Finding the correct spelling of a word can be difficult if you do not have at least a few of the first letters right. Learning how to spell is considered a fundamental skill, and it takes time to memorize spelling rules and exceptions.
Most adults find going to the dictionary or using spell check the easiest solution. However, for lower elementary students or ESL students, using those resources might prove to be even more difficult.
Although many people may say "go to the dictionary," it can be impossible to look up the word if the students are spelling "phantom" as "fantom." They might never find the correct spelling. In that same instance, relying on spell checking from a word processing program may not work, either.
Checking Spelling in School
One of the best ways to check spelling of unfamiliar or difficult words in school is to use the resources the teacher has made available.
- Word walls are often large charts which have vocabulary words listed that are pertinent to students' current texts.
- Posters, charts, and pictures the teacher has displayed around the room may also help.
Teachers may also have created lists of words the students need to learn, or will be using frequently in their studies. These lists are often comprised of vocabulary from the following sources:
- Social studies vocabulary
- Math vocabulary
- Science words
- Reading vocabulary
- Thematic unit words
A list of commonly misspelled words may also be kept by teachers. They might have these hanging around the room or in a student hand-out. A common list kept by many teachers is the Dolch list, a list of 220 words commonly found in children's reading. Knowing the definition, spelling, and pronunciation of these words is often a key to helping foster language arts skills.
Spell Checking at Home
While teacher lists and word walls may be useful at school, they are not available when it comes time to tackle homework. For this reason, teachers and parents often encourage students to create their own lists of words they find difficult to spell. A notebook or set of notecards in a box can make creating this reference easy and fun for students. The spelling reference could be organized by alphabet or by spelling rule, whichever proves to be more useful.
To use a dictionary to look up misspelled words at home, students need to be able to get started in the right direction. Encourage the student to visualize what the word looks like, and then try to spell it. Phonetic, inventive spelling may be the result, so be prepared to guide your student in the right direction. Once he/she has gotten the word sounded out to the point where it can be looked up, have him/her use a dictionary or glossary to check the spelling.
Reasons for Misspelling Words
Spelling words incorrectly is common for beginning learners. It is important for teachers, tutors, and parents to emphasize reading and writing skills, which will in turn help a student out with their spelling mistakes. Memorizing rules and knowing particular words by sight can help cut down on mistakes. Other reasons why words may not get spelled right include:
- Reversing letters
- Not understanding relationships between letter sounds
- Confusion regarding patterns, blending, or chunking
- Not applying phonetic rules
- Failure to make connections between rules and spelling in practice
Despite all of the tricks and tips for checking word spellings, some people are simply poor spellers. In these cases, learning how to look words up in the dictionary and relying on spell check can be useful. Carefully proofreading and editing written works can help those lacking spelling skills.