How to Teach Spelling:  Free Stuff to Help Kids become Better Spellers

how to teach spelling
I must confess that this page on teaching spelling is a little bit of a misnomer. It's actually more of a page about learning to spell more efficiently.

More about that in just a few moments.

I think I know what you might be thinking--"A page about spelling? Has this guy gone crackers?"

Hey, after 33 years of teaching, aren't I entitled to a little insanity?

As you may know by now, the majority of my teaching experience has been at the middle school level. Other than correcting misspelling on written work, I have never assumed the role of an actual spelling teacher.

I HAVE, however, been in the position of having to conduct spelling bees several times in order to select representatives from each of my classes to compete in the school-wide spelling bee.

The winner of that bee would then represent our school at the district competition, which could eventually lead the winner to the national spelling bee in Washington DC.

What follows on this page is a set of documents given to me (and the other language arts teachers) by Jennifer Morris, the standards coach during the first three of my years at Twin Lakes Middle School.

I don't know where she obtained this document, so I can't give any further attribution. But, what I DO know is that it offers excellent ways for kids to prepare for such a competition. All of these documents are available for download completely free of charge, but first--the Quick Links.

Quick Links for THIS Page

You may use the following quick links to go directly to what interests you on this page. You may also scroll down the page manually if you choose to do so.

Six Free PDF Documents
Four Guidelines for Learning to Spell
Five Ways to Practice Spelling
Graphic Organizers
Free Download

Six Free PDF Documents

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I thought it might be useful to show you what each document looks like, so I have included screenshots of them.

Because they are a bit difficult to see after having been reduced from the original size, I'm also including the text in its entirety.

Here are the screenshots:

What follows in the next several sections, is the text that appears on the above documents.

Four Guidelines for Learning to Spell

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1. Practice. Have you ever heard someone say that practice makes perfect? That's only if you're practicing it right.

Each time you spell a word incorrectly, you're practicing the wrong spelling. So, if you're not sure how to spell the word find out, THEN practice that spelling.

Keep an ongoing notebook of words, so you have your own personal dictionary and you can see your progress. Start small, though.

2. Don't try to learn all the words at once. Even if you learn them all of them in one sitting, practice them a few at a time. Then, add another word to your list, or start on different ones.

Each time you learn another word, go back and practice the ones you learned before it, because, after all, practice makes permanent.

3. Review the words you know. If you already know some of the words on your list, practice them each once or twice before you start tackling the ones you don't know yet.

4. Use the words you've practiced. That's the point to learning them anyway. Have a list of words you're learning handy, in a notebook, and you can look them up to make sure your spelling them right.

Besides, using them is practicing them, and practice . . .

Five Ways to Practice Spelling

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1. Trace, Copy, and Recall

Make a chart like this with three or four spelling words you want to learn (see the first illustration in the second document above).

Then, fold over the "recall" part so that only the first two columns show (see the second illustration in the second document above).


  • Say the word to yourself.
  • Trace it in the first column, saying the letters as you trace, and say the word again. You might put a little rhythm into it. ("WORD-pause-W-pause-O-pause-RD-WORD!").
  • Go to the second column, say the word, and write it in the same way.
  • Then, while the rhythm and the sound and feeling are fresh in your mind, flip the paper over and say the word and spell it out--the same way, saying each letter, because, after all, practice makes permanent.
  • If it is a hard word, put it on the list more than once. If you're feeling particularly smart, trace and copy TWO words, and try to remember them both before you flip the page over. However, if your short term memory isn't big enough to hold all that, do one at a time because you want to practice the words RIGHT, not make guesses!
  • After you've gone through all the words this way a few times, start doing them two or three at a time, and when you feel like you know them, go through the list again. However, skip the tracing, or, when you're feeling VERY confident, skip both the tracing and the copying.

