One challenge of the English language is spelling out words with alternate spellings. Sure, there are many words that can be phonetically spelled out. However, some of the 44 English sounds have as many as 12 different ways to spell them! Let’s take a look at how you can help your child spell words that have uncommon spellings.
When children are first learning how to spell, they are taught that there is one letter for each sound. This works well for CVC words and some four-letter words with short vowels. Words such as “bat” and “cabs” are easily spelled by sounding out each letter. After children understand the one-to-one correspondence, they learn that there are many times where two or three letters can represent a single sound. These may be words such as “cash” and “sight”.
The tricky part is when students are working with long vowel sounds. There are many different ways to spell long vowel sounds. For example, the long /a/ sound can be spelled /a__e/, /ay/, /ai/, /ey/, etc. Children also learn that one letter, or a mix of letters can actually mean more than one sound (ex. fin and find).
When teaching your child spelling patterns, it is first important that your child is aware of alternative spellings. Some children may know a few alternative spellings due to their name or names of classmates or friends. It may be fun to look at a class list and find names that have similar sounds. For example, there may be several students that have alternative spellings of “long e”. Your child may practice and recognize the spellings of Sherry, Jolene, Colleen, Dean, Stephen, etc.
You also can look for other words in books you read together and make a word chart to write each word down as it is encountered. For example, if a child is working on the long a sound, he/she could make a chart labeled /ay/, /ai/, /a_e/, and /a/. This will allow the student to practice each word but distinguish each spelling pattern. You can also use different colors for each spelling pattern.
In elementary classrooms, it is common for teachers to create word walls. This is essentially a large space where the teacher will put words under each initial letter. It may be helpful for some students to go about this in a different way. An alternative method is to have a sound wall. Rather than have initial letters for the wall, consider having all of the different vowel sounds/spellings. This will help students decode words since they will recognize the vowel sound (which is usually the trickiest part).
Another way to help your child is to use mnemonic devices. Mnemonics may be phrases, sentences, a song, etc. We probably remember the planets this way (My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas – well now it is “Served Us Nachos” – RIP Pluto!) To help your kiddo remember the spelling of long a words with the /ea/ spelling, you can have them practice this sentence: “Dad cooked a great steak of his break.” You can have your child write the sentence and draw a picture to help with context.
Learning how to spell words with different letter variations can be tricky, but with some added support at home, students will be able to master these in no time.