Teaching Kids to Spell For Dummies

by Tracey Wood, MEd



About the Author

Tracey Wood was born in England. She went to teachers college in Leeds and graduated with an honors degree in Psychology and Education. She taught in a special school for four years and loved it. But sunnier climes called and she left England for a backpacking vacation in Australia. Twelve years later, she was still enjoying the warmth of Australia and had traded her backpack for a husband and two kids.

In Australia, Tracey earned a Diploma in Special Education and a Master’s degree in Education. For several years she ran a high school special education unit and then started her own reading clinic. In the 90s, Tracey moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she set up a reading and writing clinic, helped in her kids’ school, led two scouting troops, instructed for the Red Cross, created her Web site (www.readingpains.com ) and wrote her first book, See Johnny Read! — The 5 Most Effective Ways to End Your Son’s Reading Problems.

Still on the move (with her husband’s job), Tracey relocated to Toronto and wrote her second book, Teaching Kids to Read For Dummies (Wiley). Tracey is now a literacy consultant, writer, and public speaker. She’s the kids’ reading and writing expert on www.LDonline.com and www.kidslinktoronto.com , she contributes articles to magazines like Big Apple Parent and Teachers of Vision, and she’s committed to steering (albeit unsteadily) her two children through childhood with all their limbs and faculties in tact.



When I asked my youngest child what she’d like me to say about her if I were to mention her in my book, she said I should say, “Her beauty is greater than the golden sun high above.” When I asked my oldest child the same question, she said, “Say I’m more beautiful than her.” So there you are, I said it. This book is for both of you, so utterly and equally amazing!


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at www.dummies.com/register/ .

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Natalie Faye Harris

Acquisitions Editors: Mikal Belicove, Natasha Graf

Copy Editor: E. Neil Johnson

Editorial Program Assistant: Courtney Allen

General Reviewers: Susan Byers, Andrea M. Richter

Senior Permissions Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Managers: Christine Beck, Michelle Hacker

Editorial Assistants: Hanna Scott, Melissa Bennett, Nadine Bell

Cover Photos: © Charles Thatcher/ Getty Images/Stone

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (www.the5thwave.com )

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Adrienne Martinez

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Andrea Dahl, Heather Ryan

Proofreaders: David Faust, Jessica Kramer, Carl William Pierce, TECHBOOKS Production Services

Indexer: TECHBOOKS Production Services

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

What You’re Not to Read

Conventions Used in this Book

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Understanding the Basics of Good Spelling

Chapter 1: Thinking Like a Spelling Teacher

Understanding How Learning Works

Gathering Your Tools


Watching for Readiness

Jargon Busting

Chapter 2: Understanding the Reading, Writing, and Spelling Mix

Why the Janitor’s Son Is a Genius

Reading to Your Child

An Unequal and Sometimes Lumpy Mix

Reading with Your Child

Writing to Your Child

Writing with Your Child

Getting the Most from Drills and Drafts

Correcting Your Child’s Mistakes

Keeping Stress at Bay

Chapter 3: Getting to Know the Pieces and Parts of Spelling

Listening First

Listening for Chunks of Sound

Playing with Pronunciation

Looking at Letters

Having a Few Tries

Dictation: Doing It and Doing It Again

Having a Few Spelling Rules under Her Belt

Being Secure with Sight Words

Skimming through Suffixes, Silent Letters, and Other Stuff

Part II : Getting Easy Words onto Paper

Chapter 4: Spelling with Short Vowels

Checking on Single Sounds

Tackling Letters in the Right Order

Beginning Simply

Being Clear about “kuh”

Surfing the Several-Sounds Consonants

Dealing with the Doubles

Putting the Vowels into Perspective

Spelling Short Vowels

Spelling in Chunks

Spelling Long Words From Short Sounds

Writing Short Vowels Inside Sight Words

Taking One Vowel at a Time

Chapter 5: Blending Letters Together

Blending Two and Three Letters Together

Writing Words with Blends at the Front

Writing Words with Blends at the End

Chapter 6: Choosing ch (and sh, th, ph, and wh, too)

