NEWS: That Spelling Thing is coming soon – a book and/or workshop for anyone who works with whole classes and small groups. It’s also a great follow-up to That Reading Thing.

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If your student can’t get to grips with the idea that words are made up of sounds…….

Sometimes you get a student who has spent years depending on complex but faulty strategies for spelling. They hang every word on another and look for words within words even when they make no sense. Quite often, these students resist saying the sounds as they write because they are so used to using only visual memory. Here is something to try.

Sound the same – Look different

Have sound blanks (the little squares) on hand as well as one or both of the Sound the Same boards (the blue ones). Instead of showing the student the word, ask: “What are the sounds in ____?”

Put down a blank for each sound.

What are the sounds in claim?

“k” (put down a blank) “l” (put down a blank) “ay” (put down a blank) “m” (put down a blank)

If they say “kl” for the first sound, ask for the sounds in “kl”.

If they say the letter name, explain that we’re only talking about sounds and repeat the word. For instance, if the word is “ate”, they don’t have to worry about whether it’s ate or eight. You may have to model it a couple of times for them.

After all the blanks are on the table, have the student fill in the sounds, saying them as they write. I have a student who can’t seem to think in “sounds” but is happy to answer the question, “How do you draw the “ay” sound in claim?”

Finally, have them write it on the board. This is slower than a normal lesson so you might get through only half the words. It works particularly well for students who have a large sight vocabulary but very weak spelling. It forces them to spell within the constraints of the sound blanks, one for each sound.

Note: when the sound is a Split Vowel, i.e. ate, then there will be only 2 blanks for “ay” and “t”. When is comes to filling in the blanks, you will have to add a blank for the final e. I have my students underline the split vowels to show they are one sound.