Underlining spellings

When teaching spellings while writing, getting learners to mentally group letters which represent a single sound and think of them as a single “chunk” (grapheme) can be tricky.

One way to focus their attention on a target spelling is by asking learners to underline it, for example:

spout        out       cloud

learn       heard       pearl

fought       brought       bought

This quickly shows you whether the learner understands which letters are working together to represent a single sound.

You can also use underlining to differentiate, for example, the “ough” in bought, drought, through, though and thorough (one spelling) and the ough in cough and rough (two spellings):

bought       drought       through       though       thorough

cou gh       trou gh       Gou gh

rou gh       tou gh       enou gh

The letters “ai” right next to each other are mostly representing a single sound, as in “rain”, “bonsai” and “plait”, but sometimes they’re not, as in “mosaic”, so would not be grouped together by underlining them:

rain      bonsai      plait       said

mosaic      algebraic      prosaic

In my multi-syllable word workbooks (Level 7 and Level 8), I also like to break words up into syllables using little dots, as many of the learners I work with find it hard to identify syllable boundaries, and often they don’t realise that a syllable can be a single letter, or seven or eight letters:

i·de·a       mo·sa·ic       de·light      streng th·en

This can also help them to see the patterns in longer words, where otherwise the middles of words can be a bit of a blur:

ac·tion       lo·tion       cau·tion       fic·tion

cast·le       fast·en       list·en       whist·le

Unfortunately it’s a bit hard in typed text to underline split vowel spellings like the “a…e” in “take” and the “i…e” in “fine”, but I usually just underline both vowel letters then draw a little loop underneath that joins them, like this:

Some phonics programs put a loop or arrow over the word rather than under it, to link the two vowel letters.

There are also apps which link the letters in a split vowel spelling in this way, such as WriteOn Phonics

Movable alphabets that incorporate multiple-letter spellings, such as my cheap-and-cheerful DIY 100-first-spellings Movable Alphabet, also help learners to conceptualise spellings as the building blocks of words.

If you know of other simple tools or strategies which help learners conceptualise spellings as “chunks”, or resources to help with this which are not on my Phonics Resources list, I’d love to hear about them.

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