Delving into Digraphs

Chewing Your Pencil Over ch

Showing Your Child sh

Thinking About th

Passing through a Phase of ph

Asking wh Questions

Part III : Coming to Grips with Long Vowel Sounds

Chapter 7: Putting a Firm Pen on Bossy e

Bearing with Bossy e

Spotting Bossy e Words

Spelling Bossy e Words

“Joke” is a Bossy e word

Chapter 8: Taking Charge of Words with Two Vowels Together

Explaining the When-Two-Vowels-Go-Walking . . . Rule

Hearing Long-Vowel Sounds

Sorting Through Long and Short Sounds

Spelling Long Sounds

ee and ea Words

A Mix of Long Sounds

Copy-Cat Vowels

Chapter 9: Writing y Instead of a, e, or i

Getting Used to the Different Sounds of y

Hearing It; Spelling It

y Sounding Like Long a (day, say, and play)

y Sounding Like Long e (happy, funny, and silly)

y Sounding Like Long i (my, by, and cry)

y Sounding Like Short i (Mystery and System)

Part IV : Using Word Families

Chapter 10: Getting Into Word Family Mode

Looking at What’s in a Word

Introducing Word Families

Getting Friendly with Simple Families

Introducing the Spelling Folder

Sailing Through One-Syllable Word Families

Taking the Stress Out of Schwas

Chapter 11: Guiding Her Pen to Bigger Word Families

The Distinctive-Looking all and alk Families

Being Savvy with Vowel+r Words

Igh and ight Words

Eight, Ought, and Aught

Enough and Some

Swooping In on the Two oo’s

Choosing from Two Good Spellings

Taking Care with are, ear, and air

Chapter 12: Spelling Sight Words: A Different Family

Introducing Sight Words

Skipping through the Families

Taking Time with the Individuals

Looking for Spelling Rules

Getting Faster at Spelling Sight Words

Having Fun With Sight Words

Chapter 13: Being Vocal about Silent Letters

Knocking with your Knuckles

Plunging into a Sea of Silent Letters

Delighting over your Daughter

Wriggling your Wrist

Squealing and Squirming

Disguising as a Guard

Being Vague about the League

Gnawing on a Sign

Combing the Lamb

Walking and Talking

Being Honest at the Exhibition

Listening to Whistles

Going Psycho!

Feeling Solemn about the Column

Chapter 14: Spelling Some Letters “Softly”

