Okay friends, I’m about to let you in on the secret sauce of spelling. You ready? Multisensory spelling strategies are a GAME CHANGER!
Spelling can be one of the most challenging skills to teach and learn as it requires students to effectively integrate multiple subskills simultaneously from segmenting sounds and syllables in words to representing individual sounds with printed letters to using fine motor skills to form letters on paper. In this post, we’ll talk about how to leverage multisensory learning to help your students learn to map speech sounds to printed letters when writing to spell words in an efficient and fluent manner.
As we talked about in the last post, phonics is the process of learning how to connect speech sounds to printed letters. Phonics helps students learn to both decode and encode the English language by forming a bridge between oral language and written language. In the last post, we reviewed the 4 basic steps of teaching a reading lesson, which focuses on decoding printed language to comprehend written words. In this post, we’ll dive into how to teach spelling using multisensory spelling strategies. This process requires students to encode the English language by using printed letters to represent individual speech sounds in order to convey meaning in writing.
What is multisensory spelling and why is it important?
Multisensory learning strategies help students learn by engaging multiple sensory channels at once while learning. Using multiple senses such as seeing, hearing, and touching helps strengthen connections and pathways in the brain. When multisensory strategies are used with a structured and systematic approach to language instruction, research has shown that weak connections between the language centers and auditory processing centers in the brain can actually be rewired! Not only is multisensory instruction backed by brain science, but it also makes learning engaging and fun.
With multisensory spelling strategies, teachers combine visual cues with oral practice activities, kinesthetic movements, and tactile sensory experiences to teach students how to spell words. In a spelling lesson, using multisensory learning strategies helps students form stronger connections between phonemes and graphemes. Below, I will share 3 powerful multisensory spelling strategies that are essential to unlocking learning in your daily spelling lessons.
Multisensory Strategy 1: Word Mapping
Phonemic proficiency is essential for spelling. Strong spellers are able to segment (take apart) words into their individual parts (syllables and phonemes) and manipulate those parts to create new words fluently and automatically. A strong spelling lesson should include a phonemic awareness component to strengthen students’ abilities to segment and manipulate phonemes as well as to “map words”.
Word Mapping is a term that describes the process of segmenting a word into its parts beginning first with the syllables and then working down to the individual phoneme level. This process uses tactile manipulatives to represent the syllables and sounds in the word, preparing students to spell the word sound-by-sound. Word mapping reinforces the alphabetic principle by showing students that each phoneme in a word can be spelled by connecting it to a grapheme (single letter or set of letters that represent one sound).
For example, to map the word “cupcake,” the student would begin by counting the number of syllables in the word: cup/cake. To represent each syllable, the student would place two pieces of felt or two index cards on the table while orally repeating each syllable aloud.
Next, the student would map the sounds in each syllable. The syllable “cup” contains three phonemes: /k/ /ŭ/ /p/. To represent the sounds in this syllable, the student would place 3 counters, buttons, pom pom balls, or even mini erasers on the first piece of felt or index card while orally repeating each sound. While it contains four letters, the second syllable “cake” also contains three phonemes: /k/ /ā/ /k/. The student would then place 3 additional counters onto the second piece of felt or index card while orally repeating each sound.
Word mapping can be used directly before spelling a word using the following process for spelling:
- Tap It – Tap each sound in the word.
- Map It – Represent each sound in the word using a manipulative.
- Graph It – Spell each sound in the word using the letter or set of letters that represents the sound.
With this process, the student first segments the individual sounds in each syllable by tapping one sound on each finger while orally saying the sounds aloud. Second, the student maps the word by using a manipulative to represent each individual sound in the word. Third, the student graphs the word by writing a grapheme to represent each individual sound in the word. Throughout this process, the student is engaging the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic processing centers in the brain.
Multisensory Strategy 2: What Says?
To spell words, students must have a strong understanding of letter-sound relationships. One way of building understanding of letter-sound relationships is through a daily sound drill. This is an integral part of every phonics lesson both for reading and spelling. However, the sound drill only requires students to recall a sound when presented a visual grapheme. To strengthen students’ understanding of letter-sound relationships, try a routine called “What says?”
Ask the student: “What says ____?” filling in the blank with a sound. The student will then respond by orally stating the name of the letter or letters that represent that sound, by pointing to a poster, by writing the letter or letters, or by selecting a magnet tile. For sounds that have more than one spelling pattern, the student should respond by recalling all the ways to spell that sound that the student has learned. For example, when asked “What says /k/?”, a student may respond with “C”, “K”, and “CK”.
Multisensory Strategy 3: Simultaneous Oral Spelling
To teach spelling, many teachers rely on traditional methods such as using weekly word lists, worksheets, and spelling tests. However, these methods do not provide students with an opportunity to spell words in an authentic manner by attending to the syllables, sounds, and patterns in words. Simultaneous Oral Spelling is a multisensory spelling strategy for breaking a word into its parts and spelling the word sound-by-sound.
Simultaneous Oral Spelling (SOS) Steps:
- Repeat the word – After the teacher says the word, students should orally repeat the word aloud. While repeating the word, it may be helpful for the student to look at their mouth using a mirror. This will help students distinguish similar sounds such as /f/ and /th/ by noticing their mouth shape.
- Tap the sounds – After repeating the whole word aloud, students should then segment the sounds in the word by tapping each sound on their fingers or using a manipulative to represent each sound. This step engages both the auditory and tactile/kinesthetic processing channels.
- Tap and spell the word – After segmenting the individual sounds in the word or in each syllable within the word, students should then connect letters to sounds by finger-spelling the word or tapping each manipulative and saying the letter or letters that represent the sound.
- Write the word – After repeating the word, segmenting the sounds in the word, and mapping the word, the student is then ready to spell the word in writing.
- Read the word aloud – After spelling the word, it is essential for students to read the word aloud to check their spelling. This step is often missed, but helps to reinforce connections between reading and spelling as well as to further build the alphabetic principle.
Like the spelling posters you see pictured above? 👇
🎥 Watch the video below to see Simultaneous Oral Spelling in action:
➡️ Want to learn more about Simultaneous Oral Spelling? Click here to read more about S.O.S. in this excerpt from Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills
Multisensory Spelling Strategies for ANY Lesson
There are many ways to spice up instruction while engaging the senses in any spelling lesson. The strategies in this section can be combined with any of the best practices listed above to make your lessons more engaging, memorable, and fun. Keep in mind that while engaging the sense of smell has been shown to be a powerful memory aid, there are some students who may have sensitivities or allergies to scented items. Always use caution when using scented items.
✏️ Some of My FAVORITE Multisensory Spelling Strategies for ANY Lesson:
- 👃 Engage the sense of smell by using scented markers, crayons, or shaving cream.
- 👁️ Engage the sense of sight and boost excitement by using spy pens with disappearing ink!
- 🖐 Engage the sense of touch by using a sand tray. BONUS: You can make a portable sound tray using a photo case, pencil box, or small food storage container.
- 👂 Engage the sense of hearing by using instrumental music or rhythms during spelling activities.
What are your favorite multisensory spelling strategies? Drop a comment below to share.