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    • #6547


      ‘Teaching English spelling is difficult.’

      Do you agree with this statement? What tips or advice would you give a new teacher about teaching spelling?

      Post your ideas below. Don’t forget to comment on other teachers’ ideas.

    • #7959

      In my early- to mid-career teaching, I typically sympathised with my Japanese learners of English who said English spelling and pronunciation was difficult, especially since Japanese is a phonetic language so you pronounce words as you see them with a very high degree of consistency – although Japanese people tend to forget the exceptions that they’ve learned themselves for their native language!

      However, I later learned that about 70% of English spellings are regular and there are some patterns amongst irregular ones (e.g. write, wrote, written; speak, spoke, spoken). It was helpful to be reminded of this again and have it pointed out that many irregular spellings are for common words so are relatively easy to learn (e.g. one, two).

      So, I would advise new teachers to focus on the patterns and encourage students by arming them with the knowledge that spelling rules are more regular than we might believe.

    • #8125

      Barbara Bujtás

      It is difficult for my students whose spelling in the mother tongue has fewer irregularities. Spelling is increasingly easier with the spread of Netflix, kids tend to watch movies with subtitles. I agree with Phil, patterns are easier to acquire. There are some word game mobile apps that my learners can use in their own time.

      • #8129

        That’s an interesting observation about Netflix and kids watching movies with subtitles.

        It would be helpful to know if there is any research on the effects of reading subtitles on spelling, as well as other aspects of language learning. However, based on the previous research, I expect it may be limited mostly to listening comprehension and understanding the plot with L1 subtitles (see, for example, Birulés-Muntané &  Soto-Faraco, 2016).

        What word game mobile apps do your learners use, enjoy, and find effective?

        Last but not least, you might also like to check out the freely available apps4EFL by iTDi Faculty, Paul Raine, if you haven’t already done so.

      • #8231

        Barbara Bujtás

        An example of a word game app:
        Close Up Pics – Fun Word Games by Mediaflex Games

        I would guess Rhett’s son’s example is a remarkable one, he wants to know how to spell words for a (rather tangible) reason.

        Certain types of students, who do noticing entirely subconsciously, might benefit from watching movies with subtitles. I don’t know about any research though.

      • #8166

        Rhett Burton

        My son, who is 5, is interested in spelling and sounding out words because he wants to search out his favourite movies on netflix. Yes, it is visual, but he knows that the serach function is easier to use.

      • #8232

        Likewise. My eldest son and daughter since they were about 5 started to ask how to search for things on YouTube (with parental controls on!).

        In kindy, my daughter, now 6 years old, gets asked to do mini-research about once a week for a presentation, for example on interesting sea creatures (e.g. vampire squid).

    • #8128

      Rhett Burton

      My advice for teacher who are teaching young learners is to review the spelling of the main key words consistently over time. Word list taught once or twice will have a low probability of retention. As for rules, I think they should be used sparingly and only when you feel that students will understand the context and the language used to explain the rule. That being said, I do struggle with spelling and rules myself and have a hard time teaching them.

      • #8131

        With young learners, I also just teach a few general rules sparingly once they have enough known vocabulary to help them, e.g. “i before e except after c” works quite well for 6-7 year old ESL and native-speaking kids. I think we can generally learn spelling far easier if we know the words already and recognise them in speech/writing.

        Just an aside, but my kids have had weekly spelling tests with 4-6 words from age 5 upwards and it’s definitely helped them short term. For long term retention, however, extensive reading and some (creative) writing has been probably more important.

        For young EFL learners, I’ve found it more fruitful to just focus on recognising common spelling/pronunciation patterns (e.g. cAT, mAT, hAT, sAT) with very familiar words. It’s also worth considering the effects on reading and motivation:

        In Montessori schooling, spelling does not receive a high priority because Montessori experts believe that constant correction of spelling errors at an early stage in the child’s learning experience can make them hesitant and even reluctant to engage in the learning process. However, you can help your child learn spelling as they practice word building and reading by using Montessori lessons that focus on phonetic reading.

      • #8167

        Rhett Burton

        I enjoyed participating in your spelling vocabulary game. Pluging in letters that the students need in order to spell the word. Example – embarrassed. I also enjoyed the spelling in reverse.

        I thought – which skills would be required for my students to complete the task in English. ‘before and after’ came to mind.

        Phoentic reading – I love it. I try to stategic place words that require decoding skills though out my course to interleave the decoding skills required for the rules. Successful acquistion varies from student to student.

