How to help your child prepare for spelling tests…

Unsure of how to help you child practice a list of spellings sent home from school? Does a list of spellings in the bottom of your child’s school bag fill you with dread? Does your child sulk, refuse to learn them or complain ‘it’s boring’ when they have to practise spellings? Then read on for some fun, practical ways to help your child learn spellings….

Is there a theme or pattern to the words?

Identify if there is a theme or pattern to the words your child has been asked to practice. Usually, your child’s spelling will either be high frequency words, topic words, a phoneme or spelling rule….

High frequency words are words that we use a lot. They often don’t follow the rules children have been taught to date and need to be learnt by sight (said, today, here, there, school, friend) The National curriculum has lists of words that children in different age groups need to be able to spell.

Topic words are words linked to the topic your child is learning about in school that term, these words will be useful when writing about their topic. For example if the topic is Castles, topic words could include…tower, dungeon, turrets, princess, dragon, drawbridge etc.

Phonemes – children may be practising a phoneme (a sound made by one or more letters) linked to their phonics lessons in school for example words with oa such as goat, coat, boat, load, loaf, coach etc.

Spelling rules and patterns– children in KS2 may be practising a spelling rule such as adding the suffix ‘ing’ to words for example; swimming, cooking, jumping, dancing, baking, kicking, and catching. What happens to the root word when the suffix is added? Or they may have a list of compound words these are words made up of two words for example sunflower, snowman,

Discuss this with your child; do they know the phoneme, the spelling rule or topic?

Now let’s make it fun!

Recognising the words:

  • Read the words

Read the words to your child and encourage them to say the words out loud as well. Discuss what each word means. You could check this in a dictionary with your child. Does your child know what the words mean? Can they think of a sentence including the word?

  • Hide and seek/treasure hunt

Write the words out on individual pieces of paper or card and hide around the house/garden. Call out a word and ask your child to go and find it. Can they find the correct word?

  • Display them

Put the words up for your child to see, you could display the list or write the words out on individual pieces of paper. Put the words somewhere your child will see them regularly for example; their bedroom wall, on the fridge, on the back of the door or even on the back of the seat in the car so they can read them on a journey. Stop and take a minute to read them together; as you get the milk from the fridge, as you leave the house or before going to bed.

  • Matching game

Play a game! Write the words out on small pieces of card so you have two of each spelling to be learnt. Mix the cards up and turn them face down, then take turns to turn over two at a time. Do they match? If they match the player keeps the cards, if they don’t match turn them back over. The player with the most cards at the end wins.

  • Create the words:

    Can your child use letters to make up the words? Start by giving your child the correct letters but muddled up – can they arrange the letters in the correct order? Then see if they can select the correct letters themselves.

  • Building bricks (write the letters your child needs on the side of a set of bricks and ask them to build a tower to spell the word)

  • Stones/pebbles (collect some flat stones or pebbles and write letters on)

  • Milk Bottle tops (collect the plastic tops from milk bottle and write letters on them, you could use different colours for vowels and consonants)

  • Sticks and leaves (collect sticks and leaves at the park together and create words on the ground)

Say the words:

  • Verbally – say them aloud, say the letters (some children may prefer saying them rather than writing and you can practise in the car or on a walk)

  • Make up a story or sentence using the letters in the word to help you remember – this might work well for topic words with a theme (for example: Dragon – Dragon roared and groaned noisily).

  • Make up funny sentences using the words.

Write the words:

Copy the spelling out and practice writing them but to make it fun use a different medium

  • Icing

  • Sauces

  • Chalk

  • In sand

  • In rice/pasta/lentils/

  • Pastels/paint

  • Big paper – write them big or write them small – how many times can you write the word in a minute?

  • Bath crayons – write them on the tiles at bath time using bath crayons.


Finally, have a Practice test – read the words one at a time and clearly. It might help to say the word in a sentence and then repeat the word you want the child to practice, this helps the child use the word in context (for example: The dragon roared loudly. Write the word Dragon.)

Top Tips:

  • Focus on one or two words at a time to begin with.

  • Chose activities that your child prefers, for example if they like being outside try making the words with natural resources such as leaves and sticks.

  • Pick one or two activities at the most – don’t try to do them all at once!

  • Talk to your child’s teacher if you are unsure.

Catherine Casey is the co-author of On Track English: Writing and Grammar.


English, English and Literacy, English and Writing, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, literacy, Rising Stars Spelling, spelling, Spelling Tests

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