Cover for blog post Spelling Help, A Visualization Technique with the words Spelling Help spelled out in Scrabble tiles.

Spelling Help: A Visualization Technique

Learning the phonics and rules of spelling will help children learn to spell the greatest number of words.  However, sometimes children need more spelling help.  They may get stuck on a word and just can’t seem to get it right despite knowing the phonics and the rules associated with the word.  This is when a visualization technique can help with their spelling!

Use the steps below to improve your child’s visual memory of ANY spelling word that they may be stuck on.

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Choose the Words that Need Spelling Help

Each week, I keep a running list for each child of words that they have struggled spelling.  For the youngest, it is typically confined to just his spelling words.  For the oldest child, it is misspelled words from any subject as he no longer does formal spelling lessons.

List of spelling words written on white board with green marker, including buried, bored, ballet, lasagna, neighbors, and spaghetti.

The first couple times we review the word, we focus on the phonics and rules behind the way it is spelled.  If we have reviewed the word 2-3 times and the child is still struggling with it, then we use the following visualization strategy.  This usually works out to just a couple words a week.

Trace the Spelling Word

Once you have a word or two picked out, the first step is to trace the word.

First, help your child spell the word in larger than normal letters.  We often do this on a small whiteboard, but you can use paper or another writing surface.  I recommend still using a color to write the word on paper and not just a regular pencil or pen.  This will increase the visual interest of the activity.

White board with the word 'lasagna' on written on it in orange marker.

Next, have your child trace the word three times while saying the names of the letters.  Make sure your child is looking at the letters that they are tracing.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have learned with my child with a visual processing disorder that he often does not make use of his vision!

Now, have your child trace the word three more times, but with their marker or pencil hovering just above the page rather than touching.  Again, have them say the names of the letters and look at what they are doing.

Tracing should be as slow as needed so that it is accurate.  Do not let your child race through with sloppy tracing.

Write the Spelling Word in the Air

Now, have your child carefully ‘write’ the word three times in the air in front of them while naming the letters again.

Finally, have your child close his eyes and ‘write’ the word three more times in the air in front of them while naming the letters.

Back view of child with hand up in air 'writing' a word.

Picture the Spelling Word

While your child is writing the word in the air with their eyes closed, encourage them to picture it on a whiteboard or chalkboard in front of them.  When they are done ask them questions about the picture such as ‘Did you write on a chalkboard or whiteboard in your picture?’, ‘What color did you write in?’ and ‘What does your word say?’  This encourages them to really make a good picture in their brain.

Word 'lasagna' written on a chalkboard with a purple chalk marker.

Answer Questions about the Spelling Word

Now it is time for your child to work with that picture in their brain.  Here are several questions you can ask.  You don’t need to ask all of them.  Just continue until you feel they really have formed a good picture in their head.

1. Can you spell the word?

2. How many letters are in the word?

3. Can you spell the word backwards?

4. How many (or what) letters are tall? (E.g., b, d, f, h, k, l, t)

5. How many (or what) letters go in the basement (or whatever term you use for this)? (E.g., g, j, p, q, y)

6. What is the third letter? The fifth? The last?, etc.

7. Are there two (or three) of any letter?

Write the Spelling Word

Finally, have your child open their eyes and give them a fresh writing surface to write the word on.  Review the word later in the day or the next day to make sure they still remember it.

We have had near a 100% success rate spelling words after using this spelling help.  But, if your child is still struggling the next day, repeat the steps above.

The word 'lasagna' written on a piece of notebook paper in black pen.

Final Reminders about Spelling Help

Just a reminder that spelling, like any other skill, develops in a progression.  If your child is struggling with many spelling words, then it may be they are not ready for the words you are working on.  You can learn more about spelling stages here.

And secondly, this visualization strategy should only be used after teaching the spelling words with a phonics and rule-based approach.  This approach allows generalization to other words.  You can can teach one rule and from it your child will learn many spelling words.  If they had to learn every spelling word through a visual memory approach, they would never get to all the words in a given language!

However, visualization is a great strategy when one gets stuck!  Especially for children who don’t use their visual memory as much as they should in learning.

If you are looking for a phonics and rule based approach to learning spelling, check out our post Homeschool Spelling Curriculum that Makes Sense:

Pinnable cover of blog post Homeschool Spelling Curriculum that Makes Sense showing spelling books and related activities.

How did this approach work for you?  Let us know!