Activities to Teach Spelling Rules

By MollyAnne Cerreta Smith
Reading to children fosters a love of words that helps them speak and write effectively.
Reading to children fosters a love of words that helps them speak and write effectively.

Teaching spelling rules to children does not have to constitute a boring cut-and-dry lesson. By creating enjoyable activities to teach spelling rules, you can help your children learn a new skill while also having fun.

How Children Learn to Spell

According to, researchers have discovered that children do not learn to spell based on rote memory. A child's spelling memory depends on his developing knowledge of spoken and written word structure. Furthermore, visual memory and spelling memory must work in tandem for the child to begin to learn to spell. Being exposed to print helps children learn to recognize letter forms, understand that letters represent speech sounds and begin to experiment with writing. Using a dry erase board with colorful markers is an enjoyable way to let children experiment with drawing or tracing letters. Alphabet and sight word flash cards also help children become familiar with the letters that form common first words.

Foster a Love of Words

Reading with children is a crucial step in not only their comprehension of words but also their ability to express themselves effectively through speaking and writing. In an article on PBS Parents, literacy expert Julie Wood says, "I learned that instilling a love of words in children was not just an enjoyable way to focus children before their afternoon lessons. A love of words and a rich reservoir of word knowledge are essential for children." She notes that children, on average, can learn between three and 20 new words per day, adding up to between 3,000 and 7,000 new words in a year. To make reading a regular activity in your children's routine, read age-appropriate books to them and also make up your own stories. As your children get older, take turns reading to them and having them read to you.

Make Learning to Spell a Game

If your children learn best in an informal environment or if they like to be challenged, turn a spelling lesson into a game. Log on to educational formats such as or KidsHealth, which offer age-appropriate online spelling games and quizzes that help children learn to spell by sound recognition, definition and word origin. Create your own fill-in-the-blank word games or crossword puzzles using sound recognition, definition or spelling rules as clues.

Use Specific Strategies

Specific strategies help children recognize spelling rules, especially crucial ones such as how to form plurals, and add prefixes and suffixes to base words, according to Recognizing the misuse of a rule in a children's own writing, for example, leads to a lesson by helping children understand how the word was used and how it should have been used. Explain that by adding the -ed at the end, the word refers to something that happened in the past. Other strategies include drawing attention when spelling rules are used in storybooks you read together with your children, and writing out the base of a word used in past tense. For example, if you read the word "hopped" in a book, discuss with your child the base word, "hop," and explain to the child why the last letter of the word is doubled before adding the suffix and why this is not the case with a word such as "edit." Once you feel the child has grasped the comprehension of how and why specific strategies are used, ask him to explain the pattern of the rules to you or to another child to reinforce the lesson.

About the Author

MollyAnne Cerreta Smith has more than 15 years of experience as an editor and writer in print and online media. She regularly contributes to online publication, where she shares her parenting (and other!) insights with thousands of readers and writes for other local print and online publications as well.