For Teachers

4 Teacher Tips to Help Students with Spelling

From using magnetic letters to incorporating dance moves, here are four ways to turn spelling into a fun lesson for your students with ADHD.

Classroom Strategies for Special-Ed Teachers: Helping ADHD Children Spell
Classroom Strategies for Special-Ed Teachers: Helping ADHD Children Spell

Children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD; particularly those with coexisting learning disabilities like dyslexia) may be poor spellers. Multi-sensory strategies, novelty, and active approaches can help students memorize the spelling of words that aren’t easily sounded out, and motivate them to practice. You may want to try the following:

Use fun materials and tactile strategies.

Spell out words with various kinds of manipulative letters (magnetic letters, alphabet cards, or stamps). Have students dip a clean paintbrush in water and write words on a tabletop or chalkboard — or “write” words in the air with a finger while sounding them out. Practice writing words in a tray or a box of colored sand or salt with one or two fingers. The act of writing with fingers on a textured material makes a sensory imprint on the brain that increases retention.

It is also fun to pair students and ask them to write words with their fingers on each other’s back.

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have Dyslexia?]

Set words to song and movement.

Have students jump rope or bounce a ball as they chant aloud each letter in the word. Involve the whole class by having students stand up for each consonant and sit down for each vowel as you spell a word out loud. Singing spelling words to common tunes/melodies (“Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Old MacDonald”) is also effective.

Employ color.

Color calls attention to letters within the word and aids memory. Have the class write words using the “rainbow technique” — tracing over each of the words on a handout three times with different-colored pencils, crayons, chalk, or markers. Then, ask children to write the words from memory on a blank piece of paper.

Other strategies include highlighting parts of the word in different colors, by writing the vowels in the word in one color, and consonants in another, tracing over the silent letters or tricky letters with a colored pencil or marker, or breaking the word into syllables and writing each in a different color.

Use sight and sound.

Have a child spell the words correctly into a tape or digital recorder, and play the recording back several times while looking at the word and touching each letter while doing so. Or ask children to draw an outline of an animal or other figure lightly in pencil. Then, in thin black marker, write the week’s spelling words in small lettering around the shape. Erase the pencil marks, and the words form the outline of that shape.

[Free Resource: 18 Tips to Boost Writing Skills]

Novel and engaging techniques are especially important when practicing and reviewing words — particularly those that are phonetically irregular and hard for students to spell.

Adapted with permission from and How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief.