In this post, I’m going to talk about spelling, but for more difficult words or working with weaker students, you’d do them as puzzles. Also, your students may prefer another way to split the syllables but I’m doing it the way I prefer. There’s more on puzzles and syllables in TRT for Teachers, the little e-book of strategies for classroom teachers. (cheap & short!) (now only £1.99 – link takes you to the website.)
You can also go here for links to posts and videos about this spelling method.
Straightforward Words – This means each word can be spelt by saying it clearly and focusing on remembering double letters and the individual bits of code rather than trying to recall the entire word by sight. “Saying it clearly” means slightly over-pronouncing to hear the individual sounds especially when they are in unstressed syllables. (You may want to brush up on the schwa but it’s not completely necessary.) So accommodation would sound like “a” “kom” “oh” “day” “shun” – with the short a at the beginning and the o over-pronounced as a long sound. In begin you’d over-pronounce the “ee” in be.
Where the letters are in bold, they spell a single sound or an ending. When the letter is also underlined, it’s part of a split digraph.
Counting syllables should only every be done by lightly tapping on the table. I like to use a separate finger for each sound so I can count them.
Here’s the script:
- accommodation 5 syllables a /ccomm/o/da/tion
(aside) A word about tion
Teach this common spelling to the whole school in the first 2 weeks of term. Have “-tion Day” with every teacher wearing a -tion word as a label and every class picking out 3-5 tion words for spelling. Of course they have to know there are other spellings of the “shun” ending, but every student mastering -tion will warm the hearts of science teachers all over the world. (end of aside)
- because 2 syllables be cause – The au is the same as in August and/or Australia, depending on accent, and se is a very common way to spell “s” & “z” at the end of a word: cheese, house. There is no reason at all to resort to elephant themed mnemonics.
- beginning 3 syllables be/ginn/ing cf be/gin Let the English department explain doubling. You just need to point out that it’s one n in begin and 2 in beginning.
- believe 2 syllables be/lieve ie for the “ee” sound requires memory but ve is very common for “v” at the end of words: have, give, glove Standard English words don’t end in v alone but some informal words do, (luv, guv), so it’s a tendency rather than a rule.
- ceiling 2 syllables cei/ling The only thing to remember in this word is the ei and there’s no magic trick to make it happen. Some people like the “i before e rhyme” but it’s not a trustworthy rule so I avoid it.
- (decided) decide 2 syllables de/cide Most of your students will know what a “split digraph” is. In this word, the ie is split around the d.
I prefer to deal with the -ed and -ly words by removing the endings and spelling the roots. Even the busiest science teacher has time to explain that you’ll never see an extra e before the -ed (decideed) and that -ly goes on quite happily without changing anything.
- (definitely) definite 3 syllables This word demonstrates why you should have your students saying the words clearly out loud before they spell them. The spelling pronunciation has been over-corrected to “de fine ate” and so it gets spelled wrong all the time. To get it right, they can either say de/fin/ite (with all short vowels) or you can bundle it up with fi/nite and get them to say both de/fin/ite and in/fin/ite with long /i/ sounds in the 2nd and last syllables. Ask your students which way will help them get it right. Note that, according to the OED, the “de” in definite is an expression of completion so you’re making something finite.)
- disappear 3 syllables dis/app/ear
- (disappointed) disappoint 3 syllables dis/app/oint
- (extremely) extreme 2 syllables ex/treme
- friend 1 syllable friend Without the r it’s fiend Learn the two at once.
- (immediately) immediate 4 syllables imm/e/di/ate. I like ate as an ending so it can be grouped with separate, climate, accurate, etc. Again, ask you students what will help them more?
- minute 2 syllables min/ute Say the u clearly to remember it’s not “it” at the end. Bundle it with the adjective if that’s helpful.
- necessary 4 syllables ne/ce/ssa/ry People think this is tough to spell but there are only two things to remember: the first “s” is spelt with a c and the second “s” is spelt ss.
- neighbour 2 syllables neigh/bour This is only tricky if you’re trying to reel off 9 letter names. Instead, 2 syllables: neigh – eigh like in weigh and weight then bour – our like in colour (Or, or like in color if you’re reading this from the U.S.A.) So that’s 4 sounds to remember rather than 9 letter names and, really, only 2 of the sounds require concentration.
- nervous 2 syllables nerv/ous –ous as in fam/ous, gener/ous, adventur/ous
When there’s a meaningful syllable, I’ll force the syllable splitting. i.e. I prefer to say ner/vous, but nerv/ous preserves the meaning.
- opportunity 5 syllables opp/or/tun/i/ty There’s nothing difficult about this word if you take it syllable by syllable. This is a good time to point out that I don’t advise saying “look for words within words” unless it’s a root like finite. That’s because a student might hear “tune” in opportunity and add an e. It’s best to concentrate on hearing the sounds and remembering the symbols.
- quiet 2 syllables qui/et
- quite 1 syllable quite
The act of counting syllables will ensure students will never again mix up the visually similar quiet and quite. Get them to say the word clearly, counting the syllables, and they can’t get it wrong.
- receive 2 syllables re/ceive See ceiling and believe
- separate (verb – the adjective is on the next post) 3 syllables sep/a/rate
- (surprised) surprise 2 syllables sur/prise or sur/prise Again, let your students decide which they like best. Is it easier to remember the split vowel and s as “z” or i by itself and se as “z”? They also have to remember that the “er” sounds is ur in this word. Feel free to leave it to the English teachers to explain the meaning of -sur.
- until 2 syllables un/til I don’t know why this word is on the list. It’s like writing in and cat. I imagine the misspelling comes by adding an extra l at the end. The simple answer is that *usually* it’s ll at the end of a single syllable word but one l when the word has 2 or more syllables: till but until, full but mindful (any ful), wall but narwal, bell but decibel.
So that’s 22 (or 23) of the 30 most misspelled words at GCSE. They are all conquerable with consistent strategies – using ears first, then eyes to make best use of limited memory.
Next post I’ll deal with the 8 remaining trickier words.