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Spelling Techniques
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Have you ever heard the saying, "Practice make perfect?" The truth is, practice makes permanent, not perfect. It's perfect practice that makes perfect.
Every time you spell a word wrong, that's what you're practicing: the incorrect spelling. Doesn't it make sense to learn how to spell it correctly and practice writing it that way?
Let's talk about commonly misspelled words and ways to handle them. Some words in English as challenging to spell, and they are often referred to as "spelling demons." (One meaning of demon is "something that is persistently annoying.") The Online Learning Center (OLC) contains a list of spelling demons that you may want to print out and keep in your notebook.
In addition to the general list of spelling demons words, each of us usually has personal spelling demons. These are words whose spelling always causes us a problem. The following information is designed to help you cope with the spelling of any troublesome word.
  • Keep a list of words you misspell. Did you know that about 3,000 words comprise 98% of the words people need to learn to write? So doesn't it make sense to focus on common words that you use all the time when you write. You already spell many of them correctly, so first identify the ones that give you problems. Many of the common words in English–even little words–can be tricky to spell. Keep a list of those that cause you problems. If they appear on the list of spelling demons, highlight them. Then work on one or two each day, three at the most.
Keep the list at the back of your notebook. If you need to look at the spelling, it will be faster to find it on your own list. If you prefer, you can use a copy of the spelling demons on the OLC to keep in your notebook. When you look up a word on it, circle, highlight or underline it.

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To the list, add other words that you misspell or that cause you difficulty. Write them in the correct place alphabetically so that they will be easy to find. Identifying and keeping a list of the words you misspell is the first step in learning them. Compile your "target list" from
  • words you stumble over or even avoid using when you write
  • words marked as spelling errors on returned papers or tests
  • words whose spelling you have to look up
  • words you have trouble locating in the dictionary because of the spelling
  • words you spell more than one way
  • words that confuse you when you are reading

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  • Identify and correct the part of the word that you misspell. Chances are, you probably misspell a word the same way over and over again. And more than likely, there's one particular part of the word that is the problem. Identify the troublesome part of the word and zero in on it. Use whichever of the following techniques works for you.

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  • So that you can hear all of the letters, deliberately mispronounce (to yourself) and exaggerate syllables in words that are not pronounced the way they are spelled. For example, when you need to spell the word Wednesday , say to yourself "WED-NES-day." Other examples are choc-O-LATE for chocolate, in-DICT-ment for indictment , sergeant (SER-GE-ANT), and plumB-er for plumber .
  • Create a memory peg. ("Never believe a lie !" "Brrr! It's cold in February.")
  • Visualize the word with the tricky part in capital letters. (beLIEve)
  • Highlight the tricky part or write it in color. (believe)
  • Trace the word in the air.
  • Spell it from back to front, adding a letter each time.
  • Pay special attention to syllables that contain the schwa / M / or unaccented vowel sound. The schwa can represent any vowel, so it causes many spelling errors. When you spell the word, deliberately say the vowel sound in place of the schwa so that you can hear which vowel you need: for example, professor, definite, benefit, scholar. By changing the sound from the schwa to the vowel you can hear which vowel you need. (You are temporarily mispronouncing it to help with the spelling, but that's fine. No one else will hear you!)
  • Pay special attention to words that sound similar, but are not identical (for example, finally finely , accept—except, salary celery) . If you aren't alert, you may write one when you mean the other.

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  • Be sure you have the correct word when there are two words that sound the same, but have different meanings (hear here , plane plain , compliment complement , and lead led) . You can have the correct spelling, but the wrong word–in which case, it's still wrong. (Words that sound the same but have different meanings are called homonyms . See the Commonly Confused Module.)
  • Be sure you pronounce words correctly. (See the List of Commonly Mispronounced and Misspelled Words on the OLC.)
    • Don't add extra syllables: for example, athlete (not ath- e -lete), umbrella (not um-ber-ella), laundry (not laund- e -ry).
    • Don't leave out syllables or letter sounds: for example, mathematics (not mathmatics), probably (not probly), laboratory (not labratory), chocolate (not choclate), literature (not litachure), temperature (not tempachure), misspell (not mispell) February , (not Febuary), library (not libary), accidentally, (not accidently), and government (not goverment).
    • Don't reverse letters: for example, p re scription (not p er scription), rel ie ve (not releive), their (not thier).

