Teach Spelling How to . . .

How to . . .
Teach Spelling
in KS3 subjects across the curriculum
The National Basic Skills Strategy for Wales
The Basic Skills Agency on behalf of the
Welsh Assembly Government
Pupils who struggle with spelling usually
have no spelling strategies to call upon and,
when faced with a word they can’t spell,
will often just guess. To become better
spellers they need to acquire a range of
different strategies and find the ones that
work best for them.
Be positive:
What is important is not just to teach
spellings (lists of key words which are
memorised and then tested) but to teach
pupils how to spell, because without this
spelling is a hugely daunting and boring
rote-learning task. Pupils will gain confidence
when they are shown that spelling doesn’t
have to be like that. This means focusing
their attention on the patterns, the structure
and the logic of words – and doing so in
lessons across the curriculum. When
teachers discuss with pupils the spelling
patterns of subject key words, they are not
just discussing spelling but are also helping
pupils to see connections that are central
to subject understanding.
• Point out that the most ‘difficult’
subject-specific words are often the
easiest to learn. Pupils are put off by
the length of these words and gain
confidence when they see them broken
down, e.g. con-tin-ent, trans-port-ation
• Don’t overstress the point that English
spelling can be tricky; it is actually much
more regular than it seems. In fact 80%
of English words follow a ‘rule’ and
there are fewer than 500 wholly
irregular words
• Show how learning to spell one word
can lead to being able to spell lots more
because words are linked and patterns
are repeated, e.g. pack, packet,
package; circle, circuit, circulation
• Make the learning of spelling strategies
fun by using games, quizzes and
challenges as quick lesson starters and
Pupils need to:
• understand that all spellers need a range of strategies but that a strategy may
work better for some people than for others
• understand that not all spellings can be worked out from the sound of the
word; visual strategies are needed as well
• understand that looking carefully at letter patterns when reading helps you to
remember the spelling for when you are writing
• understand how learning to spell words used in one subject will help them to
spell words in other subjects too
Teaching and learning Strategies
What to do . . .
Why do it . . . ?
Some strategies
Encourage pupils
to look at words
and see how they
are made up of
separate meaning
Morphemes are like building bricks
which can be put together in
different positions to make different
words, e.g. ‘con’, ‘struct’, ‘ure’, ‘re’,
‘tion’, ‘ence’, ‘in’, ‘de’. Pupils gain
confidence when they realise that
whole chunks of familiar words will
reappear in lots of different new
• Group words for pupils by how they
look rather than sound.
Many pupils will
recall from their
KS2 teaching as
well as their KS3
English lessons that
these units are
called morphemes
and may also
understand the
term ‘prefix’ for a
morpheme at the
start of a word,
‘suffix’ for one at
the end, and ‘root’
for the main part,
often in the middle
– see definitions
and some examples
in the For Reference
• When introducing new terms
containing prefixes: explain the
meaning of the prefix and how it
affects the meaning of the whole
word; give other examples (if
possible find at least one familiar to
pupils in daily life); ask pupils (in
pairs/groups) to think of or find in a
text book as many others as
possible (as a timed challenge), for
example, anti (against) gives
antibody, antibiotic, antiseptic,
antifreeze, and inter (between) gives
international, interval, internet; and,
ask pupils to try to work out the
meaning of the new words.
• Do similar activities using suffixes
and roots.
• Break new words down and
encourage prediction of spellings –
of parts of words as well as whole
• Give pupils (in pairs/groups) ‘word
jigsaws’ to do at the start or end of
lessons – cut up a number of key
words for pupils to reassemble, or
provide prefixes and suffixes on one
set of cards and roots on a different
coloured set to see how many new
words can be created.
• Play ‘Hangman’ with key words.
Pupils can prepare words using
particular roots for one another. Try
to encourage prediction rather than
random guessing.
• Play ‘Cloze’ – provide words with
letters missing to focus attention on
a particular part of a word.
What to do . . .
Why do it . . . ?
Some strategies
This reinforces that words are
composed of meaning units and that
learning to spell small words can
contribute to learning to spell much
longer ones. It is also useful as an
aid to remembering some commonly
misspelt words, e.g. a rat is in
separate and our in favourite.
• Find short pieces of text particularly
rich in ‘words within words’ and
challenge pupils to spot and
highlight the most words within a
given time, e.g. forestation (forest,
station, for, fore, rest, or, ore);
habitation (habitat, habit, bit).
It encourages pupils to focus on the
letters in key words and to play
around with new constructions to
see if they make real words –
checking on spellings and meanings
and discovering words can be fun.
• Play ‘Countdown’, i.e. groups
compete to make as many new
words as possible from the letters of
(fairly long) subject key words, e.g.
Hinduism (hind, mud, mind, din,
mid, is, mini, him, sin, etc).