2. Reverse Chaining by Letter

  • Say the word. Then write it out, saying each letter aloud (and again, try putting a little rhythm into it). W-O-R-D
  • Skip a line and say it and write it again--minus the last letter. Say the last letter, but don't write it. W-O-R-__
  • Skip a line and say it and write it again--minus the last two letters, say them, but don't write them. W-O-__ __
  • Do this until you're only writing one letter.
  • Go back to the top. Read the word, then spell it out loud.
  • Fold the page over and you can't see the whole word. Say the word, spell it, and add that last letter.
  • Fold the page back again. Say the word, spell it, and add the last two letters.
  • Keep going until you spell the whole word.
  • GO BACK AND CHECK and make sure you didn't leave out a letter!

3. Reverse Chaining by Syllable

This is more difficult and should be used for longer words. Here is the procedure:

  • Say the word, then write it out, saying each letter aloud. Don't forget your rhythm. S-E-P-A-R-A-T-E
  • Skip a line and say it and write it again--minus the last syllable. Say the last syllable and spell it out loud, but don't write it. S-E-P-A-_________
  • Continue until you aren't writing anything--but continue to say the spelling out loud.
  • Go back to the top. Read the word, then spell it out loud.
  • Fold the page over so you can't see the whole word. Say the word, spell it, and add the last syllable.
  • Fold the page back again. Say the word, spell it, and add the last two syllables.
  • Continue until you spell the whole word.
  • GO BACK AND CHECK and make sure you didn't leave out any letters!

4. Highlighting the Hard Parts

Some words, like separate, are only hard in some parts. You might be getting these right on a test, but always spelling them wrong when you write, frustrating you and your teachers.

As practice makes permanent, every time you practice it incorrectly, you're making it more likely that you'll write it incorrectly the next time. This exercise should help you focus on the troublesome part of the word.

This is also helpful for learning rules and patterns. If you want to learn to spell IE words--that "I before E" rule that so many people find so hard to use, for example, this is a good way to do it.

Get different color pens or pencils or markers, and index cards. Write the words boldly on the cards and make the difficult part of the world a different color than the rest.

Make a mental picture of that card, read the word out loud, and spell it out loud and change the way you SAY the difficult part, perhaps by saying it louder for example. So, you would write . . .

sepArate, belIEve, relIEve, grIEve, achIEve

When you write the whole word, think about how the difficult part looks or sounds. So, while you're writing "separate," you might be thinking "sep AY rate" and/or that bold, red A.

Again, the keys here are to NOT overwhelm your brain--don't try to learn five words at a time like this unless you've got an amazing visual memory. Better to do one word five times, and start spelling it in your writing.

5. Record and Practice

Pronounce the words correctly into a recording device or smartphone. Record it like it's a spelling test. For example, you'd say, "Separate. Put the papers in separate piles. Separate."

If separate is the word, see if you can think of five DIFFERENT phrases containing the word and write them out. For example: separate rooms, separate cars, separate houses, a separate peace.

Or, try to use 20 of your words in the same story.

You can get pretty silly and creative!

Graphic Organizers

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Here are two graphic organizers that I pulled from my 50 STUDYizers Collection that may be useful to your kids as they work on their spelling skills.

I will also include these in the PDF package that you will be able to download below.

Free Download

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If you would care to download all eight PDF documents as seen above on this page completely free of charge, the package is located here.

As always, all I ask in return is that you support my efforts by sharing an idea with your fellow teachers on the Teachers' Ideas page and/or adding a comment to one of my blog entries at The Teacher Beacon.
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how to teach spelling
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how to teach spelling
I have to confess that I almost didn't put this page up on Daily Teaching Tools. But, I knew that it was another free resource that I could make available to you.
how to teach spelling
So, I went ahead and did it.
how to teach spelling
I also figured it might very well come in handy for your students, particularly the ones who are preparing for spelling bee competitions.
how to teach spelling
Looking over the resources I've accumulated over the course of my career, I've chosen a topic to work on next that I think you will be particularly interested in.
how to teach spelling
Here's a clue.
how to teach spelling
This is something every administrator on the planet wants to see happening effectively in your classroom. It will probably take me a week to 10 days to prepare this next page.
how to teach spelling
Wait until you see what it is . . .
how to teach spelling
In the meantime, happy spelling!
how to teach spelling

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