6 Tips for Teaching Spelling to Students with Learning Disabilities

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As a special education teacher, I work with students with a wide range of abilities.  The majority of the kids on my caseload have learning disabilities and many of them struggle greatly with both decoding and spelling.  Here are a few things I do in my groups to help my students with learning disabilities succeed in learning spelling words:

1.    Explicitly teach word patterns and rules – I have found that it is so very important to teach (and re-teach!) word patterns and rules.  Kids need to know the reason behind why you use certain word patterns – why you would begin a word with c instead of k, or why you use tch instead of ch.  I place posters in my classroom with each word pattern we focus on so that my students can use them as a resource when they are reading and spelling independently and in a group. 


2.  Read, write, and talk about words with the patterns you are working on ALL THE TIME!!  Keep returning to these words, even after you have already given the spelling test.  Whenever I teach a lesson on a word pattern, we not only spell lots of words with that pattern, but we also read them on lists, in sentences, and in passages.  Whenever we have a book or passage we’re reading, I have my students highlight words on certain pages that have that same pattern.  This makes my students aware that they see the pattern all the time – not just on a spelling list. 


3.  Use a multisensory approach – When practicing spelling words, I frequently have my students spell the words in sand, air write, or write on their arm with their finger.  You can also have them write in different colors, use finger-paint, write the word with a fun design, use play dough, write on whiteboards, use their fingers to write on the table, or any other way to get them interested in practicing their spelling. 


4.  Have your students sort words by word pattern – I am always trying to make lessons into games for my students, so we frequently do word sorts in my classroom.  I often give my students word cards with the spelling pattern left off.  The kids then have to think about the word pattern rule, add it into the box, and then sort it under the correct heading.   You can also have your students sort words in their journals – have them create two columns with headings (i.e. c, k), say a word to them and have them write the word under the correct heading.


5.  Whenever possible, give immediate feedback.  This has been so key for my students.  I try to correct any misspellings as soon as possible, as well as praise correct spelling with a star.  When a student has spelled a word incorrectly, I underline the part of the word that was incorrect, have them fix it, and then re-write it correctly next to or above it.  I then put a star next to it for positive reinforcement.   



6.  Hold your students accountable for spelling words with the patterns/rules you’ve previously taught.  My students are expected to spell words correctly in their writing if we’ve already worked on that specific pattern.  I do not take off points for words with patterns we have not worked on yet (or for sight words that were not previously taught or on our word wall).  However, they must go back and fix any words that are incorrect by using the resources around the room or in their journals. 


Here is what a typical word pattern lesson looks like for my students (This may take 3+ days to get through everything as I only have my students for a short time each day and we also work on many other things!):

Day 1:
1.   Read the list of words
2.  Highlight the word pattern – the kids take a highlighter and highlight the pattern in the word.  Depending on the rule, I may have them use two different colors (i.e. highlight tch in blue, highlight ch in yellow)
3.  Identify the rule (i.e. tch, ch)
4.  Have the students circle any words they don’t know the meaning of and then discuss (it’s so important that they understand the words so that they are meaningful to them!)
5.  If you have some students who finish early (or just need another activity) – have them draw a line between any rhyming words.
6.  Read sentences with words with the spelling pattern – highlight these words
7.  In their journals, I give my kids words to spell that have this word pattern – I say a word, they spell it, and then I give immediate feedback (star for correct! Or underline the part of the word they did incorrectly, then have them fix it immediately).  I then dictate sentences for my students using our spelling words, or have them create their own sentences using some of the words.

Day 2:
1.    Read spelling words on index cards as a warm-up; you could also have them go back to their word list and draw lines between rhyming words.
2.  Spelling sort (as described in Tip #4)
3.  Reading passage (highlight the words in the passage with that pattern) – You can also add in some comprehension questions too!
4.  Have your students air write or write in sand some of the spelling words (or any other multi-sensory way!)

Day 3:
1.    Read spelling words on index cards as a warm up (or you can even use the spelling sort cards from Day 2)
2.  Write some of the spelling words on the table with their finger (or any other multi-sensory way!)
3.  Reading passage – re-read the same reading passage from Day 2 (or use another passage) and highlight words with the spelling pattern you are working on).
4.  Spelling worksheet with boxes for each letter – I use these worksheets frequently.  It really helps my students to see exactly how many letters they need to use and decide which word pattern they should use.  It also gives you a chance to give immediate feedback again.


Here is a *FREEBIE* for you – a spelling worksheet that focuses on a-e (magic e) words.  I hope you enjoy it! :)

What are your favorite tips/tricks for teaching spelling in your classroom?!  



by Lauren

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