What is your child’s learning preference?

Learning how to spell 

Teaching spelling (encoding) is similar to and the reverse of teaching reading (decoding). Phonemic awareness and spelling go hand in hand. In order to be able to spell, it is essential to be able to identify individual sounds within words. Once you have understood that certain combinations of letters make certain sounds, then you extend the concept to understand that certain sounds are formed by certain combinations of letters.

Spelling is much, much harder for many dyslexic or dyspraxic children than reading, because when two different groups of letters make the same sound (such as ‘maid’ and ‘made’ or ‘there’, their’ and ‘they’re’), it is easier to recognise the pattern visually than it is to remember which one to use when you are writing. It is a difficult concept to teach the fact that ‘made’ and ‘maid’ have the same pronunciation, and it is more difficult to remember which version or grapheme to use when you have to write the word for yourself. This is one of the reasons that some children have such poor spelling skills and often spell words phonetically.

Both parents and teachers are bewildered by the fact that a dyslexic child is able to memorise spellings for a spelling test and perhaps get them all correct. But go on to frequently misspell the same word in extended writing. The odds are that your child has learnt how to spell their spelling list quickly, revising a couple of times the day before, and using a strategy that is not suitable for them in the long term. Children need to practise certain spellings many, many times even after they have got them all right for a spelling test.

Your child’s learning preference 

Teachers use different spelling strategies according to a child’s preferred style of learning: Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic and Tactile (VAK/T). A VAK/T approach to spelling, is one where we use all the learning preferences. Remember that some children with learning difficulties can experience ‘fuzziness’ with auditory and visual senses. So it makes complete sense to use hands-on, tactile methods, as well as our imagination and a variety of techniques your child shows a learning preference for.

Learning Style  



seeing and reading


listening and speaking 

Kinaesthetic / Tactile

doing and touching

Visual spelling strategies include looking at word shapes, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and visualisation, picture associations, pegging, puzzles, word searches and crosswords.

Auditory spelling strategies include listening to the spelling, saying the spelling out loud, songs, rhymes, raps and explanations. Spell the word out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror with large, exaggerated movements of the mouth. This allows you to ‘feel’ the way the word is spelt as you pronounce it. If your child is more visual he may be better with this technique when someone else is saying the word using large movements of the mouth and he is watching, rather than forming the shapes of the sounds himself.

There are numerous ways to teach kinaesthetic/tactile spelling:

For example, you can cut letters out of a tactile material such as soft felt, velvet or clay. Children love to feel and be creative with clay. Make them big. That way a child can run her hands over the letters. Form words from clay letters and let your child touch and feel the way words are spelt. Make lots of clay letters and let your child create words using clay as well as using flash cards.

Use wooden and plastic alphabet letters to enable a child to feel the letters in 3D. Letters can be scrambled up and rearranged into order. For older kids, you could use plastic stencils that allow you to trace the letter through the stencil. Just the act of colouring or tracing a stencil allows a child to stare at the letter long enough to lodge it into memory.

Pebbles appeal to a child’s investigative nature. Have fun collecting smooth pebbles and use permanent coloured markers or paint letters on to them for great multisensory spelling activities. Your child will love collecting and sorting letters, vowels and phonemes.

For a whole body, kinaesthetic movement, get a piece of carpet and paint lower case letters of the alphabet in squares, so that your child can jump from letter to letter and spell out words.

Another kinaesthetic approach is to use large sweeping movements of the pen when you write the letter. Use recycled paper or invest in flip chart paper or a whiteboard and coloured markers and let your child write huge letters making exaggerated movements. Or do sky writing (writing in the air), which costs nothing. These methods help to lock the hand movements of spellings into our memory bank. You can try this trick with words that your child continuously misspells to develop muscle memory for writing the word correctly. When you write a single word over and over your brain begins to remember the movements and stores them in long-term memory. When you relax and let the brain’s autopilot take over you will automatically write the word correctly over time.

A variation on the above technique is to close your eyes and trace the letter in the air with your finger. Again, make exaggerated movements with the hand so that large sweeping movements lock in the swirls of the letter in your memory.

Yet another variation is to use chalk and chalk board or a portable white board and erasable markers. Each provides a new and different texture, feel and experience. Switch it up, keep it the same or use different techniques for different word groups to reinforce the kinaesthetic appeal of the different mediums.

A tip to establish your child’s learning preference is to ask your child to spell a word and observe their eye movements. People move their eyes in certain directions depending on what information they are trying to access. Therefore, depending upon whether they look up to the left/right or down to the left/right will suggest a particular VAK learning preference. Take a look at the table of different VAK eye cues for learning preference when trying to remember information.

Once you know their learning preference, then tap into it, but also try and strengthen their weaker or less used preferences, to make their learning more effective, and create a multisensory experience.


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