Skip to main content

Spell success

A quick spelling test for pupils with dyslexia can be a challenge for teachers. Louise Green explains how to overcome recurring problems. Spelling tests are necessary for all children, yet they are generally not effective for dyslexic pupils. In my experience of teaching such pupils, I believe it's far more important to teach how to spell rather than what to spell and this can be done by re-thinking the way spelling tests are approached.

Dyslexic pupils have difficulty processing the spoken sound and often cannot identify all the letters within a word by listening alone, so they need other, more effective strategies. Ask the pupils to write some words how they think they are spelt, with no sense of failure if the answer is not quite right.

The correct spelling should then be given and the pupils asked to write this next to their original answer and to compare the two.

If they match, it shows that the pupil knows the word. If they do not match, the pupil should cross out all the letters that are right as these are known and can be replicated.

It is the part that does not match that should be considered and how this might be remembered in the future.

Various strategies include:

- Using mnemonics for the letters they do not know, not for the whole word.

- Looking for words within words such as fat and her in father.

- Linking it to another word or part of a word they can already spell, such as write to definite.

- Linking letter patterns to key words such as au in August - it helps to have the sound at the beginning of the word.

- Thinking about the shape of the word in the mouth and encouraging the pupil to feel what the letters are.

- Writing the letters andor syllables in different colours.

- Breaking the word into the sounds before the first vowel (onset) and the rest of the word (rime) as spilt for spilt so the pupil is able to focus on the vowel sound, often lost in dyslexic spelling.

- Looking for patterns in a word such as the motor car having two wheels - mOtOr.

- Positive encouragement; usually there are more letters right than wrong. To be told a word is wrong without any explanation is not helpful. Strate is better than stath for straight.

Using volunteered mistakes, the whole class can be asked which strategies can be applied and each pupil encouraged to use the strategies that work best for them. This is a life skill that will have permanent benefits

Louise Green is a specialist teacher of dyslexic and dyspraxic pupils in Buckinghamshire, and is the chair of Patoss, the association for teachers of pupils with severe learning difficulties. She is on the management board of the British Dyslexia Association.

Dyslexia Awareness Week runs from November 5 to 11. More information can be found at


Cards - Sometimes I Feel . by Pia Jones (Speechmark, pound;18.95). Cards illustrating positive and negative emotions, using metaphor, helping children to name, describe and discuss different emotions and feelings. Ideal for one-to-one, small group and circle time sessions. (

Book - A Volcano in My Tummy by Elaine Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney (New Society Publishers, pound;12.95). Stories, games and exercises designed to encourage children to recognise anger and learn how to deal with it constructively. (

Bookgame - Socially Speaking by Alison Schroeder (LDA, pound;19.99). Photocopiable worksheets that introduce and develop social skills, body language, friendships, managing emotions, telephone calls and shopping. Plus, the Socially Speaking Game (pound;25.99) for three to six players uses role-play to practise social skills. (

Angie Rutter.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you