How to Teach Spelling So Kids Will Remember Child1st Publications
Feb 09, 2022

How to Teach Spelling So Kids Will Remember

Many types of learners cannot memorize and retain facts that involve symbols. (This includes memorizing words or math facts, too!) They might be able to retain the letters and sequence of a word for a few minutes, but 30 minutes later, the information will have disappeared from their brains.

Sarah Major

Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. By design, Sarah’s approach transforms symbol-heavy spelling content into whole-brain materials that engage all learners through an emphasis on understanding letter sounds rather than memorization.

A common concern for parents and teachers is that even when children score perfectly on their spelling tests, they don’t always carry that spelling knowledge into their reading and writing. While they memorize and write their spelling words for the test, their new-found knowledge does not transfer in “real” reading and writing activities.

Another concern is children who find it nearly impossible to memorize spelling words and consistently fail their spelling tests. These learners become so discouraged–maybe even feeling like they just can’t learn or aren’t “smart.”

The inability to memorize is not a learning flaw at all! Many children are right-brained–they learn better through visual, kinesthetic, or tactile techniques–and memorizing sequences of letters is just not in their wheelhouse. However, they can learn successfully and quickly when instructional activities connect with their right-brained strengths.

This is where Child1st comes in. We have done the hard work of designing lessons that are a natural fit for these gifted children for you. We have written these lessons in a learning language that works for all kids, whether they are learning in the classroom or at home.

Why teach spelling

  1. Stronger spellers show more proficiency in writing. They spend less time considering “how to spell” a word and more time writing meaningful content.
  2. Stronger spellers demonstrate stronger reading skills. Their ability to recognize words makes reading sessions more fluent and productive.

    And the benefits continue!
  3. Spelling proficiency is part of a strong foundation for developing reading and writing skills. Reading and writing are two sides of the same literacy coin. Readers are exposed to more words, expanding their vocabularies, and can use that vocabulary to write with more precision and creativity. That spelling component plays an important role in supporting a learner’s overall literacy skills.

Teaching spelling with right-brained instructional techniques helps students with a preference for, or strengths in, right-brained learning make better sense of language.

Why teaching spelling hasn’t always worked

Most of us are probably familiar with spelling lists and spelling tests. Every week brought a new list of spelling words. We probably wrote those words out three or five times each, studied the list, and took a test at the end of the week to assess our spelling progress.

Unfortunately, this skill, drill, and test method didn’t work for many of us and still doesn’t work very well for today’s young students. Some learners cannot memorize and retain facts that involve symbols, whether those symbols make up words or math facts. At least not for long-term retention. They might be able to remember the letters and sequence of a word for a few minutes, but 30 minutes later, the information will have disappeared from their brains. For some of you reading this now, you might feel like you just solved a mystery. You may have done well when you studied your spelling list and have been left wondering why you ended up with poor grades on the test –or maybe you aced your tests as long as you could do a last-minute review, but still struggle to spell some of those spelling-list words correctly today!

There are reasons for this temporary-at-best-retention:

  1. Memorizing words for a test is different from applying spelling to reading or writing. Some learners can memorize a list of words for a test, but cannot apply that “learning” beyond the test. In other words, these students show strong memorization skills but haven’t truly made meaning of the words memorized and cannot apply them to authentic reading and writing situations. The information they acquired through memorization was not stored in their long-term memory or acquired within a meaningful context.The goal of studying was passing a test, not learning to use the words in writing.
  2. Traditional spelling lessons require children to learn a sequence of letter names. We’ve all heard children repeating word spellings to prepare for a test or copying their spelling lists repeatedly. Sometimes, children are taught to clap or snap for consonants and vowels as a way to bring in a tactile component while they chant each letter. But even with the tactile and chanting components, the children are still just repeating a sequence of letter names! Words are made of sounds you can hear and write– not just letter names to memorize.

Now that you’ve heard what’s wrong with standard spelling instruction, it’s time to get to the good news. There are better, much more productive ways to teach spelling. Your learner can become a more successful speller and experience the reading and writing benefits that come with that skill.

How to teach spelling so they will remember

  1. Focus on the SOUNDS in words rather than letter names. Focusing on the sounds letters or groups of letters make gives those letter sequences visual and aural power and puts them in a context. Rather than looking at individual symbols, students experience the sight-sound-meaning connection.
  2. Group words with similar spelling patterns together in a list. For example, instead of picking a theme for a word list, such as months of the year, choose a list of words that share a sound spelling, such as Long I spelled IGH. Students have repeated exposure to the visual and sound cues of IGH. They can see how the spelling and sound of IGH apply to a variety of words, and when they hear and see that cue going forward, they will recognize it with efficiency.

Bad list

3. Capitalize on the child’s amazing visual memory. Present the words on the spelling list in a column, perhaps even lining up letters representing the shared sounds. This format will give the learners a strong visual of what the words have in common–they will recognize the pattern. Patterns help all of us–children and adults–with the learning process, with critical thinking, and with finding meaning.

Good list

4. Use color and get your learner’s hands involved! Once your words are in an organized column, have students use a crayon or highlighter to color only the letters the words have in common. You can take on this task as a class, giving each student a turn, or reproduce your list on a small scale, giving each student their own copy. Or–you can do both! Do the first run-through as a class and have students reinforce the pattern recognition on their own.

Kids remember spelling                        

5. Point out that the highlighted letters all say the (long) I. By learning the letters in that sound, students have already learned to spell most of the word. Then, help them hear additional word sounds. For example, in the word HIGH, there is only one more sound to learn “H.” For FIGHT there are a total of three sounds. Instead of memorizing four, five, or six letters per word, students are simply recognizing and recreating two to three sounds.    

Sentence Illustration

6. To integrate spelling into reading and writing more meaningfully, have the children make up sentences that include the words on their list. Rather than have them create a stand alone sentence for each word, have them try to cram as many IGH words into one sentence as possible! See the example above.

Night sky

7. Finally, ask the child to illustrate their sentences to help them store these new words and learning in their long-term memory.

How to Teach Right-Brained Phonics & Spelling

Our methods are ready to pick up and use immediately!


The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns, 3rd Ed.

  • All your spelling lists are made for you.
  • All the sound spellings in our language are taught.
  • Each sound has activities covering 2 to 4 difficulty levels.
  • The book is ready for use by any learners–from Kindergarteners to adults!
  • Just copy the page you need.

Use this method for teaching spelling and help your child become a better writer, a better reader, and love learning in general!

This approach to teaching spelling is research-based (see Group 4) and has proved to bring kids to grade level in reading and beyond!


 All Sound Spelling Teaching & Display Cards have corresponding lessons in The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns. Or save by getting the Right-Brained Phonics & Spelling Kit.

Sound Spelling Teaching & Display Cards

Watch the video to see why this approach is so effective

Our spelling and phonics products take symbol-heavy content and transform it into whole-brain resources that reach and engage all learners–visual, kinesthetic/tactile, and auditory– at one time. 

Find products especially designed for your visual and kinesthetic learners




SnapWords®: Sight Words & Explicit Phonics 

SnapWords® are a wonderful right-brained tool that combine sight word recognition and explicit phonics instruction in one resource.

IGH SnapWords®, Child1st Publications

Since its inception in 2006, Child1st has emerged as the leader in providing resources that parents and teachers alike can pick up and use. By their very design, Child1st resources meet the needs of children without the teacher-adult having to receive special training.  We exist so that every child has the opportunity to learn in their own learning language. 

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