Helping Pupils to Improve their Spelling

Next year, the spelling abilities of pupils in Year 6 will be tested by the new English grammar, punctuation and spelling test and GCSE marking is being changed to include marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar. But what’s behind this push, and how can we help children to master spelling?

Many children – and adults – struggle to get to grips with English spelling because of its irregularities, which are the result of its etymology. The English language is comprised of words with origins from across the globe (the word ‘etymology’, for example, is derived from Greek via Latin), which have evolved and been adapted to suit different writers , until they were set down in dictionaries – and even then with variations.

English is complicated but fortunately, on the whole, there is method to the madness, and children can be taught strategies for reading and spelling the majority of words, while needing to understand that some words simply need to be remembered because they don’t follow the general rules.

The government now favours ‘synthetic phonics’ for teaching primary school children to spell. The method teaches children how spoken words are composed of sounds called ‘phonemes’ (e.g. “sh” or “oo”), and how the letters in words correspond to these phonemes. To spell a word, children are instructed to identify all the phonemes in a word and use these to spell out or ‘make’ the word. Irregular words are referred to as ‘tricky words’, ‘sight words’ or ‘camera words’ because children are taught that they do not follow the usual rules but need to be remembered by sight, like a photo.

According to the Department for Education, too many children are not achieving a firm foundation in grammar, punctuation and spelling at the end of Key Stage 2. The English grammar, punctuation and spelling test, and the focus on phonics, is designed to address this, although opponents, including the former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, argue that the tests and phonics-intensive teaching may backfire by reducing children’s enjoyment of reading.

If there is less time for reading for pleasure purposes alone in the classroom and at home in the run up to the tests, parents can help children to remember that reading and writing can be pleasurable by turning off TV and finding books and writing games that can be enjoyed for fun.

Home-School Tutoring’s literacy tutors understand that, while targets need to be met, learning should always be enjoyable, and learning to spell is no different. The phonics approach to reading and spelling does not have to preclude fun—in fact, using phonics to spell out nonsense words can be great fun in a supportive and non-pressurised environment, especially when combined with other interesting reading and writing activities.

As well as helping many primary-school children to improve their spelling, Home-School Tutoring has worked with many secondary-school pupils who have asked for support with spelling and other writing difficulties prior to GCSEs and A Levels, as well as many adults who have not been confident about their spelling and literacy skills.

Our literacy tutors have also worked with children and adults of all ages with dyslexia who have required additional support in learning to spell.

Home-School Tutoring was established in 1984 and has offered high-quality private tutoring for over 25 years.  Our registration procedure ensures that all our English and literacy tutors are suitably qualified before references are taken up and an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is made.

Margaret Sweetland, the UK Proprietor of Home-School Tutoring, says: “Our home tutors have proven invaluable to many pupils, as well as a number of adults, who have needed  some extra one-to-one attention and one-to-one attention to master spelling.”

Home-School Tutoring’s Area Advisors are available to provide free advice to parents considering home tutoring, and can match pupils with the literacy or English tutor best suited to their needs. Parents can find contact details for their local Area Advisor using the Tutor Search facility.

Teachers and specialists interested in joining Home-School Tutoring as a literacy or English tutor can find more information by visiting Become a Tutor.