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How to Help Teens Who are Struggling Spellers

Overview: Contributing writer Sara Dennis shares ideas to help struggling spellers in high school. This can be discouraging for them, but here are several options to make it better.

Do you have a teenager who is struggling with spelling? They’re probably embarrassed by their lack of skill, especially when a younger sibling spouts off the correct spelling at the drop of a hat.

Here’s how to help a high school student with spelling so they can stop feeling inadequate every time they’re asked to write.

Teens who are struggling spellers can feel discouraged when they need to write. Here are several ideas to help!

When you’re starting to help your struggling speller, remember to be gentle as you speak to them about this skill. Often, the teens are frustrated over their lack in this area and therefore easily flustered.

Ask your teenager how they’d like to learn. They may wish to use a curriculum, or they may prefer to simply work on specific words they need.

Use a Spelling Curriculum

One of the easiest ways to teach a student how to spell is to use a curriculum that’s developed for a wide range of spellers, such as Spelling Power. 

Spelling Power has you administer a series of spelling tests to your child in order to place your kid at the right level. Then each day, you give your child a spelling rule followed by a brief spelling test. Then your teenager will only study the words they don’t know how to spell. 

You can use other curricula, but I’ve found it’s best to use programs that don’t have an obvious grade level on them. Teens who are struggling spellers don’t enjoy working out of a workbook meant for elementary kids.

Non-Curriculum Options

But sometimes, you don't want to teach spelling from a curriculum. Perhaps this is because your teenager balks at the thought of using a spelling program for little kids, or you can't find one that works. Don't worry. There are many other ways to teach spelling without a curriculum!

Spelling Words from Writing Assignments

One option is to use spelling words gathered from your teenager’s writing assignments. These are words your teenager uses in their regular speech and writing, so you’re working on words that your teenager has a need and motivation to master.

Related: Homeschool High School Writing – Tips and Curriculum Reviews

Go through their writing assignments and keep a list of all misspelled words. Organize the list by spelling rule, word family, or homophone. 

  • Spelling rules are the rules such as “change the y to an i and add ed.” 
  • Word families are words that follow a similar pattern, like ran, fan, and can.
  • Homophones are words to sound the same but have different spellings. One example is: to, too, and two.

Once you’ve organized the words by type, study the words as a group to help your teenager cement the spellings into their memory. 

The first few weeks you work on spelling, you may not have enough words to organize. But as you collect misspelled words, you may find they fit into a pattern.

Spelling Words from Dictation

Another good way to gather spelling words is to dictate a passage from your child’s reading books to them. They write what you are reading to them, then you check through their paragraph to see how many words are misspelled. 

Related: Good Clean Books for Teens

As you find the words, be sure to sit down and analyze the words together. What letters make up the words? Do they follow any known spelling rules? Are there any easy ways to make remembering how to spell the word easier?

Again, you’ll want to gather the words and organize them by type to make the words easier to memorize.

More Tips for Helping Teens who are Struggling Spellers

Identify their process for learning to spell.

Before you begin working on learning how to spell specific words with your teenager, ask them how they remember information best.

Some people remember information best by visualizing it. If they see it, it’s much easier to remember the information later. 

Others learn information better through audio, so it helps to hear or chant the spelling words in order to memorize them.

Another group of people are kinesthetic and do best if they’re moving while learning information. 

As you’re working with your teenager, try different ways of memorizing spelling words. One popular method is to study the word and then read the word. Spell it out loud. Write it. And then look and read the word one last time.

So, to spell “extensions,” first you’ll study the word. It has a prefix – ex – followed by tension made plural with an s. Next, read the word: extensions. Now spell it out loud: e-x-t-e-n-s-i-o-n-s. Finally, write the word on a piece of paper and read it one last time.  

Only work on five or six words a day. Your child will make steady progress concentrating on a few words each day rather than trying to master the English language in one big bite.

Play Word Games to Improve Spelling.

Make sure that you have plenty of word games such as Scrabble, Bananagrams, crossword puzzles, word searches, and Hangman to improve spelling.

These games are a great way to build word recognition in your teenagers. Also, word games often have built-in drills within the games that will help your high school student build mastery. 

And let’s be honest, word games are fun to play. Kids of all ages remember information faster and better when it comes in the form of a game. 

You can use a free online crossword creator like CrossWordLabs to plug in the spelling words your teenager is working on learning. Add a few clues, and you’ll have a custom crossword puzzle that focuses on the words your child needs to learn.

Be encouraging and optimistic! Don't treat it like a chore.

When you’re helping teens who are struggling spellers, you can gather spelling words from a number of places. Use their writing assignments, pull words from books their reading, or use a spelling curriculum to systematically cover the English language. 

Then make sure your teenager is studying the words, writing the words, and reading the words in order to learn them. It's not uncommon for it to be necessary to use several different methods of memorizing spelling words before kids are able to master the list.

And don’t forget to have some fun and play word games with your teenager. Word games are more than a break from studying. They’re also a great way to improve your teenager’s spelling!

Sara Dennis
Latest posts by Sara Dennis (see all)

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