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English advice

Top 10 strategies for helping your child to spell

7+, English advicejudith aitken

Helping your child to become a super speller is no mean feat for teachers and families. At times it can seem like that ‘lightbulb’ moment is never going to happen, and too often spelling practice can become a laborious task.

To save your sanity (we’re talking to children as well as parents and educators here!), we’ve collated a list of our favourite suggestions for turning spelling revision into F-U-N! These short, sharp tasks - aimed at KS1 children - can be shoe horned into the daily routine, and with any luck your children will develop their spelling skills as well as having a good old time!

In true ‘Top of the Pops"‘ style (shout out to those who appreciate the reference), here are our top 10 suggestions for creating super spellers!

10. ‘Code words’ poster

To the naked eye, it may look like merely a laminated sheet of paper, but oh no. This poster is so much more. Encourage your child to channel their inner Jason Bourne by use their spelling words as secret codes to enter and exit the classroom or house. Dictate one of their spelling words and ask your child to both orally spell the word and write it down on the poster. Successful spellers will be granted entry. (Disclaimer: we are not suggesting that children are banished from said classroom/house forever if their spy spelling skills aren’t yet up to scratch).

9. Read all about it!


When learning the first 100 high frequency words, encourage your child to become a detective and ‘hunt’ for the words in newspapers and magazines. Providing a magnifying glass helps to give this activity that little edge, not to mention the fact that it is an essential piece of detective kit. Time your child as well, how quickly are they able to find a list of 10 words? No pressure, kids! For a nosy at the full list of high frequency words, follow this link: http://www.highfrequencywords.org/first-100-high-frequency-word-lists.html

8. Buzz off!

fly swatter.jpg

You know that time is tight when the fly swatter comes out! If you only have a spare 5 minutes to work on spelling, jot down your child’s spelling words on post it notes and spread them across the table. Your child needs to ‘swat’ the word that you shout out, then challenge themselves by turning the post it over and either spelling the word aloud or writing it down.

7. Make it sensory.


There are so many ideas online about how to make spelling a sensory experience. From writing in shaving foam, to making words from playdough, using the senses really does help to ingrain spelling patterns in children’s minds. Our new favourite idea involves paint and a zip lock bag. Squeeze a small amount of paint into the bag, zip, and voila! Your child has an instantly erasable surface to work on their weekly spellings.

6. Mnemonics (funnily enough, not an easy word it itself to spell)


We challenge you to find a classroom where the word ‘because’ isn’t spelt using a variant of this mnemonic. Creating a silly mnemonic on the school run can really help to jog children’s memory of how to spell a word. What’s more, by creating their own mnemonics, children are using their imagination and are receiving a well earned rest from endless rote learning strategies. It is also a proven strategy for those who find reading difficult or for children with dyslexia.

5. Repetition

Sometimes there is just no getting away from the fact that some words just need to be learnt off by heart. Good old fashioned repetition needs to be relied on here, but there are ways of making this an exciting spelling strategy. Try playing the game ‘ZAP!’ Create multiple flashcards of the words that your child is finding tricky, and also create some flashcards that simply say ‘ZAP!’. Place them in a container, give them a good shake and take it in turns to choose a card. If your child pulls out a spelling word, they need to turn the card over and spell it aloud. If successful, they can keep the card. The game continues in this fashion until a ‘ZAP’ card is drawn. When this happens, all cards are put back in the container and the game starts again.

We have created our very own spelling games pack with this game included. Our version of ‘ZAP’ links directly to the National Curriculum Year 3 and 4 statutory spelling list https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239784/English_Appendix_1_-_Spelling.pdf which is regularly used in 7+ and 8+ assessments. Purchase your instantly downloadable spelling pack today via our website : https://www.wicked-smart.co.uk/new-products/7-spelling-pack


 4. Chunk it up

When learning to read and write, the very first thing children are taught is to recognise phonemes - what sounds different letters make. Try utilising this strategy when helping your child to spell. To jazz it up a little, write the tricky words on A3 paper then physically cut them into chunks e.g. SH, O, P

If your child is a fan of the outdoors, use giant chalk to write the word on the ground and draw lines between the letters to show how it can be segmented. Another idea is to use lego blocks with sounds written on the front, where children can literally build the word chunk by chunk. Also a favourite for the livelier breed of children is to use hoola hoops, where children jump into the hoops to spell the word, shouting out the sounds each time. Segmenting sounds then blending them together is the foundation of all literacy, so it might help your child to go back to basics and give this strategy a whirl!

3. Highlight it

Unfortunately we’re not talking about honey golden streaks and a blow dry here, instead we’re thinking more along the lines of spelling patterns. It’s best to tackle spelling by looking at one pattern or rule at a time. For example, one week you may be revising words containing ‘ay’ or ‘o_e’. Write down a list of words and give your child a set amount of time to find and highlight words containing the same pattern. Up the ante by writing out the words, but leaving spaces where the sound should be. Can you child crack the code and recognise which sound is missing?

2. Rely on the iPad

Too often parents are made to feel guilty for allowing their child ‘screen time’. We say go for it! There are so many fantastic educational apps available now, and many of them focus on the development of spelling. Our favourites at the moment are:

  1. Make it purposeful

    An obvious one to finish with, but potentially the most important thing to consider when working on spelling with your child. Like anything, if the task you are working on has a genuine purpose, it increases the likelihood of becoming intrinsically motivated, and this strategy allows children to see how spelling is used in our everyday lives. To make spelling practice purposeful, there may need to be some slight ‘engineering’ on the parents’ side - little white lies if you will! For example, show your child the shopping list you made (littered with spelling mistakes) and see if they can help you fix the multiple errors.

    Other ideas including writing for an audience, where children begin to realise that in order for information to be understood, it needs to be spelt correctly - perhaps a weekly menu of what’s for dinner, a poster of house rules or writing letters or emails to family members.

    We love ‘Kidblog’, where children are able to create their own blog, and what’s even better is that teachers have access to the blogs and are able to safely share the accounts with other students and schools.

    Spelling workbooks do have their place, but opening your children’s eyes to the fact that spelling is a ‘real life’ thing, and not just a boring classroom exercise is perhaps the most important lesson we can teach.


As ever, we would love to hear of the spelling strategies that you find most successful with your children and pupils! Please get in touch to share your ideas by commenting below or emailing us at Judith@wicked-smart.co.uk

Happy spelling!

Get it write! Our 5 favourite books for teaching writing

English advicejudith aitken


Creative writing is often assessed in school entrance exams, but sometimes it’s difficult for teachers to find the best strategy for their pupils. With so many teaching and learning styles to adopt and an infinite amount of advice on how to teach the subject, we decided to whittle it down to the five authors that we are currently fan-girling over.

1. Pie Corbett


The king of storytelling, Pie Corbett is the creator of the infamous story mountain. He encourages children to structure their stories with a beginning, build up, problem, resolution and ending. He also coined the phrase “magpie” – where children are taught to use inspiration they find in books, or from the modelled work of the teacher.

Corbett has created a mini sign language for storytelling, where children from a very young age can associate certain hand gestures with commonly used story phrases. Using this method sees children from as young as Reception including “once upon a time”, “suddenly”, “fortunately” and “finally” in their own stories. Way to go, Pie!

2. Lucy Calkins


In her book “The art of teaching writing”, Calkins favours the writing workshop approach, where a piece of writing is developed over the course of a few weeks. She suggests spending a few days each on the following: generating ideas, planning, writing, editing and celebrating the finished article. She also discusses the importance of “mini-lessons”, where specific skills are developed, such as creating an effective story ending or how to add dialogue to a story.

It’s no secret that Calkins loves a Post-it note – use it to mark favourite pieces of writing, to jot down suggested edits or to provide feedback to peers.

