20th Jan '22

How to Learn Spellings

Highlight the hard bit

Frequently, there will be one part of a word that trips up you up each time. Look at the word and highlight the part that you find particularly tricky. For example:

Night Separate Was Receive Weird
What Two Friend Said Cheap

Or there may be two parts that need attention, for instance;

Accommodate Address Necessary

Once you’ve done the highlighting, write out the word again without looking. This time you will be more focused on getting that tricky bit right, and will be able to remember how it looks.

Make the spelling stick

If one or two parts of a particular word just don’t seem to ‘sink in’ by simply highlighting them, try to think of other ways to help them stick.
For example:

  • With weird, people often get the i and e confused. Help by saying we are weird, so your you remembers that we is the first part of the word.
  • For the double s in dessert: desserts are both sweet and sugary.
  • For a word with two ‘tricky’ parts, like necessary, think Cats Eat Salty Sardines to remember the c and the double s (see 'Make it an acronym' below).

Break it down - Chunk it

Try breaking down polysyllabic words to make each syllable easier to remember. You may rember doing this at primary school – then you might call syllables ‘beats’. Decipher how many ‘beats’ or syllables there are in a word by clapping the word together, one clap per syllable.

So, for two-syllable words…
Danger Dan / ger
Windmill Wind / mill
Option Op / tion

And for three-syllable words…
Relation Re / la / tion
Beautiful Beau / ti / ful

It may help to segment the words into a chart like this:

Syllable 1 Syllable 2 Syllable 3
Re la tion

Copy it, copy it, recall it

Use a chart like this:

Copy it Copy it Recall it
What What What

After you have has copied the word twice, fold the paper over so they can’t see what they’ve written and ask them to have a go at writing the word unaided. They should be able to recall the spelling without looking.

Another classic technique is known as Look, cover, Write and Check.
So, they look at the word...
Cover the word...
Write the word...
And finally check it.

Create pictures in your mind

It’s a well-researched memory trick: if you can conjure up a visual image, what you’re trying to remember (in this case spellings!) may come more readily.

For example, if you are learning ‘bank’ but writing ‘banc’, try remember it’s a ‘kicking K’ by saying, “I kicked my legs into the bank”. If they’re writing ‘cat’ as ‘kat’ remind them it’s a ‘curly c’ by saying, “The cat likes to curl up and go to sleep”. Invent their own ways of remembering words; if they have thought up the image themselves, it will be a more powerful tool.

Say it as it’s spelt

Say it as its spelt even if that's not how to pronounce it eg Ribsome => 'Rib-o-some'

To remember double s, really stress and extend the sound: fussssssss.
To remember double z, again stress and extend it: buzzzzzzzz.
Same for double e: seeeeeeeeem.
To remember ea instead of ee, pronounce it as two separate sounds: cre – a –m.

Make it an acrostic

Sometimes, visualising a difficult word in a different way can suddenly make it stick. Create a phrase from each letter of a word and turn it into an acrostic, which can be easier to remember than the word itself. Try these, or make up your own!


Ocean: Only Cats’ Eyes Are Narrow
Rhythm: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move
Necessary: Never Eat Chips Eat Salad Sandwiches And Raspberry Yoghurt

In the palm of your hands

If you are a kinaesthetic learner (in other words you learn best through doing), try write each letter of the word into the palm of your hand or onto your leg with your finger. With enough repetitions, you will remember how the word felt to write (this is known as muscle memory).

Sing the word

This is reportedly one of the most popular methods used by contestants at American Spelling Bees. Simply learn the word by saying or singing the letters out loud, developing a melody. This melody should then imprint in your memory; if you forget a spelling you will still remember how the word’s rhythm and sound, which will serve as a prompt.