    • #8929

      Naoko Amano

      It really depends on the students.  Some students who learn phonics can learn to spell naturally. However, it is difficult  for students who don’t know phonics rules.  My biggest hist to new teachers is this ; if you have time to teach phonics, it can be useful for spelling. However, many junior high school teachers don’t have enough time, so let students read words aloud.


    • #9294

      scott gray

      I don’t think it is that difficult. There are styles of how English is spelled and they are not that difficult to learn if you can take a wider view. For new teachers, I would tell them not to worry as much about spelling as with practice and work spelling will mostly correct itself whereas getting them communicating is more important. With apps like Quizlet where the app will cross off any letters they get wrong and then show them the correct spelling and after that make them type it correctly again. So, as long as they keep working with it the spelling will correct itself in the long term so I don’t think we need to be making it super central to our teaching. Just correct and don’t forget and practice will fix most spelling as long as you don’t forget.


    • #9372

      I see a lot of benefits from apps like Quizlet but also wonder if students are losing out on developing the muscle memory that aids with learning spelling.

      That said, on an aside, spelling may not be as critical as it once was, given how little we write by hand compared to on phones/computers, and the availability of spelling/grammar checkers (e.g. Grammarly).

    • #9386

      scott gray

      Good morning Phil,

      Yeah I am wary that tech can take away from the sense shower that helps us cement memory and can anchor it, but I find that the gaming aspects of Quizlet seem to keep it a bit different from the rest. I also think that the way they have you listen and then correct the mistake by crossing out where you got wrong and then correcting it helps let the student notice the error and correct it. That being said though we need to make sure that tech does fill in all the parts of learning and not just the most basic or easily seen.  It can make it harder to get kids to look at what they have written numerous times if not careful.


    • #9413

      Thank you, Scott, for adding those thoughtful comments and keen observations.

      One key thing I do appreciate with apps and gamification is that, if well-designed, students want to return to it time and time again, which is not usually the case with traditional spelling corrections, for example.

    • #9466

      Beverly Anne Suarez

      I disagree with this. I think that with enough repetition, teaching spelling can be easy. Exposing kids to the spelling of words is always good. Even at a young age, some kids tend to be interested in spelling because they can connect it to the spoken word. I agree with Scott that students’ spelling tend to get better at time but I think this is only possible if they get exposed to the written word a lot of times. TPRS is a good example of this because it involves repetition and extensive reading. With enough exposure to the words, students tend to get familiar with the spelling. So teaching it is not so difficult.

    • #9473

      Rhett Burton

      Spelling is hard when you haven’t learned the skills to spell.
      My youngest son can count, but he can’t add.
      My oldest son can add, but he can’t do multiplication.
      The same goes for spelling. If you don’t master the basic sounds, then you can’t do spelling (or reading).

      I have made three general observations over the 18 years of teaching.
      They are a.)some students learn to read very naturally, b.) some students require some added assistance, c.) some children struggle to make the connection needed to read and spell.
A systematic approach to reading and writing will assist all students.
      As a teacher, we will have to reach the students where they are and help them bridge their gap between ‘cannot’ and ‘can’ through guided mastery.

      Some suggestions to guided mastery:
      Teaching sounds through meaningful words,
      Anchor letters sound to the words that students have internalized,
      Strength the connection between sounds and letters by consistently referencing the sounds and text connection,
      Reinforce sparingly as decodable patterns arise,
      And follow a curriculum that recycles the requirements that promote decoding for fluency and accuracy at a grade level.

      Practice patience and personalization to motivate mastery.

    • #9476

      Rhett Burton

      I believe in the power of writing tools.
      and I support them with the power of keyboards too.
      I do more handwriting than keyboard exercises, but I always do both.
      compliments tools – a spoon and a fork (spork?)

      • #9481

        Yes, reading and writing are learned skills even in our first language (as opposed to listening and speaking which are acquired naturally).

        Developing students’ sound recognition through easy, meaningful words is definitely an important starting point as students need to be able to distinguish the different sounds and then words in another language.

        By teaching spelling for familiar letters and words, we can reduce the learning load (compared to trying to learn both the spelling/pronunciation (form) as well as meaning and use all at the same time. Once students have a good command of basic spelling rules, this burden is quickly reduced, but with YLs and beginners, it’s crucial to remember so I’m really glad to see you draw attention to this again here. (Please also feel free to refer back to my 17 Aug 2019 post above).

