What are the best techniques for a student to improve spelling? Before this question can be addressed accurately, it is necessary to take a look at the common errors in spelling that students make. Then, strategies for addressing each error can be developed and applied.
Most Common Spelling Errors
Based on the National Curriculum for English study, the most common errors fall roughly into the following categories:
- 20% omission - leaving out letters or parts of words that should have been included. For example: "acknowledgment."
- 6% endings - errors with suffixes such as –ful or –ly.
- 28% sound-based - homophonic words substituted for each other, such as "I didn't no the correct spelling."
- 42% miscellaneous errors - such as inverting letters ("relief"), doubling consonants, or dividing words incorrectly.
Spelling errors are divided into two categories: plausible and implausible.
Implausible errors follow no particular pattern. They may simply be due to a mistyped word or a random guess on the part of the student. A high percentage of implausible errors means that the student is probably using words that are very unfamiliar and outside of his/her vocabulary comfort zone. This is not a bad trend to encourage, however, as the time taken to improve spelling is a small price to pay for the new knowledge.
Plausible errors imply that the student both knew the correct word and was applying some known rule or lexicon to it in order to attempt the correct spelling.
One of the more frustrating aspects of teaching the English language is the number of exceptions and the lack of phonetic consistency. For this reason, decreasing plausible errors may be the most difficult part of trying to improve spelling.
Strategies to Improve Spelling
The following are some of the techniques by which a student may begin to improve spelling:
- Identify strengths - Being able to identify where a student is not making errors gives a grounding sense of strength, so that the frustrations of the errors are more inconvenient than faulty.
- Target the errors - Once errors have been identified, using various tools such as mnemonic devices such as "I before E except after C" will provide a starting point to keep it from happening again.
- Etymological study - One of the great strategies competitive spellers use to improve spelling is studying the origins of words, their root languages, and the ways language changes. Like learning a biological evolutionary chart, a thorough understanding of a word's origins helps integrate the correct spelling into the student's consciousness.
- Identifying patterns - As students increase their vocabulary, being aware of the common elements in the spelling of words reinforces the correct knowledge.
- Using spelling tools - Teaching children how to use the various print and electronic tools such as YourDictionary to check on words they are unsure of establishes a habit of reaching out for verification. Spell checkers used in word processing programs are also useful, but the student needs to be aware that even the best spell checker is no substitute for context. A program will not catch the homophonic error "I think I ate two much" as easily as a human eye.
Reading Improves Spelling
Perhaps the best strategy for improving spelling is to encourage a student to read more. Simply having the words in front of them, absorbed as a story is unfolding from the pages, will instill an instinct in them that is bound to improve spelling.
The more a child reads, the more the way words are written will simply "feel" more or less right to them. With practice, they will begin to sense when a trip to the dictionary might be necessary to validate a word.
It is often a good idea to have the students read aloud so that the sounds of words associated with the print on the page become more closely associated. This can also avoid errors in pronunciation.
Trying to improve spelling skills is a challenging task. Fortunately, with these strategies and patient work, errors are bound to decrease.
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"Improve Spelling." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 18 June 2018. <http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/spelling-and-word-lists/Improve-Spelling.html>.
Improve Spelling. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18th, 2018, from http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/spelling-and-word-lists/Improve-Spelling.html