    Good spellers can usually have good visual memories. Because they have mental “pictures” of words, tell can usually when a word they “looks wrong.” Sometimes they will write the word a couple of ways to determine which spelling looks right. Even the best spellers occasionally have to check the spelling of the word, and so should you whenever you are unsure. If you are stumped about the spelling of a word, try one or more of these strategies to help you look it up:

  1. Decide which sound the word starts with. Which letter or combination of letters makes that sound? (For example, f and ph represent the same sound.) Often, if you can get the first few letters right, you can find the word.
  2. Another strategy is to look up a word that means the same thing. See if the word you need to spell is listed as a synonym. You can also use a thesaurus for this.
  3. If you have a computer or a Franklin electronic dictionary, type the word the way it sounds. Either way, you are likely to get the correct spelling. Be aware, though, that since some words sound alike (there, their, they're) , you can end up with a correctly spelled word, but not the one you wanted!
  4. Finally, try one or more of the following techniques to help you learn to spell long or tricky words. Experiment to see which works best for you. (You may want to print a copy of these techniques.)

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Technique 1

  • Print the syllables in different colors .
  • Example: writ-ing. (Writing is often misspelled writting, which would rhyme with sitting.) This makes each syllable stand out.
  • Say the word syllable by syllable.
  • Once you can do that and think you can see the syllables in your mind, practice writing the word in one color.

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Technique 2

  • Say the word. (We'll use the word their as an example.)
  • Print the word, saying each letter as you write it: t-h-e-i-r.
  • On the next line, write it again, but make a blank instead of writing the last letter: t-h-e-i —.
  • Instead of writing the last letter, say it ("r "),
  • On the next line, repeat the process, saying the last two letters instead of writing them: t-h-e— — ("i-r" ).
  • Repeat the process until you are writing only the first letter of the word and are spelling the rest of the word out loud: t-— — — —.

  • Go to the start of your list.
  • Read the word and spell it aloud.
  • Cover up the word.
  • Drop to the line that has the last letter missing.
  • Say the word, spell it, and write in the last letter.
  • Repeat the process with each line, adding more and more of the missing letters until you can spell the entire word. (It will help you if you say the letters at a set rhythm or pace.)

If a word is long, you may want to use the process above, but leave off a syllable each time. Look up the word in the dictionary to see it divided into syllable. For example, if you want to learn the word FEB•RU•AR•Y, write all of it except the final syllable, the Y. As before, you'll say it rather than write it. Drop down a line and write the word again, this time leaving off the last two syllables: FEB-RU- ———. Then say the letters of the last two syllables: AR-Y. Continue with the process until you are spelling the entire word aloud. (If leaving off syllables instead of single letters confuses you, don't worry about it. Just use the technique of leaving off a letter at a time.)

Technique 3

  • Print the word on several cards and post them several places in your line of sight. For example, post them on your notebook cover, bathroom mirror, and desktop. Keep them there for at least a week.
  • According to Tolman's theory of latent learning, you will absorb the spelling of the word without actively studying it.

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Technique 4

This is the "trace, copy, recall" method.

  • Fold a sheet of paper vertically into thirds so that you have three columns when you unfold it. At the top of the first column, write the word "COPY." That's what you'll do in that column. Label the second column "REHEARSE" and the last column "RECALL." Fold the last column back so that you don't see it when you see the first two columns. Here's how you'll use them.
  • Say the word, and then write it in the first column. Say each letter aloud as you write it. You may find it helpful to say it to a rhythm, pausing between each letter.
  • Now repeat the process by copying the word in the second column, saying each letter as you write it.
  • Now turn the paper over so that you can no longer see the first two "practices." This time, you'll write the word from memory in the RECALL column. Check what you have written to see if you have the correct spelling.

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