Sound out key
words that have
letters which are
usually not
pronounced, e.g.
parl i a ment,
gov erN ment, or
words with silent
letters, e.g. knife,
knot, gnaw.
Use these techniques as aids to
Use mnemonics
and funny memory
aids, for single
words and for
groups of words,
e.g. Graph – ‘Gran
Ruined A Pink Hat’;
Dessert, unlike
desert has a double
s ‘because we like
to have two
helpings’; Rhythm –
‘Rhythm Helps Your
Two Hips Move’;
Potassium – ‘has
one tea and two
Mnemonics and memory aids linking
words of a similar spelling pattern
mean that a pupil only needs to be
confident about the spelling of one
of these to be able to spell the tricky
part of a number of other words
• Provide some examples and
challenge pupils in pairs to develop
new ones to help them remember
words/parts of words they
commonly misspell.
• Display two columns of common
subject words grouped according to
whether they have ‘i before e’ or ‘e
before i’, e.g. medieval, shield, yield,
belief, priest, fierce, obedient and
reign, sovereign, foreign, heir. Ask
pupils to spot a pattern/come up
with a rule to help. Provide/ask
pupils to make up two sentences
each combining the words in one of
the groups, e.g. ‘Obedient medieval
priests always yield to…’ and ‘The
sovereign reigned until his foreign
heir…’, etc.
What to do . . .
Why do it . . . ?
Some strategies
Encourage the
multi-sensory LookSay-Cover-SayWrite-Say-Check
approach to
learning spellings.
Pupils need to first of all notice the
features of words if they are to spell
them correctly. Words should be
displayed in unjoined lower case
letters with capital initials where
appropriate to provide a word shape
that helps pupils to visualise the
word. The writing of the word helps in
remembering it so opportunities to
reinforce new words in writing are
very important – just copying words
doesn’t help.
• Ask pupils to look for as short a time
as possible (saying the word to
themselves or aloud if this helps),
covering the word as soon as they
are confident they can remember it.
They must then try to visualise it, say
it again and write it. The next stage
is to proofread the word to see if it
looks right before finally checking
against the original.
When pupils ask for the spellings of
words don’t supply them verbally;
writing a spelling when requested
gives visual reinforcement.
Ask pupils to
produce first drafts
of pieces of writing
with time set aside
at the end for
proofreading –
including the
checking of
spelling, using
dictionaries, etc.
Make proofreading
a shared activity.
Drafting, proofreading and editing
are skills pupils need to develop if
they are to become independent
learners. It’s best not to slow down
or interrupt the writing process to
check for accurate spellings during
Use dictionaries.
Pupils are more likely to develop the
habit of using dictionaries if they see
their teachers regularly referring to
them. The amount of information
provided can be confusing for those
less confident with literacy so it’s
best to choose ones which limit the
amount of information given for each
word (but not necessarily the
number of words – simplified
dictionaries may omit the technical
terms you want them to look up,
causing frustration).
Most adults say that when they get
stuck on a word they have to write it
down to see if it ‘looks right’.
• When drafting ask pupils to use sticky
notes/to write two to three variations
of words they are unsure of (to see
which ‘looks right’) and attach them
near the word they used in their
writing. Post drafting, ask pairs/small
groups to confer on spellings. Pair
each pupil with a ‘spell-mate’. Each
pupil should check their own writing
first then give it to their spell-mate
who uses an acetate sheet over the
writing to identify and circle errors and
make corrections. Any changes
should be discussed and then
checked in a dictionary. Identify any
words causing common problems for
quick whole class conferring before
checking in a dictionary.
• Support pupils in their dictionary
work – discuss their
predictions/different spelling
possibilities before they begin their
search (remember that they need
some idea of the spelling to be able
to find it).
• Give pupils mini crosswords to
complete by interlocking a few
keywords and supplying the
meanings of the words as clues.
What to do . . .
Why do it . . . ?
Some strategies
Familiarise yourself
with a few basic
spelling patterns
(see below) in order
to refer to them
when dealing with
common errors
identified in pupils’
Spelling patterns or ‘rules’ can be
difficult for many pupils to
understand but, if used with lots of
examples when following up errors
in pupils’ own writing, they can
sometimes be helpful.
• Using common spelling errors from
pupils’ writing, discuss any spelling
errors identified and the patterns or
rules that apply. Provide some
examples of each pattern and ask
pupils to supply others, compiling a
list on the board. Reinforce regularly
when considering new words with
this pattern.
• Matching endings – ask pupils to
make choices between similar
endings, e.g. ‘cian’, ‘sion’ and ‘tion’,
having first discussed the rule – see
the For Reference section.
