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HomeLearning DifficultiesLearning Disabilities & ADHDWriting

Learning to Spell - A Challenge for Elementary Students With LD

Page 3 of 5

By Linnea C. Ehri, Ph.D.

Storing Words in Memory for Reading and Spelling

1. "The word is speech. It means talking.

2. I stretch the word and count the sounds (phonemes) on my fingers. I hear four sounds (s-p-ee-ch).

3. I see six letters.

4. There are/are not the same number of letters as sounds because it takes two letters to spell two of the sounds (phonemes) in the word.

5. I write the letters in sound boxes (a horizontal row of squares) to show how the 6 letters match up to the 4 sounds.  s p ee ch 

(If relevant) Some of the letters don't fit because* _________________________

6. This is what I know about the vowel. The name of the letter E matches the vowel sound in the word. It is a long vowel so it is spelled with two letters. 

7. Another word I know with the same vowel sound and spelling is see

8. (Student writes each word studied from memory.)

* In analyzing words in Step 5, students will encounter some words containing letters that don't fit because they do not represent a phoneme by themselves or as part of a digraph, for example, the "e" in cake. Students are taught to explain this and to write the letter smaller in size in an adjacent sound box.

Adapted and reprinted from Beginning Word Detectives, ©1966 by Benchmark School Press.  Used with permission.

Some Common Spelling Difficulties

In order to help a student overcome spelling difficulties, a teacher must first understand exactly what the student's particular problems are. One way to figure this out is simply to ask the student to spell words. His errors should provide the teacher valuable insights. For example:

  • When a student has trouble remembering some letters in a word that he can read easily, it may indicate that he "slights" those letters when he reads the word, relying instead on the initial letter and the context in which the word appears, to "read" the word. Or it may be that the letters used to spell the word don't conform to his knowledge of letter-sound correspondences, so they are hard for him to remember.
  • When a student has trouble figuring out a plausible spelling of a word he can say, it may indicate that he has trouble hearing each separate phoneme, or that he lacks sufficient knowledge of letters that represent those phonemes, particularly vowels.

When students have not mastered the system of letter-sound correspondences, they often try to compensate by using reading and spelling strategies that may make things worse. For example:

  • When he reads, he will tend to guess an unfamiliar word based on context cues and by reading just some of the letters in the word. As a result, he doesn't notice or remember much about the other letters.
  • When he writes a word, he represents a few sounds correctly but he overlooks other sounds, and he sometimes adds extra letters unrelated to any sounds in the word. If he repeats and remembers his misspellings, it may be harder to learn the correct spellings.

These problems often characterize the spelling struggles of a student with LD. If the student persists in using these ineffective strategies as he moves through the grades, it will severely limit his development as a reader and a speller. Even if the student is receiving remedial reading instruction, unless spelling instruction is emphasized as well, he may improve in reading but his spelling difficulties may still linger.


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