Some kids seem to spell naturally. Without so much as blinking, they absorb letter patterns, adjust to sight words, and scribble away. But for most, spelling is one of those old-fashioned learning tasks: it takes effort, focus, and above all, repetition. Especially in the younger grades, when children have just learned how to read words, spelling can be a major roadblock. If your child is feeling overwhelmed by all this, you can help! There are a few choice practice techniques that you can use to make the process easier for your child.

One strategy to use when those spelling sheets start coming home is “Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check,” which uses a grid to take a child through the process of remembering her spelling words.

To make the grid lay a piece of paper out on the table with the longest side running horizontally. Fold the paper in thirds, so that you have three columns that run vertically. Ask your child to write his spelling words in the first column, one underneath the other.

  • Look. Ask your child to look at the word and read it aloud. For example, “friend”
  • Say. Then spell the word letter by letter while continuing to look at it. “f-r-i-e-n-d”
  • Cover. Your child should now cover the word "friend" (either with her hand, another piece of paper or by folding that column underneath the others) and try to write "friend" in the second column, without looking at the first column.
  • Check. Now, have your child check her work by comparing the first column with the second column. If it's correct, move on to the second word. If it's incorrect, ask her to repeat the steps, this time trying to write "friend" in the third column.

If your child is still experiencing difficulty spelling this word, don't harp on it; just circle the word in the first column and move on to the next word for now. After all of the words have been attempted, you can go back to the circled words and try them again on a fresh piece of paper.

This technique works because it draws on several different learning styles, which is important because to spell a word, a child must use several parts of the brain at once. If you only use one way to get there, such as writing, things can move pretty slow. With each new word, your child has used three approaches: visual (“look”), auditory (“say”), and kinesthetic (“write”). If you have a child who also craves physical activity, you can even add to the kinesthetic part of this exercise. A physical activity like jumprope, in which she recites spelling rhythmically as she goes, or bouncing a ball as she spells, can be great ways to practice spelling. No matter what method you use, however, do make sure you finish up by having your child write the word correctly. That’s the structure of most tests, and certainly of essays both now and for years to come. With your encouragement, your child might even grow to love this famously difficult task!