Whole Brain Spelling


By Paul Gee
on 09 October, 2016

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How Well Do We Teach Spelling?

In order for a school to reach expected standard by the end of key stage two, children must be able to spell a challenging list of words. 

So we dish out the spelling list for a test on Friday and tick the box.

Ok, we teach children to “Look, cover, write”, which is probably how our grandmothers learnt to spell. Probably our great grandmothers too! But is that really enough? Or is it even an effective way to teach spelling?

For a long time, spelling was one of the ‘Cinderella’ areas of learning. With a focus of SPaG the Government has given spelling ability a higher profile, so it is essential that we give more attention to the way that we help children to spell.

The sad fact is that despite great strides forward in our understanding of the way that memory works, the way we teach spelling has changed little. We tend to assume that it is just a matter of a child ‘making the effort and learning’. For some children this is enough but for a significant minority, learning to spell is a slow and painful process.

How can we make learning to spell more effective?

The thing about memory is that it involves the whole brain: the ‘right brain’ as well as the ‘left brain’. The latter loves rules and structures, whereas the right brain enjoys novelty, gimmicks and association. Generally, we are quite good at left brain techniques: the teaching of phonetic spelling, spelling choices, spelling rules etc. But the right brain is largely ignored, despite providing such a rich vein of learning.

My name happens to be Paul and I am quite tall. If I introduce myself as ‘Tall Paul’, people will remember my name immediately. I have set up an association, a memory hook, which lodges in the brain. It is possible to do the same with spellings. The trick is to set up a memory hook – visual, auditory or associative – which triggers recall.

Take the word half; a tricky word to spell. The mnemonic phrase: half a large fish’ provides a mnemonic code to spell half. The pupil draws a picture of half a large fish, uses all their sensory channels to make the image as vivid as possible. With only a little practice, the word half triggers the mnemonic phrase, half a large fish. Hey presto! They can spell it.

This mnemonic spelling method is just one strategy from a tool bag of right brain spelling approaches in our new spelling programme: Whole Brain Spelling.

We have developed memory hooks not only for all the first 200 irregular high frequency words but also for those year three and four spelling lists. These are fun and intuitively obvious. We also have engaging ways to help pupils make the right spelling choices in ambiguous spelling situations such as hurt, bird, term. Using insight from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), we’ve developed a practice which strengthens the ‘visual recall muscle’ to provide a great support for spelling.

And those spelling lists? No, they don’t go away but they don’t have to be boring. With the help of dice and coloured crayons Whole Brain Spelling transforms dull lists into a series of engaging games.

Sound interesting? We’re running half-day Whole Brain Spelling training on 20th OctoberContact Paul Gee on 0844 967 1111 for more information about this article, or the content of our Whole Brain Spelling course.

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