In summary
When asking a pupil to learn a word:
• Show them how to do so
• Explain why the word is spelt that
• Help them to identify words with the
same pattern
• Group words according to how they
look rather than how they sound
• Regularly focus on and discuss word
patterns and links
• Give plenty of writing opportunities
for pupils to practise (not copy)
• Encourage prediction and guessing
of possible spellings
• Encourage the Look-Say-CoverSay-Write-Say-Check approach
• Help pupils to build the skills of
reading, visualisation, drafting,
proofreading and editing
• Regularly analyse pupils’ writing and
build on strengths as well as
following up weaknesses
For reference
Prefixes, roots and suffixes
An estimated 60% of the English words in
common use are made up partly or entirely of
prefixes or roots derived from Latin and Greek.
Prefix – a letter or group of letters placed at
the beginning of a word to change its
Root – the base form of the word, usually in
the middle.
Suffix – a letter or group of letters at the end
of a word to change its grammatical
function, for example to create a verb from a
noun or change a verb’s tense (fit-fitter-fitsfitment-fitting-fitted).
For example, the word predictable consists
of three parts:
(1) the prefix ‘pre-’(before)
• poly – many
polygon, polygamy, polytheist
• peri – around
periscope, peripheral
• un, in, im, il, ir – not
unmagnetised, incomplete, impossible,
illegal, irrelevant
• port – carry
portable, import, transport
• sanct – holy
sanctuary, sanctify
• sect – cut
bisect, intersect, section
• spect – to look
inspect, spectator, prospect, spectacle
• vert – to turn
convert, revert, vertigo, extravert
(2) the root ‘-dict-’(to tell)
(3) the suffix ‘-able’ (that can be done)
so: predictable (that can be seen or described
before – a future happening).
• ful – much, full of
beautiful, useful
• able, ible – capable of/worthy of
achievable, flexible
Here are some examples. See dictionaries or
look on the internet for others.
• con, com – with, together
converge, compress, compact, combine
• dis – opposite feeling
opposite action disconnect
• tele – distant, from afar
television, telephone, telegraph
• trans – across
transmit, transport
• micro – small
microscope, microprocessor
• audi – hear
audience, audition, auditory
• re – again
retract, revise, regain
• ance, ence, ant, ent – state
performance, permanence, lubricant,
immigrant, resident
• ate, fy – to make/cause to become
create, magnify, deify
• ive – of, belonging to, quality of
corrosive, adhesive, persuasive, massive
• ion, sion, tion, ation – condition or action,
admission, perception, saturation
• cy, ity, ty – quality, condition, a fact of
infancy, quality, novelty
N.B. You will need to use your judgement about
which definitions it will be helpful to give pupils –
many of the suffix definitions in particular are very
difficult for young pupils to grasp, but
nevertheless grouping and discussing subject
keywords with the same suffixes can help make
connections and aid spelling.
A few spelling patterns
ii. When a word ends in e, drop the final e
before a suffix beginning with a vowel.
ei/ie rule
i before e except after c, or when sounded
like a as in neighbour and weigh
evaluate + ion = evaluation
migrate + ing = migrating
dilute + able = dilutable
but some exceptions e.g. seize, weird
The -e is kept in a few cases: to maintain
the identity of a root word (such as in
shoeing); to distinguish it from another
word (such as with dyeing, which has a
different meaning to dying); and to keep
a c or g soft (as in noticeable).
Forming plurals
Most words just add -s: bird + s = birds.
Words ending in sh, ch, ss, s, x or z add -es:
dish + es = dishes.
Words ending in a consonant followed by y,
change y to i and add -es: theory - theories.
iii. The final e is kept when the suffix begins
with a consonant: settle + ment =
settlement. There are eight exceptions
(look them up!).
Words ending in -o generally just add -s.
There are (nine) exceptions which take -es
(for example tomatoes, heroes) and a
number of words which can be spelt either
way (for example, both volcanoes and
volcanos are acceptable).
iv. Using seed, ceed, sede and cede: use seed
for seed, linseed; use ceed for proceed,
exceed, succeed; use sede for supersede;
all other words are spelt cede.
Words ending in -is change the -is to -es:
analysis - analyses, oasis - oases
Some words (thankfully very few) are
irregular and just need to be learnt: man men, child - children, mouse - mice
v. Words with a similar shun sound at the
end: tion is the most common (direction,
reduction, proportion, production,
motion, refraction, secretion); cian
usually related to people and occupations
(dietician, optician, physician,
electrician); sion where the base word
ends in d/de or s/se (extend/extension,
collide/collision, corrode/corrosion,
Adding suffixes
When a one-syllable word ends in a
consonant, the consonant is doubled
before a suffix beginning with a vowel
(but don’t double a final w or x).
hit + er = hitter, + ing = hitting,
run + er = runner, + ing = running
For further information contact:
The Basic Skills Agency, Commonwealth House, 1–19 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1NU
Tel: 020 7405 4017
Fax: 020 7440 7770
E-mail: [email protected]
For further copies please contact:
The Basic Skills Agency, Admail 524, London WC1A 1BR
Tel: 0870 600 2400
Fax: 0870 600 2401