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Spelling Help

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My daughter will be entering fifth grade in the fall. She's an excellent reader (seventh grade level), but her spelling is terrible (third-grade level). I would like to work with her this summer on spelling. Can you suggest any books or teacher's aids that might be helpful? I've asked her teachers why she has such a problem with spelling, and none of them offer any suggestions or solutions. Should I hire a tutor? If so, how would I find one?

A: Good spellers can see words in their mind's eye. Poor spellers have usually not learned how to visualize words. Your daughter is probably very weak at forming a mental picture of words.

Fortunately, you should be able to teach her a technique that will let her "see" words and improve her spelling without the help of a tutor. How well you succeed will depend greatly on your child's interest in learning to spell better.

First of all, it's essential to work on teaching your child the most basic words that she needs to know how to spell. Obtain from her school or a library a list of the most common words used in reading and writing. Start by teaching your daughter the first 100 words on this list - they'll account for 50 percent of all words used in written material.

Test your daughter on the first 20 words on the list. Then have her correct the test as you spell the words aloud. Self-correction will teach her to spell many of the misspelled words. If she doesn't miss any words, then continue with the next 20 words, and so on.

Your daughter should study any words that she misses on the first test or subsequent tests. To learn each word, she should follow these steps:

  1. Look at the word and say it.
  2. Close your eyes, try to see the word, and spell it aloud.
  3. Check to make sure the word is spelled correctly.
  4. Write the word again without looking at it.
  5. Check again that the word is spelled correctly. If not, repeat all five steps until you can spell the word.
Repeat the test the next day, and have your daughter follow the same procedure for any missed words. After she learns a list of words, test her on a new group of 20 words. Keep a list of all the words she has misspelled on tests. Then, once a week, give her a review test on these words.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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