Every year, the nation’s best junior spellers descend upon Washington D.C. They come to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee where they spell words like scherenschnitte and nunatak (2015’s winning words).  While not all kids will become national spelling bee champions, they can become better spellers. Follow these tips to help kids learn how to spell hundreds, if not thousands, of common words (like hippopotamus).

Read the Dictionary

In the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, one of the contestants sings a song about how much she loves her dictionary. While most kids won’t have the same fondness for their own dictionaries, they should take some time to familiarize themselves with the dictionary and learn the words it contains. For children in elementary and middle school, consider purchasing one of Merriam Webster’s Elementary or Intermediate dictionaries so they can find words that are more appropriate for their level.

Reading through the dictionary may seem boring, but it doesn’t have to be. Make it fun by playing one of these games:

– Race to see who can be the first to find and define a word
– Try to find a word that no one has heard of before
– Make up a fake definition for a word and have someone guess which definition is real.

Learn Common Spelling Rules

Why is English So Hard?

You’ve probably seen some version of the poem above before. The English language is definitely very confusing and doesn’t always seem to follow the rules. However, there are some spelling rules that kids can learn. A few good rules to learn include:

  1.  before e, except after a long c like in receive or in words like neighbor or weigh
  2. When adding -ing, -ed, -est, and other suffixes, double the consonant when the word features a vowel + consonant at the end or when the last syllable is stressed. For example, hop becomes hopping and regret becomes regretted.
  3. Drop the final e when adding a vowel suffix to a word, unless the word ends with ce or ge. For example, write becomes writing and manage becomes manageable.
  4. The letter y, when preceded by a consonant, becomes i when a suffix is added. For example, happy becomes happiness.
  5. Silent e helps a vowel say its name. If a vowel sound is long, it often has a silent e at the end. For example, you can see the difference in rat versus rate and hop versus hope.

Learn Frequently Confused Words

Do you know the difference between principal and principle? How about theirthere, and they’re? These words frequently trip spellers up. Learning the difference between them and practicing using them correctly can help kids improve their spelling skills. Help Teaching’s Vocabulary page is full of printable worksheets designed to help kids learn the difference between these confusing words.

Learn Common Prefixes, Suffixes, and Word Roots

Take a look at the word antidisestablishmentarianism. This word is often considered one of the longest words in the English language and, upon first glance, it seems impossible to spell. However, if you break it up, you’ll realize it’s composed of many different roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Being able to recognize these word parts can be the key to becoming a good speller and figuring out the meaning of confusing words. So instead of having hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, kids can embrace those monstrously monosyllabic words and spell them with ease. Help Teaching’s online lessons portal features many lessons to teach kids about the basic prefixes and suffixes.

fear of long words

Visualize Words

Have you ever written a word and said, “That doesn’t look right?” Good spellers tap into the visual sides of their brains to help them learn to spell. For little kids, that may mean using a program like Word World or Bembo’s Zoo to help them visualize the words. For older kids, it may involve writing the words multiple times or breaking the words into chunks. For example, they may see the word conscience as con-science. You may also come up with funny images, such as a picture of a wig (hair) on a chair to remind kids that words are spelled in similar ways.

Read… A LOT!

When kids read, they often see words spelled correctly. The more they see a word spelled correctly, the easier it is for them to remember how to spell it on their own. So, encourage kids to read, read, read. Keep in mind, however, that some books for kids, such as the Captain Underpants series, intentionally misspell words. If you see that words are misspelled, point them out to kids and encourage them to look up the correct spellings as a learning activity.

Use Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices such as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally and Never Eat Soggy Waffles are great for helping kids remember key math and geography facts, but they can also be used for spelling. For example, kids may remember “pull apart to separate” or “there is a place just like here.” While it may not be practical to come up with a mnemonic device for every word, you can use these clever tricks to help kids remember particularly frustrating words.

Play Spelling Games

Games like Boggle and Scrabble are great ways to help kids improve their spelling skills. For a simple version of Boggle, print out a word scramble worksheet and have kids see how many words they can create. Word searches offer another way to help kids improve their spelling skills. Pick up a cheap word search book at your local dollar store or create your own using Help Teaching’s Word Search Generator.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The best way to become a better speller is to practice spelling. If there are particular words kids want to learn, encourage them to make flashcards and study them or to write a story using those words. You should also have kids write regularly and read what they write aloud. When they read through the paper, they may find that misspelled words are difficult to pronounce.

By following these steps, kids can vastly improve their spelling skills.