        I also like the fact that you use include typing as well as handwriting skills!

    • #9477

      Rhett Burton

      I still struggle with spelling. I tell my Level 4 kids that I am a weak writer and to watch for mistakes.

      • #9480

        What are the pros and cons of doing this? How might you reframe the message to help eliminate any unintended drawbacks?

    • #9485

      Jessica Sohn

      That was what I thought before. But as I learned to teach phonograms (sounds and patterns together) it turns out not to be as difficult. I see how many of the kids can spell and read better after learning all the sounds. And, I strongly agree with repetition as Beverly pointed out.

      • #9486

        It’s often a nice relief when students find things easier to learn than we thought! Do you or does your institution follow a particular order for teaching phonograms?

        For example, in many kindergartens here and when I taught YLs in Japan, there was considerable variation and inconsistency.

        However, those that follow a Montessori program here, tend to have a more systematic approach. I also just found this Phonogram Dictionary which is new to me.

    • #9766

      Masatoshi Shoji

      I will teach patterns. However, there are some exceptions.

      • #9776

        Yes, it’s good to teach spelling patterns with exceptions.

        Returning to the task for this question, do you agree or disagree that ‘teaching English spelling is difficult’?

        And what tips or advice would you give a new teacher about teaching spelling?

        Lastly, please remember to comment on at least one of the other teacher’s ideas above 🙂

    • #14830

      Rhett Burton

      Doing a task that extends past our ability is really hard. First, we learn to crawl, stand, walk, run, skip, and finally dance the Macarena. The same applies to reading and then writing.
      This is one reason I don’t like using too many textbooks that use difficult to encode and decode words for each theme. I know many teachers, myself included, used to give spelling tests that were too challenging and weren’t the next best step for automatizing the skill.

      • #14831

        I like you’ve clearly introduced and highlighted the natural progression (through the four skills as well as within reading), summarised key points relating to sound/symbol recognition, and exemplified this in relation to your context, materials, and students.

        For viewers who aren’t familiar with your levels, what defines a Level 1 and Level 6 student, for example?

        What do you think about tools like the phonogram dictionary to help your young learners?

    • #16329

      Aiden HANAE

      To teach students to spell, you want to be able to sort spellings into various sets, and the be able to explain the rules behind each set.

      However, I do not think this is a good way to teach spelling to beginners, since I think that you need to know a certain number of words already to understand the recurring patterns, so I do believe that a certain amount of memorizing is needed, like writing it out a number of times to memorize the spelling.

      • #16331

        Yes, we can learn phonics and to ‘sound out’ letters in order to read words with regular spelling but some need to be learned as ‘sight words’.

        Sorting words into various spelling sets is definitely helpful. But is it more effective if the teacher sorts the words or the students?

        For example, complete these 12 words with a /c/ or /k/:
        _it      _orn     _ar     _ind     _at     _eep     _ut     _ot     _ute     _ite     _arry     _ey

        What do you notice (about the letters next to /c/ and /k/)?
        Put the words into groups (based on their spelling). Can you find/make a rule?

    • #16486

      David Booton

      I will be honest, I struggle with teaching spelling to my students.  Since I teach mainly young learners, the majority of the spelling I teach is for the Cambridge YLE.  I have tried several ways and have had some success for some but there are still a few students who just have a much harder time learning to spell.  I am hoping that doing this course will help my ability to teach spelling more effectively.

      • #16491

        Thank you for sharing that and yes, in tutorial, we’ll also look at practical tips and techniques for teaching and learning spelling.

        Can you briefly share a couple of ways you’ve found success with?

    • #16492

      David Booton

      The one that seems to be the most effective, is to just give them lists of about 40 words or so, these words are found in the Cambridge YLE and just have them practice and do tests each lesson.  I used it in the past with some success but this year I have not been continuing it because it is a large time sink to make.  However, I may just go back to that because the alternate, where I would just pick random words from the test and have them practice that, I have found to be less effective.

    • #16500

      Ketlyn Leva

      Real beginners usually struggle with spelling and pronunciation as Portuguese and English are very different in these two aspects. However, it  gets easier as they  keep studying and practicing.

    • #16508

      Ketlyn Leva

      Work with patterns and add irregularities slowly, if you are allowed to. Use a lot of visuals so sts may associate the sound and the letters. I am fond of games. That’s why I’d work with highly- controlled and less-controlled practices with different levels of difficulty. Then, I’d go for a freer practice to check what he learned and what I should review again. Does it make sense to you?

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