By Maureen McKeurtan

18 June 2019 - 14:01

Text on a blue background 'the letter'
'If you recognise a word and its spelling, it is easier to see the connection between letters and sounds.' ©

Renee Fisher used under licence and adapted from the original.

These are English language lecturer Maureen McKeurtan's favourite approaches to spelling in the young learner classroom.

Spelling can be a difficult skill for learners of English

The rules, anomalies and incongruities of the English language mean that learning, writing and speaking correctly spelled words can be difficult and time-consuming.

This is particularly true if the learner's first language uses a different alphabet or writing system to English. 

It takes practice, focus and a good memory to become good at spelling in a learned language.

A confident speller can become a confident writer

In English, spelling helps us to read and write. If you recognise a word and its spelling, it is easier to see the connection between letters and sounds. 

According to research by Tessa Daffern, Noella M Mackenzie and Brian Hemmings, good spelling is a predictor of good writing. Learners who have trouble with spelling tend to produce writing which has a limited vocabulary. This means that the work they produce communicates limited ideas. 

Incorrect spelling is noticeable to readers, especially if it makes a text difficult to understand. This can have a negative effect on the way learners present themselves in, for example, job or university applications. 

I used these activities with classes of young learners aged from five to 12. The classes had about 16 learners, arranged in groups of four. 

We practised the spelling of words we covered in topic-based lessons from young learner textbooks.

Equipment you will need for spelling activities 

For each of these activities, each group had a different coloured piece of card on their table.

I also had one mini-whiteboard, or a blank, laminated A4 sheet of card or paper for each group, with markers and dusters. If you have an interactive white board, you can adapt the activities.

Letter tiles are useful for spelling activities. You can produce or download them at I made six sets, printed on different coloured paper, and I keep them in separate bags so they won't get mixed up.

Activities to help learners with spelling

Spelling race

This is a race between groups to spell individual words correctly.

The teacher gives the class a vocabulary word verbally or, for an extra challenge, shows a flashcard. The groups race to spell the word on the table with letter tiles.

When they have finished spelling, they raise their group's coloured card and the teacher checks their tiles. The first team with the correct answer wins a point. The whole class then spells the word out loud for the teacher to write on the class whiteboard.


This activity asks learners to connect words. For example, in the title of the activity 'bananagrams', the words 'banana' and 'anagrams' share the middle letters a,n,a. 

The teacher gives a word verbally or with a flashcard. The group works together to spell it.

Then, the teacher gives the next word, which should have at least one letter in common with the first (plan this in advance). Learners should spell this word interconnected with the first, so that one of the letter tiles appears in both words. The completed activity should look like a game of Scrabble.

Once the teacher has given all the words to the class, the teacher checks the groups' work, indicates any words with errors that the group might want to retry, and gives groups a chance to correct mistakes.

The first group to raise their coloured card and have all the words correctly spelled wins.

Group spelling

This activity is similar to spelling race, but uses mini-whiteboards instead of letter tiles.

Learners work with mini-whiteboards, markers and dusters. To ensure all learners take a turn, each should allocate themselves a letter (Learner A, Learner B and so on).

When the teacher gives a word verbally or with a flashcard, Learner A must spell the word on the whiteboard, with the help of their group if needed. Learners raise their whiteboard when they are confident the word is correct.

The first group with the correct spelling gets a point.

The whole class spells the word out loud for the teacher to add to the class whiteboard. The other members of the group then take turns to write.


In this activity, learners identify a vocabulary word from mixed-up letters.

Learners make two teams and form two lines at the board. The learner at the front of each line has a pen.

The teacher writes (or reveals on an interactive white board) a scrambled vocabulary word. The first learner in each group writes the correct version of the word on the board, with the help of their team.

A point goes to the team who were first with the correct answer.

The first learner passes the pen to the next learner and goes to the back of the line. There should be as many scrambled words as there are team members, so every learner gets a chance to write.

In bigger classes, this can also work with the mini-whiteboards.


Tie it all up with a word search or crossword puzzle. You can use Puzzlemaker to produce your own set of words.

Revisit the words you have practised in the next lesson with a short, traditional spelling test, using a simple spelling-test template such as this one from Teachers pay teachers

Final tips

I have found that it is best to take a ‘little and often’ approach to practising spelling with young learners.

Once it becomes a standard part of their work with new vocabulary, they look forward to practising spelling in a fun, collaborative way. And they become more confident readers and writers as a result.

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish  website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger.

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