Spelling Shortcuts: 10 Ways to Help Your Kid Spell Better
Apr 18, 2011
American English is a complex language with a rich and diverse history. While this complexity adds color and variety, it also makes spelling a challenge. There are few completely universal axioms for spelling in English, but you can still help your child spell better by focusing on a handful of tips, tricks and widely applicable rules.
#1 I Before E Except After C
There's a good reason that this is among the most widely used spelling shortcuts. It can help with words like relief and believe, or words with a c such as ceiling and receive. An additional caveat to this rule is that i follows e in words with an ay sound, such as neighbor. Note that there are exceptions to the rule; some are easy to remember, such as weird, which is a 'weird' exception.
Mnemonics are memory-based tricks that can help your child recall challenging words. For example, stationery has an e like the envelope in which it will go. Also, cemetery has three e's like a row of tombstones. Other mnemonic devices rely on parts of the word; you might remember how to spell separate by thinking of the r as separating two like letters.
#3 Homonym Practice
Homonyms can be especially difficult. Different sets of homonyms have different shortcuts, so developing strategies as you encounter them individually is best. For example, there, their and they're may best be learned by studying each word's meaning. Others, like affect and effect or access and excess can be differentiated by using a slightly different enunciation for each and associating them with sentences that help define their meanings. This can include a memorable phrase, such as 'I'd accept your excuse about your dog eating your homework, except you don't have a dog.'
#4 Pronunciation and the Silent E
Teach your child that 'Silent e makes a vowel say its name. This saying reminds us that in words ending in a vowel followed by a consonant and a silent e, the vowel has a long sound. This explains the pronunciation of words like ate, wrote and hide.
#5 Keeping or Dropping the Final Silent E
To know when you should keep or lose the final silent e when adding a suffix, consider whether the suffix begins with a vowel or consonant. If it's a vowel, such as -ing, drop the e. If it's a consonant, such as -ness, keep the e. The former rule gives us words like surprising while the latter gives us likeness.
#6 Doubling Ending Consonants
Most words that end in a single vowel followed by a consonant should have the consonant doubled when a suffix is added. For example, wrap becomes wrapping and begin becomes beginner. When a suffix is added to a word ending in two vowels followed by a consonant, the consonant shouldn't be doubled. This includes words like steal and despair, which might become stealing and despairing.
If you've ever noticed students in a spelling bee ask to hear a word again, it's because they're listening for spelling clues in how the word is pronounced. Training your child to enunciate words clearly will help them spell correctly and not miss letters that sometimes go unpronounced. For example, the first r in library and the second a in accidentally are easier to remember when the words are enunciated well.
#8 Walking Vowels
A handy spelling shortcut to help your child put vowels in the correct order is the saying 'When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.' When spelling a word like team, note that the e has a long sound while the a is silent. Likewise, in boat, the o is heard but the a is silent.
#9 Learning Plurals
For most words, you can create a plural simply by adding an s to the end. Other words, such as those ending in ch, will require adding an es. To know when the latter is required, remember that it's almost always used for words ending in an s or s-like sound. For example, bus, kiss and box all require es.
#10 Don't Trust Spellchecker
Spellchecker can be a terrific tool for catching some errors, but it typically misses homonyms and other misplaced words. To help your child improve his or her spelling, teach him or her to look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary rather than falling back on this notoriously unreliable tool.
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