Word Strategies and Spelling Rules

Word strategies to help you tackle spelling rules.

Here’s some tips on how to master the spelling rules of the English language:

Word Strategy 1

Have A Go. Not sure how to spell a word? Write it three different ways. Which one looks the best? Chances are that your choice is going to be the correct spelling, or very close to it.

Word Strategy 2

Use a spelling generalisation. People know these as spelling rules. For example “ ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’’. Rules are made to be bent, so let’s bend them a little and call them generalisations.

Word Strategy 3

Ask people around you for help.  The English language is complex and tricky. You are not a dummy if you need to ask how to spell a word or can’t figure out the spelling rules. Knowing the spelling rules can be difficult even for competent readers and writers.  Google is a great source of information on spelling, meaning, context and pronunciation. Learning to read is an ongoing lifetime activity.

Word Strategy 4

Many words have a base. Other words can be created from its base word. For example, if you know how to spell the base word “arrange” then you will find that you can make words like “arrangement, arranging, arranged, rearrange, rearranged.” Just for fun try building on the following base words— manage, teach, love.

Word Strategy 5

Prefixes and suffixes. In the previous strategy you have noticed that base words can have their meaning changed or enhanced by adding prefixes and suffixes. You can also create new words by adding suffixes and prefixes. If you know about prefixes and suffixes, then you can use this knowledge to create new words from base words.

For example: appear – disappear appearance, or necessary – unnecessary necessarily.

The Oxford Dictionary has a simple explanation on the spelling rules of suffixes and prefixes.

Word Strategy 6

More About Base Words. The base word sometimes gives you a clue, but you cannot use the base word as a suffix or a prefix, as in the previous two strategies. Only part of the base word is used to form related new words.
For example two -> twin, twice
sign-> signal, signature
medicine -> ………………., ………………,
muscle ->……………….

Word Strategy 7

Just Write the Word. Writing your ideas down before you forget them is important. You don’t want to forget an idea because you are getting caught up in the spelling rules of a word. So write it any way you can, mark it and come back to it when it is important to edit the spelling.

Word Strategy 8

Rhythm in the Spelling. Some spelling of words can be remembered by slowing speaking the rhythm of the word into a string of syllables:

For example: hippopotamus – hipp/o/pot/a/mus or Mississippi –  Miss/iss/ip/i

Word Strategy 9

Wall or Desk Chart. Make a chart of the words that you have trouble recalling. Check with a dictionary that you have the correct spelling of all the words on your chart. Place it where you can see it as you go about your day, so that you get familiar with these words. In a short time you will have a visual memory of what each word looks like and it will be easier to recall the spelling away from your chart.

When you are confident you have memorised the words, replace the chart with a new list of words

Word Strategy 10

Memory Hooks. This is where we use a short sentence to remember how to spell a word. For example: “ A friend is a friend until the end” or “An island is land surrounded by sea”.
You can make up your own memory hooks about the words you are learning to spell.

Word Strategy 11

Use a Dictionary. A dictionary helps you spell a word. You will be able to use the basic knowledge you have of a particular word to assist you in searching alphabetically and confirm how the word is spelled.

Word Strategy 12

Use the spell check on your computer. This is also a useful strategy, however be aware that many English speaking countries have variations on the spelling of some words. Most spell checkers use the US dictionary. You can also add new words into the dictionary of most spell check software.

Word Strategy 13

Pronunciation. Slowly pronouncing a word correctly helps you understand how the word is spelled. Incorrect pronunciation may give you a clue on how not to spell a word. For example: the pronunciation of disastrous is correct but to  pronounce it as “disasterous” is incorrect. But you could be forgiven if you thought the word “disaster” was contained in full in the pronunciation of “disastrous”. 
The same goes for pro/nun/ci/a/tionnot pro/noun/ci/a/tion.

Word Strategy 14

Syllabication (what a mouthful) or chunking. This is not unlike the previous strategy. Listen for the parts of the word (the syllables) and write the word piece by piece. Clapping out each syllable helps to isolate them. You will find that you came close to the correct spelling.

Word Strategy 15

Look Cover Say Write Check. This is a good way to practice a word that you want to remember. Look at the original word, over it up, say it to yourself, write it down, and check it to see if you remembered it correctly. Memorizing the look of a word is a great way to understand spelling rules of the English language.

Word Strategy 16

Find Smaller Words Within Larger Words. Don’t rearrange the letters. Just look for smaller words.
For example: teacher – teach , he, _____, _____, _____. This can be a fun word game to remember all the letters and their order in a word. Over time you can build up to lengthier words.

Word Strategy 17

Visualise the Word. You can learn to spell using the creative side of your brain. Look at the word. Then close your eyes and visualise it in your mind. Pretend to write the word on the inside of your eyelids. Get a sense of what the word feels like. Does it have a colour? Have you seen this word on a sign or in a picture? Visualise its meaning in picture form with the word in the picture.

Word Strategy 18

Roots in foreign language. A lot of our words are adopted directly or have roots from other languages such as Greek, Latin and French.  The root meanings from the language of origin informs the meaning of our English words. For example ‘tele’ in Latin means far. So this informs the meaning as a prefix in words like telescope and telephone.  Some French words we have adopted are veneer, champagne, chivalry.  It can be fun to choose a few words and research their origins. Wikipedia is a great resource for this.

Word Strategy 19

Compound Words. Compound words are two or more words put together to make a new word. If you recognise a compound word and know how to spell each separate word within it, then you can spell the whole word. For example team + mate = teammate. Think of other compound words you know and have a go at writing them down.

Word Strategy 20

Think about the Meaning. Think about the meaning of the word. Does understanding its meaning give you a clue as to how it is spelled?

Word Strategy 21

Add letters to a Word. Predictable letter sequences can be used to assist in spelling other words. For example: knowing how to spell ‘other’ helps you to spell mother, brother and bother; or ‘rough’, tough, cough. There are plenty of other words you can expand on like: ought, any, eat, ate, ask, to name a few.

Word Strategy 22

Does the Word Look Right. If the word does not look right to you, then it probably needs correcting. Trust your instincts and check your spelling.

Word Strategy 23

Avoid negative language. Negative language like telling yourself you are wrong can be discouraging. It is very likely that you have spelled part or most of the word correctly. Encourage yourself or others you are critiquing that you are partially correct. Then you can seek out the correct spelling. This reinforces positive spelling strategies, and develops problem solving skills and solution based learning.

Learning the rules of spelling can be fun if you take the positive and creative approach we have outlined for you. Have a go!