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Language Arts

Homeschool Spelling

Homeschool spelling can be a very difficult subject to learn and to teach. Learn more about national standards for spelling here. This article also provides information that can help you create a spelling curriculum for your homeschool spelling class.

Disclosure: In reading this article, you should know that I have both taught homeschool spelling and contributed in various ways to several published spelling books. I was the main writer on the initial version of Steck-Vaughn Spelling Level 6, with the series author being John R. Pescosolido. I was the revising author of Barron’s Pocket Guide to Correct Spelling. And I am the author of Painless Spelling, now in its 2nd edition, also from Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. They are all available from

When it comes to spelling, English it tough. Most people agree that it’s far easier to teach spelling in Romance languages, such as Spanish. A major reason for this is that English is filled with words from all manner of other languages, each with their own spelling rules. So it has grown into a language that’s full of exceptions.

In addition, spelling is one subject that is really difficult to teach directly from the national standards, because they simply don’t provide enough information. This article provides some suggestions for how to use the standards as a jumping off point for instructing your child or children in spelling.

Getting Started

One initial step you should take for homeschool spelling is checking the education website for your state. If you are not already familiar with it, you can locate the URL using the United Stated Department of Education website: Check both for content guidelines or requirements and for recommended spelling materials. If there are none listed, you can check directly with the state language arts consultant for the relevant grade levels.

Homeschool Spelling and the Standards

The national standards for spelling form a part of the standards for the English language arts published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the International Reading Association (IRA). Here is a summary of the information that applies to spelling.

The standard that pertains directly to spelling is standard 6, and this is how it reads:

6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts.

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of guidance here, but some other comments in the standards document are helpful in gathering how NCTE/IRA hopes spelling will be approached:

  • Spelling is defined as “The process of representing language by means of a writing system, or orthography.”

  • In the process of acquiring an understanding of the orthography (i.e., the standard or “right” way to write words), students will go through stages in which they do the following:
  • “write” the word with scribbles:
  • write the word in a way that mirrors its sound, rather than its proper spelling;
  • write the word in a way that mirrors the proper spelling of another word they remember seeing, rather than the way the word is actually written;
  • write the word using a “temporary” or “invented” spelling prior to learning to write the word in the conventional way.

These stages, although they do not result in correct spelling immediately, are important developmental steps on the road to correct spelling.

  • Students need to be systematically taught the system and conventions of spelling: they cannot intuit them.
  • Students need to learn that correct spelling is a contribution to their writing style and affects how their writing will be perceived by others.

Teaching Homeschool Spelling Based on the National Standards

By the time we are parents, most of us are so far from our own spelling instruction that we cannot remember it enough to provide systematic instruction without the assistance of a text for students or a guide for teachers. A guide will help you with the more sophisticated bits of spelling like diphthongs and digraphs and etymology.

You are likely to find that if you teach your child several words with the same spelling pattern rather than a random collection of words on the one hand, and words that she or he uses often and really wants to be able to spell correctly on the other, progress will be easier. Working from the familiar (for example, the child’s name) to the unfamiliar (words that have a spelling pattern similar to the child’s name) is also helpful. If you decide you want a guide for yourself, I recommend that you consider Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (4th Edition),