Skip to content

Spelling Strategies

What do children need to become strong spellers?

Read on to find out more about National Curriculum spelling expectations and to discover the most effective spelling strategies to help your children become confident spellers.

Spelling Strategies KS1 KS2 transcription composition writing reading word recognition reading fluency comprehension

Why is spelling important?

The teaching of spelling, reading and writing is intimately linked. So, a good grasp of spelling will help children to communicate effectively in all areas of the curriculum. 

Developing a robust understanding of spelling plays a key role in enhancing children's:

  • word recognition (by enabling them to decode (sound) and encode (spell) words correctly);
  • language acquisition (through helping children to make connections between new words and their existing vocabulary);
  • reading fluency and comprehension (as children can spend less time and cognitive effort on decoding individual words and instead focus on examining meaning);
  • writing transcription and composition (by ensuring that the children's ideas are conveyed clearly and effectively).

Spelling in EYFS

The teaching of spelling begins in reception with the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics (SSP). SSP schemes teach children to recognise letters (graphemes) and their associated sound (phonemes) according to a set sequence.

Phonics instruction should be regular and routine and is often supported by the use of visual aids, such as flashcards, and hands-on, muti-sensory activities, such as building words with magnetic letters. 

Phonic segmenting and blending are two essential skills that help children to become both proficient readers and competent spellers as they help children understand the relationship between sounds and letters (known as sound-spelling correspondence or grapheme-phoneme correspondence) and how to manipulate them to form words. 

Segmenting refers to the process of breaking a word down into individual sounds or ‘phonemes’.

When segmenting the word “pat”, children would identify the three phonemes /p/, /a/, and /t/.

Blending refers to the process of combining individual sounds or phonemes to produce a word.

When blending the phonemes /p/, /a/, and /t/ , children would form the word “pat”.

A strong foundation in phonic segmenting and blending makes it easier for children to decode (read) new words as well as to encode (spell) words correctly and linking children's phonemic awareness to spelling instruction should continue well into KS1 and KS2.

How is spelling taught in KS1 and KS2?

Schools use a range of different methods and activities to help children learn how to spell. 

Spelling instruction in KS1

In Key Stage 1 (KS1), spelling instruction continues to be phonics based, and also includes spelling rules and patterns, along with common exceptions and variations.

Regular practise is key to retaining sound-spelling correspondences and practise must include opportunities for transcription as well as word-recognition to be most productive.

Spelling instruction in KS2

In Key Stage 2 (KS2), spelling instruction continues to emphasise the relationships between sounds and letters, even when the relationships are unusual. In addition, children, begin to learn a wider range of spelling rules and patterns as well as an increasing number of homophones and relevant punctuation.

The National Curriculum also sets out the expectation that children should be able to spell words correctly and consistently, use a range of strategies to spell new and unfamiliar words, and use a range of resources to check and improve their spelling. 

Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check

One of the most common, and effective, spelling strategies for both KS1 and KS2 children is “Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check” because it involves word recognition, transcription, structure and repetition - which all support decoding and encoding. 

For Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check, children are typically given a list of spelling words to enter into a template. For each spelling, they first look at the word and then say it aloud so they can hear the phonemes involved. After that, they cover the word and select and write the graphemes that correspond to the phonemes they heard in the word. Finally, they check their spelling. This process can be repeated until children have successfully learnt the spellings.

However, children’s engagement can dip if this is the only activity you have in your toolkit. So, what other strategies can you use in the classroom and, crucially, which of these are proven to be the most effective accoding to the latest educational research?

Effective spelling strategies across KS1 and KS2

Effective spelling strategies across both KS1 and KS2 combine phonics instruction with engaging and memorable learning activities.

Our top tips for effective spelling instruction are to: 

  1. Incorporate games and activities into spelling lessons to keep students active and engaged in their learning.
  2. Use a multi-sensory approach to strengthen learning retention and recall.
  3. Use aids such phoneme maps and sound buttons as these can improve children's understanding of word structure and sound-spelling correspondences.
  4. Use dual coding as studies show that pairing verbal and visual information helps children create a stronger memory connections and enhances their understanding.
  5. Integrate spelling instruction into reading and writing tasks, alongside stand alone instruction (as contextual activities involving sound-spelling recognition and transcription are more impactful than sound-spelling recognition alone).
  6. Teach metacognition techniques which encourage children to take ownership of, and to tailor, their learning experience.

Multi-sensory spelling strategies for KS1

Incorporating pictures, sounds and movement into your spelling instruction will enable children to engage their senses as they learn. This helps children better retain and recall information as our brains are primed to attend to, and prioritise, multi-sensory information.

Some engaging and effective multi-sensory strategies, include:

Letter formations: Encourage children to practice forming letters with their fingers in sand or through shaving cream or to trace and wipe off letters you have drawn onto a whiteboard.

Word Walk: Write words on cards and place them around the room. Children walk around the classroom to find the words, segment and blend the sounds. This activity involves physical movement, auditory processing of sounds, and visual recognition of words.

Say and Play: Create movements or gestures for children to do while they say sounds or words. 

Sound Treasure Hunt: Provide children with a list of words, and have them walk around the classroom looking for objects that start with each sound in the words. This activity involves listening and speaking, as well as visual recognition.

