Strategies for teaching spelling in special education

How to teach spelling in special education

Strategies for teaching spelling in a classroom that often contains multiple grade levels and multiple learning levels can be a challenge.

Many special education classrooms contain multiple grade levels and multiple learning levels. This can be a huge challenge when trying to teach even a simple skill like spelling. You have some students who are non-readers, some who are just emerging with their reading skills, and then you may have a few who read at a level that is just 1-2 years behind. It can really be difficult to take one spelling resource and make it fit for everyone. Let me share how I envision this happening.

At the end of this post, you can download a COMPLETE spelling unit for FREE.

Spelling strategies for your non-readers

With some imagination, there are a lot of things you can do with the activities that come in many spelling units that will work for your non-readers.

You can make any activity into an identical matching task by simply making 2 copies. So, if the targeted spelling skill was to sort -ack vs -ap words, these students can take one copy, cut out the sorting pictures and match them on the second copy.

Sorting task turned into a identical matching task used as a strategy for teaching spelling

You can also use color-coding to provide that additional level of visual structure your non-readers need to complete the activity independently. When doing a word-picture match activity, outline the word (or box) and matching the picture the same color. That way, the task becomes a color matching task using the same materials the other students are using. Read more about making and using color coded worksheets in one of my most popular blog posts.

Adding color coding to a word to picture matching task used as a strategy for teaching spelling

Finally, make the spelling activity errorless. This is something I have come to realize many teachers have come to expect and appreciate and now comes in many of my units. For the circle map displaying -ack words, only give students correct answers to choose from to place in the circle map. If you use my units, I provide this as a choice, so there is no need to eliminate wrong answers. Simply choose the errorless version for those students who need it.

Errorless circle map used as a strategy for teaching spelling

Spelling strategies for your emerging readers

Well, this one is easy. This is the group of students who are the target for this type of spelling unit. These are all the activities you will find in this unit, perfect for your emerging readers:

  • Circle map
  • Sorting activity
  • Photo-picture matching
  • Word-word matching
  • Word-picture matching
  • Circle the correct spelling
  • Fill in the missing letters
  • Choose the best work to finish the sentence
  • Writing prompt
  • Quiz

Spelling strategies for your more advanced readers

These students are usually beyond the easy spelling strategies that other students are using (or so you may think). But, you can use the same list and create some extension activities to build more skills using the same resource.

Here are some activities you can do with your more advanced students:

  • Go through magazines to make a collage describing the word, synonyms, and maybe even antonyms
  • Have then make a small dictionary for each list (either let them look up words on the computer and copy definitions, or you could type them up and let them cut and paste them
  • Use the words in a novel sentence
  • Remove the picture choices from the activities, so students have to come up with on their own:
    • words to complete the circle map
    • sorting words
    • words for picture matching

If you visit my Free Resource Library, you will be able to download some extension activities for the unit below that is perfect for those more advanced students.

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Ready to start using these strategies for teaching spelling with your students? Grab this complete spelling unit on -at words for free. Just click the button below.




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