A. I am amazed at how quickly she is learning, and I think the constant sounding out of word families has taught her to recognize sounds quickly when she reads (which has also been a struggle for her). My oldest daughter completed Spelling Power by 4th grade, but she was a natural speller. I really think spelling can be a natural talent. Some children just “get it” from reading and others need more instruction.

  14. Looking up Sequential Spelling now. Thanks to those of you who mentioned it!

  15. Mary, The article you just linked to was the very thing that saved our lives around here a few months ago! I had a very very bright child who could NOT understand how to spell! She would end up in tears any time I would say, “what sound do you HEAR next?” She didn’t HEAR anything specific! That had no significance to her, even though she can read quite well! SO, several months ago…when I read the article you linked to I thought it was worth a try! AMAZING transformation! I’m going to look into Sequential Spelling too, as so many have suggested it…but actually the word lists in Spelling Power work just fine when you use the 3×5 card trick and jazz up the words with crazy art and colors….and hold them up high and flash them like that. It is absolutely fall-out-of-your-chair amazing and thrilling to see such a child get a sheepish grin and then actually spell back all the words correctly. Also, I threw out the idea of making her write them. I just have her spell them to me orally. So, yes, this actually works!!!! 🙂

  16. Sequential Spelling is GREAT and definitely takes the right-brained learning approach. Much of Dianne Craft’s website and material has been helpful to us. I would also suggest that just waiting it out a little longer can be helpful. . . my dear bio. son who has excelled in every way and has been reading well for a long time JUST this year had the writing and spelling “gate” opened (see D.C. website for more on “learning gates.”) and now he is spelling well – he is 11!

    Spelling and reading are harder for our Liberian children because they actually hear, see, and say the words differently in their heads many times: for instance, they thought for a long time that a frying pan was spelled pand because they heard and said a “d” at the end of it. We have had a lot of success in speech clarity and spelling and reading when I have taken time to combine all 3 things and SLOWLY work through hearing, saying, spelling, and reading the words correctly (which is very right-brained strategy wise too).

    • Jen, Our 13 and 15 yo Eth. daughters struggle most with spelling. And yes, MANY times I have discovered they ‘hear’ words much differently than they’re spelled. Seems like every week I spell a word and they look wide-eyed. And they’ve been here for 3.5 years! Crazy English! Actually, lately we’ve been discovering all the weird French words… Definitely a huge learning task, and with the older one being 15, I’m not feeling like we have much time to just wait and let it happen. So these tips from everyone are awesome!


  17. Kristen in MO says:

    We love All About Spelling. It teaches the rules and does not introduce rule breakers until later. We are half way through level 2 and just had our first ruler breaker “been”. They have you actually put the word card in jail to help kids remember. We were learning the rule about “ee”. I would suggest checking it out. It uses letter tiles that you drag down to help with more learning modalities.

  18. We use The Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading. I like that each week’s word list has a corresponding lesson on DVD and the teacher goes through each word explaining all the rules and exceptions. I am always encouraged by your blog and hope you find a resource that makes spelling “click” for your girls.

  19. Spelling has to be the most difficult subject for my daughter. Because she is hearing impaired this is continually the area where we try to ‘tweak’ the learning at school. The best system (so far) seems to be the teacher saying the word, then a student repeats the word, and then a student says the word in a sentence.
    Everyone gets a chance to speak up in class, come up with funny and creative sentences for the word and generally this is now a fun time for all.
    When I homeschooled I found that spelling has to be the hardest class there is to teach outside of reading. Spelling is a matter of continuity and consistence similar to reading and math. You have to have spelling word tests daily, not weekly. You have to make good spelling part of your daily lesson plans because otherwise you have a child who is studying for a test instead of studying for everyday use. This also applies to other subjects. As you have guessed not a fan of weekly tests.

  20. Danielle says:

    My 4th son is a little dyslexic and has struggled mightily with both reading and spelling. Last spring we dropped everything and switched to Spelling to Read and Write (the updated Spalding Method). This method is a lot of work for the mom, but has really paid off for him. It doesn’t even try to teach reading until the shapes and sounds of letters and letter combinations have been internalized by lots and lots of putting words together. My almost 10 year old is now reading and spelling at an early 3rd grade level, while last year at this time he had a hard time with Bob Books. Increased maturity may have something to do with it, but the initial transformation was pretty dramatic.

  21. Thank you for sharing this link! I read it and saw my daughter. She is almost 12 and together with her teachers we are trying to figure out what might be going on and what might be helpful. I had never found her described so well.