Multisensory Spelling Strategies for Spelling Lists

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If you’re looking for spelling strategies to help struggling learners then keep reading. In this post, I share my favorite multisensory spelling strategy that helps with any kind of spelling list.

Multisensory strategies have been very successful with struggling learners because they integrate multiple senses and provide several options for the information to be processed.

The problem with spelling lists

But first I want to mention a problem that many children face with traditional spelling lists. The best way for struggling readers and spellers to learn new words is by isolating spelling patterns. This means that the whole spelling list should all only contain one spelling pattern for a particular sound.

Say for example the class is working on vowel teams with the long a sound. The long a sound can be spelled as ai, ay, ei, and sometimes ea. Most spelling lists will include a mix of words with these different spelling patterns, or they may even mix different sounds like long a and long e. This causes lots of confusion and frustration for struggling learners, especially students with dyslexia.

The better way to do this for struggling learners is to only include one spelling pattern in the list. This helps the students isolate the pattern and get enough exposure to create the visual memory of the sound.

Remember that children who struggle in reading and spelling have a hard time associating the correct letters to sounds, so developing their sound-symbol imagery is critical. Giving them different spelling patterns only confuses them. Before they work with several spelling patterns together, they need to master them in isolation. Of all the spelling strategies out there, isolating spelling patterns is probably the most effective for students who really struggle with spelling.

My favorite multi-sensory dyslexia spelling strategy

If you don’t have control over the spelling list, then this tip can really help. I often use this as a dyslexia intervention with my students since their spelling lists are all over the place.

One strategy you can teach students is to group and color code the different spelling patterns in the list.

This is a great dyslexia spelling strategy. Identify a few patterns in the list and pick a color for each one. Then write the words in the chosen color in different groups. This gives students a visual cue they can use when spelling the word. They will associate the spelling pattern with a color so that when they are asked to spell the word, they will be able to recall the color that word was in, and thus identify the spelling pattern for that color. That is the sound-symbol imagery they need.

Remember to refer to the spelling rule for each pattern after color-coding them. This way it is easier for them to see it. For example, the spelling pattern ai goes in the middle of a word. But if you have all the different patterns mixed in the list, they cannot see that as easily as you can. Once you isolate the words by color coding the list and grouping them together, they can see that spelling rule and understand how to apply it.

Here is an example spelling list:

  1. Bake
  2. Train
  3. Main
  4. Break
  5. Pray
  6. Clay
  7. Brain
  8. Grain
  9. Play
  10. Mane
  11. plane
  12. Sway

Pattern groups:

Bake, plane, mane

Pray, clay, play, sway

Train, main, brain, grain

Break

You would write each group in a different color as shown in the picture below.

spelling strategies - color coding spelling patterns, dyslexia spelling strategy, multisensory spelling strategy

If you can incorporate explicitly teaching spelling rules then try as this is the best way to remediate spelling difficulties. I highly recommend this book to help guide you. Even parents can read it and look for multisensory ways to then teach the spelling rules.

Simultaneous Oral Spelling

This is a 6 step multisensory strategy that helps build phonological awareness. When using the SOS method, students listen to the word, repeat it, perform a few quick steps to spell the word, and finally write the word. You can read more about it in this post: Simultaneous Oral Spelling Multisensory Spelling Strategy

SOS multisensory spelling method

Sight Words

For sight words, I use 2 strategies.

The first is using as many multisensory strategies to spell a word as I can. Options include tapping out the letters in the word, air writing, salt tray spelling, magnetic letters, and writing the word in a variety of ways. Then use the word in a sentence to give it some context. Do all of these with the word shown to the student. After writing the word several times and using it in a sentence, remove the image of the word and have the student write it from memory.

The second strategy is creating a picture association. I discuss a possible image that can help the student remember the word. One example is drawing eyes on the “oo” in the word look. Picture association is really helpful for dyslexic students.

Spelling Word Activities

As an extension, you can work with the student to look for other words that would fall into these groups. This is a good way to get them to understand the spelling rule and not just memorize the words.

The best way to test if they really know the spelling pattern is to give them nonsense words and see if they can spell them correctly on their own. For example, after working on this list above, you would ask them to spell the nonsense word dray. They should know for the long a sound to be at the end of the word it has to be ay. Just come up with nonsense words that would follow the spelling rules in the list. Once they can do that without help, they have mastered that spelling rule.

These spelling word activities ensure students are not only memorizing but really learning how to apply a spelling rule. In a traditional classroom, you could focus on one spelling pattern a day to extend on using these activities.

For more spelling strategies and dyslexia interventions, download my free quick guide 6 Spelling Strategies from my freebies library. This resource can be used by both parents and educators.

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If you’re looking for more tips on teaching reading to struggling learners, check out these other posts:

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multisensory spelling strategy for spelling lists

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