Monday, August 28, 2006

Teaching Spelling the CM Way

I keep ongoing lists of my children’s (8 yrs old and up) spelling errors found in their everyday writing. I used to give a ‘pre-test’ on Mondays and a ‘post-test’ on Fridays. NOT anymore. I found that my children would often make the same errors again in their writing even if they wrote it correctly for the test. Plus, it was so boring. Would I have to do this every week for each child for the next twelve years? Yikes! I decided to read what Charlotte Mason had to say about spelling and try her method. We had much better success this way and it is far more interesting.

Her method is based on the principle of visualization. She felt that ‘the whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualizing words from memory… The gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to 'take' (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word; and this is a power and habit, which must be cultivated in children from the first.’
Basically, I write on the dry erase board a word that I notice my daughter misspelled during the week OR a new word from a passage that she is going to read and I think she will have troubles with it.

I instruct my daughter to look carefully at the word and pretend she has a camera. She is to ‘click’ her camera and take a photograph of the word in her mind’s eye.

Next, she closes her eyes and spells the word aloud from memory. I remind her to visualize the word and say out loud what she sees. I don’t want her to rely on her audio capabilities, recalling the letters she heard, but rather what she saw.

I then let her open her eyes and check to see if she was correct. If so, then I erase the word completely and let her do it again.

If she makes a mistake, we repeat the entire process until she is successful. There is no pressure to have a perfect score and only a few words are done at a time as the need arises using words that are relevant to the child, not contrived from some generic list. She doesn’t write the words down so that if she makes a spelling error, her mind does not see it and potentially become confused in the future.

‘An error once made and corrected leads to fearful doubt for the rest of one's life, as to which was the wrong way and which is the right. Most of us are haunted by some doubt as to whether 'balance,' for instance, should have one 'l' or two; and the doubt is born of a correction. Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which.
It becomes, therefore, the teacher's business to prevent false spelling, and, if an error has been made, to hide it away, as it were, so that the impression may not become fixed.’ - C. Mason

I might also add that once my children learn to type, I allow them to type some of their narrations. (They also write their friends, stories and such.) I require them to make use of the automatic spell check. This doesn’t give them a chance to see the word misspelled, aiding the mind in learning the correct spelling.

Dictation is the second method in applying this principle of visualization in spelling. I’ll talk about that next time.


  1. previous commentors30.12.06

    August 28, 2006 - Brilliant!

    Posted by Fiffi

    Hi Lindafay

    What an interesting and extremely helpful post! Makes absolute sense to me. I have often wondered why my 11 year old continues to misspell some of the most simplest of words yet can remember ones that are extremely hard!


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    August 28, 2006 - Such a Fantastic Blog!

    Posted by WonderlandLearningCenter

    Hi, I am Jeanne. I too was tagged which led me here. I will have to read many more of your items. This is our first yr and I am everyday amazed at the wealth of information on homeschooling! Who does your blog? We are so greatful to all the other homeschoolers who post info for us newbies! Can we be friends? Jeanne

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    August 29, 2006 - Untitled Comment

    Posted by Leigh2

    Those are some great ideas! Kaitlyn used to be a horrible speller....I used worry that she would never spell well...and she was reading at a college level by the forth grade! I just thought that if you read well, you would also spell well. I was not correct in my assumption. :o)

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    August 29, 2006 - Untitled Comment

    Posted by eclecticchaos

    I tagged you on my blog - it's actually a good tag, not one of the cheesy ones :D :D

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    August 29, 2006 - Great advice, just as I said on my blog about you today!

    Posted by sprittibee

    I always misspell the same words over and over. I usually try and learn a way to say them that is more phonetic so that I can trick myself into spelling them right. Thus marriage becomes MAR-I-AGE phonetically so that I can remember to put the "I" before the "A". :) My kids do this also. It is funny how you create your own little ways to remember things - sometimes very different from others... and you do it without any prompting at all! My daughter spelled the word "HEIGHT" correctly the other day (she's 7) and it BLEW ME AWAY. It took me a long time to spell that word correctly!

    By the way, I tagged you today. Can't wait to see your answers. Be sure to post a link on my site when you get them up!

    Need your expertise here:

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    August 30, 2006 - Untitled Comment

    Posted by lindafay

    Jeanne, I would be honored to be added to your friends list. I'll do the same. (I designed my own blog from a basic HSB template.)

    Sally and Sprittibee, Spunky beat you to it. She tagged me with the same meme last week. You can find it on my sidebar.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Leigh and Fiffi.

    Have a great day,

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  2. This is wonderful... I might try this with my son... I have been slowly SLOWLY finding what works for us as a family, and as my experience grows in homeschooling. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Anonymous16.1.08

    I love your blog and wish you could write more. I learn so much from you.
    I need your wisdom if you could spare me.
    I have a 6 yr+ son in public school in Singapore. He can read pretty well (Grade 2-3 books) but he can't spell. I don't know why. Even simple words he can't remember how to spell.
    I'm beginning to worry and it's stressing me out. Can you shed some light on this and share your wisdom. Thanks

  4. Hello,
    Your son is still very young and it is normal for children his age to misspell many words. I wouldn't worry about it just yet. Six year olds are usually not developmentally ready to spell very well.

    Now, some children are naturally very poor spellers. This has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. It usually indicates that the child has a weak visual memory and you will need to help him strengthen it. (I have several posts suggesting how to do this)

    But you can't be sure that your son has this problem until he is at least eight years of age or so. In the meantime, maybe you could model good spelling, but don't correct too many of his misspellings or you may give him a fear of writing. Use discretion and seize opportunities to give quick little visual lessons on the board.