Sound Sprint: Write letters on the whiteboard, or create a large display, and ask children to race to touch a letter and say its sound when you call it out. This activity involves physical movement and auditory processing of letter sounds.

Spelling Table Tennis: ask children to take it in turns to bat each sound from a given word to each other, in order until they have spelt the word between them. This involves auditory processing and physical movement to keep engagement high.

Spelling Bingo: Create a bingo board with a selection of words. Children listen to the words called out and try to match these to the words on their bingo board. This activity involves listening and visual word recognition. 

Letter Chain: Write a word on the whiteboard and ask children to take turns adding a letter to it, saying the sounds of each letter as they add it. This activity is similar in nature to hangman. This activity involves verbalisation of sounds and visual recognition of letters and words.

Word Clouds: Provide or ask children to write a given word and draw a cloud around it. Ask children to sound out each word, and fill the inside of the cloud with pictures or symbols that represent the sounds. This dual coding activity helps students visualise the sounds in words and make connections between sounds and symbols, and has been proven to boost retention and recall.

Spelling Strategies for KS2

In Key Stage 2 (KS2), children should further develop their spelling knowledge and improve their accuracy by employing their phonemic awareness to spell new and unfamiliar words and to check and correct spellings within their written work.

Explicitly teaching the meaning and spelling of word parts, through activities such as identifying and manipulating root words, prefixes, and suffixes, is critical. This has been shown to help children decode and encode unfamiliar words as children search their spellings knoweldge bank to make links with spellings and sounds.

Strategies which have been proven to be succesful in developing children's spelling skills in KS2, include:

Mnemonics: creating memory aids to help remember spellings e.g. RHYTHM: Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving;

Word sorts: categorising words based on spelling patterns, sounds or number of syllables;

Word games: such as boggle, bananagrams or scrabble which ask children to draw on their understanding of sound-spelling correspondences and spelling patterns without even realising it;

Word pyramids: asking children to transcribe their spelling words, starting with just one letter and building the word by adding one letter at a time each time they write the word on a new line;

Vowel spotlight: children transcribe their spelling words using one colour for vowels and another for consonants.
vowel (3 consonants 2 vowels)   This technique can help children who are prone to vowel deletion;      

Word parts: children write out their words using a different colour for each syllable.  
an-i-mal  veg-e-ta-ble   min-er-al;

Rainbow words: children write out their spelling words to make a rainbow - each letter is represented by a different colour e.g. rainbow;

Word play:  children explore how many words within words can they find within their given spelling words (this can be a useful starting point for exploring root words) e.g. expression = express press ion on ;

Dual Coding: Children create a visual symbol or picture to match given words.The visual cues can help learners remember the correct spelling or definition of a word.

Oral spelling: encourage children to say their spellings out loud to reinforce sound-spelling correspondences. This is also a great way to warm up the children for their spelling instruction;

Silly sentences: ask children to incorpate their words into silly sentences and challenge them to see how many of their spelling words they can include.

Children smiling at each other

Independent Spelling Strategies

The spelling strategies outlined above are great for quality-first spelling instruction across KS1 and KS2. However, the most effective strategy to help children become confident and effective spellers is to develop children's metacognition and encourage them to take active ownership of their learning.

The following strategies will help your children to make the most out of their spelling practise and can be implemented as part of your regular spelling routines:

1. Teach children self-reflection

Do children know a) how to identify and focus on the words that are most difficult for them and b) do they know which strategies are most effective for them?

Try introducing children to word ranking, where they rank their spelling words from the easiest to the most difficult to spell, log these in a personal dictionary and focus their spelling practise on the more difficult words.

Let children explore different spelling strategies and decide which help them to best recall their difficult spellings. Could this be creating mnemonics, dual coding or oral rehearsal with a partner?

2. Work with children's phonemic awareness

Show children how to identify the part of a word they children find tricky to sound out or spell and ask children to focus in on these in their spelling practise.

For example, children could underline the tricky part of the word, write it in a different coloured pen, use larger letters or bubble writing to make this section stand out or they could repeat this/these unit(s) orally.

This can highlight the need for a quick phonics or handwriting intervention.

3. Provide opportunities for regular self-reflective spelling practise

This will enable children to apply these strategies and work on areas for improvement routinely. This works well as morning work or after lunch.

These strategies can help to identify phonics gaps or weaknesses, focus children’s attention where it is most needed and avoid wasting time on elements that have already embedded.  

Spelling Assessment  

At the end of Year One, pupils take part in the Phonics Check to assess their ability to read words using their phonics knowledge. The assessment asks children to read a mixture of real words and nonsense (or "alien") words to ensure that pupils have developed a secure foundation in phonics.

Children's spelling capabilities are also tested within the Standardised Assessement Test for Spelling at the end of KS1, and again at the end of KS2. Both papers include 20 target words which involve a range of spelling strategies and phonemic awareness. These are presented within 20 contextualised sentences which are read to pupils by the test administrator.

FREE Year 1 Spelling Words List

FREE Year 2 Spelling Words List

FREE KS2 Spelling Words List

FREE Spelling Objectives Y1-6

LESSON PACK: Holes Non-Chronological Reports