4 Spelling Strategies: Skip These at Your Peril

Spelling is an often overlooked part of good writing. Follow these simple spelling strategies to improve your spelling.

Misspellings make writers look weak, and frequently spelling words incorrectly can make a writer look uneducated. Spelling concerns can also lead to miscommunications.

Many tricky words in the English language make it difficult to spell correctly all of the time.

While today’s writers take advantage of spell-checking software that can help, ultimately they need to following basic spelling rules to communicate clearly.

Writers of the English language can memorize rules to help them determine accurate spelling.

Spelling strategies give writers the ability to remember the rules and avoid common spelling errors.

Teachers who are training young writers can use these rules in the classroom to prepare their students for success at the next spelling bee.

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American Versus Other Forms of English

Before embracing spelling rules, writers must first know which type of English they are using.

This article will look at American English spellings, not British or Australian English.

While most words are the same, here are a few differences:

  • L versus LL – In American English, many words that take a suffix after an L use just one L, such as traveling or fueled. In British and Australian English, these words are spelled with two L’s, such as in travelling or fuelled.
  • Or versus Our – Many words spelled with -or in American spelling are spelled with -our in British and Australian English. For instance, Americans use color, while Australians and the British spell the word colour. Similar words include favor/favour and labor/labour.
  • Z versus S – Another common difference is the use of Z in American English when preceded by an I or Y in words like organize and analyze.  In British or Australian English, these are spelled organise and analyse.

Spelling Strategy 1. Spelling Words with Phonemic Awareness

One of the first spelling strategies to employ is phonetic spelling strategy.

This teaches writers how to listen to the sounds in a word to determine the proper spelling using phonics.

Using this strategy, the speller breaks the word into different individual sounds made from letters or letter combinations.

Letter combinations are known as phonemes, which children learn as phonics in school. Phonograms are letters such as SH or OW that make specific sounds, as well as the individual letters themselves.

Writers who use this spelling strategy sound out a word and determine which phonemes make up the sounds. For example, when spelling the word rush, the writer hears the /r/, /u/ and /sh/ sounds, then puts the right phoneme combination together to make the word.

Spelling Strategy 2. Learning Spelling Rules

Phonetic spelling works well for many words, but sometimes sounds are comprised of more than one phonogram. For instance, the /er/ sound has several different spellings, including ER, IR, UR, OR, EAR and OUR.

Writers and spellers must determine which phonograms is accurate when spelling a word. Educators can give students the tools to make this choice when teaching spelling.

Spelling rules, like grammar rules, can help writers choose the right phonogram. Many American students learn the following rule:

  • I before E except after C or when sounding like /ay/ in neighbor and weigh.

This spelling rule helps writers know whether the letter combination EI or IE is correct when spelling a word. In believe and achieve, the letter i comes first, but in receive, the e is first. All three words have the same long e sound, but the c in receive requires the letter e to come first.  

Another common spelling rule is the rule for when to use C or K for the /k/ sound at the beginning of a word. If the /k/ sound comes before the letter I, E or Y, the writer needs to use a K. These letters make the C a soft C, so it says /s/. If the /k/ sound comes before any other letter, the word uses a C.

For example, kite uses K while cat uses C.

In addition to the two spelling rules above, some other important ones include:

  • Q never appears alone. It always has a U, as in the word quick.
  • The consonants F, L and S are doubled at the end of one-syllable words with just one short vowel sound, such as in tell or class.
  • When the /k/ sound is necessary at the end of a word, use CK if the word has a short vowel before the sound. If it has another letter before the sound, use K.
  • Words do not end in V or J. Often a silent E appears at the end of a word with these letters.

Spelling Strategy 3. Recognizing Words Visually

Most writers who are good spellers think little about phonetics or spelling rules. Instead, their familiarity with words and spelling patterns allows them to visually recognize misspelled words.

This takes practice and experience with the language, but it can be an effective strategy. While this happens naturally for writers, teachers sometimes need to teach this skill to young spellers more strategically.

Teaching young spellers using visual recognition of words works best when words are grouped in families. For example, a teacher can give students a list of words that have -ale in them, such as tale, pale and ale.

 By grouping these words together and practicing them as a unit, the student builds familiarity. Soon the student is able to self-correct the work when a word is misspelled

Visual word recognition is vital for words that do not follow spelling rules. These exceptions are often called “sight words” in school and include the, our and was.

Visual recognizing words also helps students differentiate between homophones, which are words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

By building visual recognition of words through a lot of practice in spelling and reading, students can recognize the proper spelling of common homophones. 

Spelling Strategy 4. Spelling with Morphemes

Morphemes refer to the smallest units of meaning. The prefix anti- is an example of a morpheme.

This prefix means “against” or “the opposite,” and writers can place it in front of many words to change the meaning. Anticlimactic means the opposite of an expected climax, for example.

Breaking a word into its smallest units of meaning can help young students find the right spelling. Learning Greek and Latin roots and common prefixes and suffixes is a critical tool for this spelling strategy.

Here is an example:

The root word “rupt” derives from Latin and means “to break or burst.” Many words use this root, including abruptdisruptinterrupt and erupt. Each one has some form of breaking or bursting as part of its meaning. Knowing the root is spelled rupt helps writers spell these words.

When morphemes are taught in elementary school, young students learn to value spelling skills so they can ace their spelling tests and write with confidence. 

Spelling with morphemes is particularly valuable when teaching longer words. With morphemic understanding and basic knowledge of a word’s meaning, good students can work out correct spelling even without memorizing the word itself. 

Spelling Strategies Used Effectively

When students see a spelling list or spelling worksheets, they often cringe, wondering how they are going to learn all those words. Giving students spelling strategies as part of their spelling lessons can help them overcome this frustration.

When spelling instruction is built around strategies rather than pure memorization, students are better equipped to succeed.

All four of these spelling strategies can help people write words and should be part of a school or classroom’s spelling program. Most spellers will use all four in combination.

Learning spelling rules and phonetics is the foundation, but visual awareness of words and understanding morphology adds to these basic building blocks to create effective spelling techniques.

Best Grammar Checker

We tested dozens of grammar checkers, and Grammarly is the best tool on the market today. It'll help you write and edit your work much faster. Grammarly provides a powerful AI writing assistant and plagiarism checker. Anyone who works with the written word should use it.

Become a Writer Today is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Spelling Strategies FAQs

How to teach spelling strategies?

Educators can teach spelling strategies with spelling words. Grouping together words that use similar strategies can help students understand the rules and techniques.

Verbally teaching the strategies can also assist students in learning how to spell. When instructors are intentional about teaching these techniques, they build effective spelling abilities in young writers.

What are spelling strategies?

Spelling strategies are basic tools used to find the correct spelling of words. These include spelling rules, phonemic awareness, visual awareness, and an understanding of morphemes.

Students who struggle to spell often have not learned at least one of these spelling strategies and find that relying on the limited ones they know or focusing entirely on rote memory fails to make them strong spellers.

What are some fun ways to teach spelling?

Engaging students through hands-on activities make the accurate spelling of spelling words stick. Introducing letter tiles to make letter scrambles gets students involved in spelling while also giving students a tactile experience.

Writing spelling words in glue, pudding, sand and other media reinforces the rules and words while providing sensory feedback at the same time.

How do I memorize spellings?

Practicing spelling words repeatedly is the best way to memorize spellings, but unfortunately, not all students are good at this.

A better solution is to learn the rules and spelling strategies that make up words. These strategies give students the tools to spell words correctly even when their memories cannot recall the proper spelling.


  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.