3. Sue Cowley


Perhaps our favourite ever book title, “Getting the buggers to write” offers practical, easy to implement strategies – a real dream for busy teachers! In order to get our pupils to write, and continue writing, they must be truly engaged and motivated. She makes the vital link between reading and writing and suggests that if we want our pupils to become confident writers, we really need to nail the basics of spelling, punctuation and grammar. A solid foundation is key to the development of a strong writer.

4. Alison Wilcox



Alison Wilcox – we love you. As teachers we understand the importance of modelling writing, but sometimes it can be hard to write an incredibly descriptive, powerful piece ourselves! Descriptosaurus comes to the rescue with pages upon pages of descriptive words and phrases, and even better, they are organised into specific genres and categories! For example, there are entire pages on describing animals, settings or people… the list is endless. A real life saver for those that need amazing ideas FAST.

PS – the suggested words and phrases can be printed and used as word banks for children too!

5. Liz Chamberlain


A fantastic option for trainee teachers or NQTs, Chamberlain explains that we need to stop viewing writing as an isolated subject. Instead, we need to encompass writing, reading, speaking and listening as a whole. She champions a cross curricular approach, slotting writing into all curricular areas and giving writing a real purpose. She also sees the importance between the work done at school and how that can be continued at home. The use of story sacks are a wonderful way of discussing writing at home, making the connection between reading and writing, all the while developing children’s engagement and enjoyment of writing from a young age.


How to get your primary students writing

English advicejudith aitken


“She just won’t put pen to paper”.

“It’s a shame as she has such great ideas”.

“Boys – they just don’t like writing”.

Comments like this can be heard up and down the country, whether children are in Reception or Year 6. We want to tackle these comments head on and have created a list of suggestions to get them all writing! (And yes, we refuse to believe that gender has an impact on your ability to enjoy the writing process).

1. All you need is a little mix

Unfortunately, the girl band won’t be able to help you here, but a range of writing materials will. Create a writing area in your classroom or house, where children can independently choose from a variety of writing tools. Offer pens, pencils, crayons, poster paper, envelopes, cards, post its, shopping lists – anything you can possibly think of that will inspire your child to write.

2. What’s the point?

Writing needs to have a purpose. Write a thank you letter then take a trip to the post office, write a wish list of things you would like to see and do, design and write a poster advertising the dance show you will be performing (in your living room to an audience of Mum and Dad) or write a postcard to your family members, describing your holiday adventures.

3. Strike a pose

Children need to see writing happening all around them, and as adults we should be modelling writing at every opportunity. Enlisting their help in writing the shopping list or writing an email can assist children in recognising the value of writing.

4. Don’t let SPAG bog you down

When reading reluctant writers’ work, it’s important to look past spelling and grammatical errors and focus instead on the fact that they have put their ideas onto paper. Generally speaking, it’s best to have one focus during a writing lesson as this will help children to stay on task and avoid becoming disheartened.

5. Treat them as authors

If they’ve written anything at all, then they are a fully-fledged author. Children should see themselves in this light as it avoids the notion that writing is only for adults, or those who have wonderfully descriptive language. If your child has written a particularly creative piece, laminate it or frame it to show them that their work is valued and is something to be proud of. Publishing work by putting it beside the other books on the bookshelf will further reinforce a sense of ownership and pride.

6. Writing isn’t just about creativity

Parents and teachers alike can tend to focus on the development of creative writing, but other forms of writing should be given as much attention. If your child has a tendency to be, shall we say ‘bossy’, then they may be excellent at instructional writing where they put their knowledge of officious verbs to good use. Alternatively, your child may be a budding politician and be a dab hand at persuasive writing. Children who enjoy Art or Humanities may prefer report writing, where they can combine their research skills will annotated drawings.

7. Quit playing games…

Please don’t listen to the Backstreet boys. Never stop playing games when it comes to developing writing. If your child has a restricted vocabulary, “BINGO” synonym games are great. Similarly, “Guess who” is a super way of adding description to characters. Pie Corbett is one of our favourite writing experts who lists a wide variety of games on his website: http://www.talk4writing.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Jumpstart-Imitation-Games.pdf