Hearing Hard and Soft Sounds

Relaxing with Identical Sounds

Scanning the Soft-c Rule

Recognizing Soft-c Words

Writing Soft c Words

Deciding Whether to Write c or s

Scanning the Soft g Rule

Recognizing Soft g Words

Writing Soft g Words

Deciding Whether to Write g or j

Sorting your cs and juggling your gs

Part V : Spelling Words in Chunks

Chapter 15: Cheerfully Chunking Sounds

Syllables or Chunks of Sound

Hearing Syllables in Words

Keeping Letter Friends Together

One Syllable Is a Cinch

Two Syllables Are a Pic-nic

Three or More Syllables Are Pre-dict-a-ble

Quickly Revising Key Spelling Patterns

Chapter 16: Finishing Off with Suffixes

An Ending by Any Other Name

Playing with Plurals

Staying Calm with Tenses

Adding to Words That End in y

Mixing Suffixes and Endings

Adding tion, sion, or cian

Adding ent or ant

Adding le and al

Adding full and all

A Grand Finale of Suffixes

Chapter 17: Spotting What’s in a Contraction

Disappearing Letters

Understanding What’s Going on with Contractions

Getting to Know the Words That Contract

Possessive Apostrophes

Avoiding Mistakes

: The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten Word Families

The Easy All and Or Families

The Straightforward ight Family

The oi and oy Families

The ou and ow Families

The er, ir, and ur Families

The au and aw Families

Soon, spoon, and moon

Chapter 19: Ten Ways to Correct Your Child’s Spelling

Seeing and Hearing; Slouching and Shifting

Lightening Up

Homing in on Handwriting

Telling Your Child a Word Versus Making Your Child Figure It Out

Looking for Families

Looking for Spelling Rules

Deciding to Remember the Look of a Word

Using Spelling Lists

Having Sight Words Down Pat

Doing Dictation

Chapter 20: Ten (or More) Group Activities That Rock

Simple Battleships

Intense Battleships

Word Bingo

Bits-of-Words Bingo

Putting Your Hands on the Table

Finding Your Family

Run and Write

Run and Finger-Write

Run, Figure Out, and Write



Oh No!

Wake Up!

One More! Just for Two

Chapter 21: Ten Spelling Games for Car Trips

Cards in the Car


Describing and Drawing the Letters

I Spy with My Little Eye

Going to Aunt Maud’s


Shopping at Macy’s


Word Find

Fortunetellers (or Origami Cruets)


W ant to steer rather than drag your child through words like beautiful they’re?throat?menyuntill

Ta-da! The cavalry has arrived! This book gives a resounding boot to the typical tedium of spelling lessons and champions the cause of concerned but busy people like you (who can easily doze off at the mere hint of blah, blah, blah). Teaching Kids to Spell For Dummies is exactly right for you. It gives you practical activities that really work. It’s easy to follow, pick and choose from, and come back to. It doesn’t ask you to buy extras, and all you really need for an immediate start is paper and pen. Oh, and there’s an added bonus. Right here in these pages I put jokes that are, let’s just say, acute.

But what about your child, what’s in this book for him or her? I can almost hear that devilish groan, so just for your child, I’ve packed this book with memory joggers and appetizing, bite-sized pieces of information. If your child makes careless spelling errors, this book can sharpen his eye with the proofreading and dictation activities that I dole out in The Part of Tens. If she can’t write long-vowel sounds, she’ll make quick progress with the easy rules I provide in Part III. If he’s been making basic mistakes for a while, he can rebuild his skills from the short-vowel sounds that I give you in Part II.

To help your child get a solid grasp of spelling, you need practical, good sense information. And that’s exactly what you find here in these pages. Welcome!

About This Book

Regardless of whether you’re a shaky speller or friends marvel at your adverbs, whether your child’s a beginner or practically a veteran, or whether you’re apprehensive about teaching or can’t wait to begin, this book is for you. That’s because you can surf through it or immerse yourself chapter by chapter, as you need. So much spelling information is here in this book that you’re assured of getting the guidance you’re looking for, whatever your needs. And you’ll love “The Part of Tens” at the end of this book, where you get quick lists, each of ten items, of all the really handy stuff.

Foolish Assumptions

Because you’re reading this book I’m assuming:

bullet You’d like to help a child become a better speller but need cheerful, plain-talking guidance.

bullet You have interest and enthusiasm but not unlimited time.

bullet You’d like pointers as you go so you know whether you’re doing things right.

What You’re Not to Read

Many books about spelling are full of forced rules. They have you making strange pronunciations and give you rules that hardly ever work even after you’ve stretched and rolled your tongue obligingly. This book isn’t like that. It gives you a few rules that really work, and if I use jargon, I warn you in advance so you can skip it if you want to. In addition to a few bits of jargon, I spice up each chapter with sidebars. Sidebars offer bonus or additional information that may be anything from a cute story to illustrate a point to a quick detour into an extra activity you may think you’d like to try out. In other words, you can skip the sidebars if you’re in a rush; but if you like quirky stuff and diversions, you’ll definitely enjoy them.

Conventions Used in this Book

To “he” or not to “he?” In this book I clean up that sticky dilemma by using “he” and “she” interchangeably. You can be sure that this book is for and about all kids, and after you’re used to switching between he’s and she’s, you’ll probably think all other books should do the same.

