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Spelling simplified: Visual and auditory learning

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By Eileen Joneseducational journalist, author and literacy specialist

Educational journalist, author and literacy specialist, Eileen Jones, offers a multi-sensory approach to teaching spelling


Don’t forget to check out the exciting interactive resource that will help your class practise their spelling

English spelling has rules — but numerous exceptions. So there is no magical secret to teaching spelling. Nevertheless, recognising that children learn in different ways will simplify it. In our new series, we’ll provide a multi-sensory approach to learning: visual (seeing) and auditory (hearing) this month; tactile (touching) and kinaesthetic (moving) in February 2010.

Begin with sounds. Set up a classroom spelling area, displaying written (graphemic) representations of vowel and consonant phonemes. Play regular sound-matching games as starter activities for literacy lessons. Encourage a positive attitude, the children supporting one another and regarding spelling as fun.


  1. Magic ‘e’
  2. Word sums
  3. Spelling bee
  4. Hear the difference
  5. Look, listen and match

1. Magic ‘e’

Put the children into fours with cut-out rows of letters from Activity sheet 1, ‘Magic ‘e’ activity’. Suggest taking turns making three-letter words, the vowel always standing between two consonants (CVC words). Encourage the vowel to notice its sound as the word is said. Repeat the activity, but after a word is made, let the fourth member of the group write ‘e’ on their individual whiteboard and stand at the end. What does the four-letter word say? Can the vowel tell the group how its sound has changed? Emphasise that the final ‘e’ is responsible.

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2. Word sums

Point out words within words by asking the children to write and hold up answers on individual whiteboards to spelling subtractions:

table-t = ; ford-d= ; seat-s= ; card-d= ; fork-k= ; hand-h= ; window-ow=. Challenge them to add letters in the correct places:

and+h=; bin+ro=; far+m=; earn+l=; able+c=; can+ary=; each+t= .

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Top spelling tips!

  • Concentrate on quality not quantity, picking out a few mistakes in children’s writing with them. Challenge them to: spot the mistake; find the correct spelling in a dictionary; write it correctly; think of a way to remember it.
  • Suggest everyone keeps a spelling log, entering five words a week, personal mistakes from their writing. Over the next week, they can try to learn them.
  • Teach and encourage the ‘look, say, cover, write and check’ method of learning. (LSCWC)
  • Hold enjoyable, non-threatening small-group spelling bees.
  • For tricky, rule-breaking words, collaborate with the children on silly mnemonics to write, illustrate and display. For example: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants. (Because)
  • Boost confidence by making learning targets manageable: differentiated spelling homework; limited spelling patterns; short lists.

3. Spelling bee

Revise the sounds made by ar, oy, ow, oo (pronounced as in ‘good’). Invite the children to the virtual classroom and use the Interactive resource, ‘Spelling simplified: Visual and auditory learning’. As in a spelling bee, they should say their completed answers aloud.

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4. Hear the difference

Put the children into pairs, one writing ear on their individual whiteboard, one ea. Say words (bread, fear, hear, head, read) and allow partners a minute to confer before one displays their whiteboard. Confirm the correct choice. Give the children the word search (Activity sheet 2, ‘Hear the difference’) and ask them to complete the word search, afterwards saying and grouping the words in phoneme sacks.

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5. Listen, look and match

Display air for the children to say. Ask them to close their eyes and make a thumbs-up sign every time they hear the air sound in your oral sentences: Cinderella was small with fair hair. She had only rags to wear to the ball. Display the sentences and repeat the listening and thumbs-up activity. What do the children notice? (The ‘air’ sound can be made by other letter combinations.) Put the children into pairs, everyone with Activity sheet 3, ‘Listen, look and match’. As one partner reads the text aloud, the other listens for and circles words with the ‘air’ sound. Afterwards, do partners agree on totals?

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