Our Kids’ Spelling is Atrocious.

I recently had a text conversation with a friend. It’s a conversation that certainly isn’t exclusive to her child. In fact, I might argue that my own ten year old son’s spelling is atrocious as well. I know when I was in grade 5 my mom had a conversation with my teacher about my inability to spell. As a teacher, the subject of spelling is one that I’ve often struggled with.  With my friend’s permission, I’m sharing our conversation in hopes of gaining some insights from others. 

Below is our conversation.

Hey Pete, do you have any websites/online games or apps for _____ to help with his spelling? It is atrocious and I think it has more to do with being lazy and not taking his time but I still want to see if technology can help him as he is so drawn to it. 

Great question and not one that is exclusive to ______.  I don’t actually have a formalized spelling program or a website to suggest. Spelling is a part of writing; to make kids better writers they simply need to read and develop a love of reading.   The more kids read, the more examples they see of good writing. They will see words being used in context and thus develop a strong vocabulary and the spelling will come.   

In my experience, teaching spelling in isolation (at this age…10) isn’t of much benefit. Kids memorize and forget. Then there’s the technology factor. Apart from school, people are using paper and pencil far more infrequently. With tech we have voice to text options, auto correct and spell check. I’d suggest, perhaps having _____ keep a journal using a google doc. If you’re not familiar with the extension Google Read and Write check it out. Let _____ write rite using voice to text or word predict. Encourage him to elaborate on his ideas and assist with correct sentence structure .  In short, establish a love of reading, then writing and spelling will come. If it doesn’t, he’ll be a strong writer and, well the tech will take care of the spelling.

BTW my mom brought your same concern to my grade 5 teacher. His response: Establish a love of reading he’ll learn to spell. My mom wasn’t overly pleased with his answer. Now I blog, my writing has been published and I can spell 🙂

Lol that’s hilarious. So the interesting thing is that he is a crazy reader and consumes books like crazy. And he is actually reading and comprehending, not just flying through it. They said he is at a level above his grade for reading and when I ask him to look at the words he spells, he tells me which ones are wrong and which ones are correct. Then when I ask him to take his time and imagine the word in a sentence or on a page in a book, he often gets it right. So maybe it’s just patience and time he needs more than anything.


I know he’s a good writer I see the books he reads.

Perhaps when he writes he just wants to get his ideas down quickly.  Be careful not to over focus on spelling as some kids just default to using simpler, less powerful words.

Yes, thats something to consider for sure. Luckily his teacher says she’s not worried at all but is making spelling a focus in her class by doing all sorts of techniques. I think I’ll just try a few things on my own with him when he’s relaxed and we’re alone and not rushed. Make it fun instead of cramming it down his throat. Hehehe.

Thanks Pete!!

No problem!! If he was a weak reader I’d be concerned. Weak speller… not so much.  Fact that you’re a parent who is supporting and helping him is a bonus. 

Do you mind if I create a blog post out of our conversation and share with other teachers? It may prove helpful to get other opinions and perspectives.

Yes of course, that would be very cool. Then let me add that I don’t think it’s healthy to rely on technology to solve or take care of children’s and ‘soon to be adults’ spelling issues or spelling in general. To me it’s like music, it affects the brain and cognitive ability to know how to see words and spelling them in our minds. Unless there is a true underlying cause, like dyslexia, for a child’s inability to read and thus write, then I think it is developmentally crucial for kids and adults to spell. It goes beyond basic spelling, it affects how we communicate with others and see the world, see and learn other languages, even how we relate and interact in society. In essence, I believe there is so much more to knowing how to spell than simply writing out the letters in the correct sequence.

Interesting points! Question: Does _____ write with good detail and elaboration? Is his sentence structure ok? What type of word is he misspelling? Are you seeing a pattern?

Yes to first questions and I’ll send you photo of his last tests. I’m not sure if there is a pattern or specific words. It more like a disconnect between what he says and sequence of letters. 

Ah! The ol’ dictations! Kai did dictations during some of his school years. We’d spend 15-20 minutes 3 nights a week memorizing the words. He’d always get perfect on the dictation. 

BUT guess how he’d do when I gave him a smattering of his dictation words a month later?  He’d get 50-70%. I also found the same when I used to do dictations with my students

I don’t do dictations anymore and encourage reading every night instead. 

What are your experiences with teaching and learning spelling? What worked for you? What works for your students? What would your response to my friend be?

Note: I also reached out to my PLN on Twitter and the response was great (see below). Thank you to all who contributed to the conversation with their thoughts, resources and ideas. Keep them coming!


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About mrcameron14

I am a Grade 6 teacher of 18 years in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Passionate about sharing with teachers throughout the world. Teaching students how to use technology 4 good and to make a positive difference in the world. Apple Distinguished Educator 2013, SMART Exemplary Educator 2013, Google Educator 2015.
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2 Responses to Our Kids’ Spelling is Atrocious.

  1. Norah says:

    Great conversation. I agree that reading is the best way to learn to spell, but so is writing. I have to admit that now that I mostly write on a computer, the spell-check comes in mighty helpful. However, I can recognise if it tells me I’ve got a right word wrong and can also choose correctly between options. The spell check is not infallible. My ability to do so comes because I can spell. I was one of the lucky ones, it came easy to me. But then, I always read and always wrote/write.


  2. Amanda Potts says:

    Thanks for this blog. My older son is a “lazy” speller and now, suddenly, in grade 6 he has decided that spelling matters. Well, I’m not sure “decided” is quite the right word: it’s more like it has come into focus for him. I really do think that being a reader made a big difference in this: as I write this comment I’m realizing that his *real* focus is finding the best word for what he wants to say & spelling is connected to that for him. Would love to hear a follow up on this young man in a year or two. Wondering if things will change for him.


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