How This Book Is Organized

This book has six parts:

Part I: Understanding the Basics of Good Spelling

Some kids seem to have an amazing-speller gene. Most kids have to work at it. Your child probably thinks twice about how to spell twice and scrabbles for scrap paper to figure out probably. The good news is that the tips, rules, and activities in this book can help your child. This part of Teaching Kids To Spell For Dummies outlines them for you along with the best ways to teach them. You get a lightning tour of stuff like digraphs, letter orientation, and phonemic awareness, so you don’t feel like you never got the memo when you read more about them later.

Part II: Getting Easy Words onto Paper

You’re going to hear quite a bit about short vowels in this book. Short vowels are solid and predictable letters that your child writes in an awful lot of words, putting them into words like put and can and stringing them into big words like introduction . Part II shows you how to take your child carefully through the short-vowel words and spelling chunks to build a set of spelling skills on a strong foundation.

Part III: Getting to Grips with Long Vowel Sounds

This part of the book shows you how to make short work of spelling long-vowel sounds. Long-vowel sounds are a definite problem area for kids, but this section gives you three simple rules to make things easy. In addition, you find out the ins and outs of sight words or most common words. You’re told why teachers fuss so much about sight words, and how to get one step ahead. I give you a list of 220 sight words that comprise a whopping 70 percent of all the words in regular text. When you explain how to spell these words, you iron out any frequent errors that your child makes.

Part IV: Using Word Families

Words are easier to remember when you classify or group them. All, for example, is a forgettable word until you show your child that it fits snuggly inside a whole army of words like ball, call, tall, and small . Words like right belong with fight, might, and tight , and there’s no end to the words your child can make from a spelling chunk like ou . Part Four shows you these word families.

Part V: Spelling Words in Chunks

Part V shows you how to make sure that your child figures out words methodically, starting at the beginning, moving to the middle, and finishing up at the end. Here you show your child how to gain control of even the longest of words. I talk about contractions in this section, too. Not the stork-visiting-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind, but rather the ones that squeeze words like has not into hasn’t . You see how syllables and contractions work and how to steer your child past the pitfalls that kids often fall into.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

The Part of Tens is where I boil down heaps of useful information into super easy lists. Here you get “Ten Word Families,” “Ten (or More) Group Activities that Rock,” and “Ten (Okay, Eleven) Spelling Games for Car Trips.”

Icons Used in This Book


You see this icon whenever I give information that’s really worth hanging onto.


Here’s something you DON’T want to do. It’s easy to make mistakes, so this icon warns you about land mines that cause them.


Here’s your jargon alert. Skip ahead or brace yourself for the particulars!


This icon means I’m offering a golden nugget of handy advice that I’ve probably learned firsthand.


This handy icon helps you spot the fun activities that appear throughout the book.

Where to Go from Here

If you’re ready to leap straight into action, go to Chapter 4. This chapter shows you how to muster a firm grip on short vowels not just so you can spell easy words, but so your child can spell the small chunks found inside big words later on. If you’re working with a child who’s already good with short-vowel sounds, go to Chapter 7. Long-vowel sounds also can trip up your child, so this chapter shows you exactly how to make the long-vowel thing clear. In Chapters 8 and 9, I continue talking about long vowels, because there’s plenty to find out about them. From Chapter 10 onward, I explain stuff like word families and sight words, but don’t worry, I inject fun into every task so you won’t start off enthusiastically only to wake up with a stiff neck an hour later. If you’re not in that much of a rush, you can enjoy the traditional journey through this book. Start at Chapter 1 and take a straight path all the way through the book. Although this book is arranged so you can pick and choose topics, it also follows a logical progression.

Part I

Understanding the Basics of Good Spelling

In this part . . .

You’re going to help a child spell better. Do you need to focus on single letters? Do you need to know about phonics? Do you need a new dictionary? Part I answers all of these questions and much more. It tells you why chunks of sound are key, what a good eye is, and why you need to encourage your child to always “have a go” at spelling unfamiliar words.