Guide to Spelling: Hooked on Phonics

Quick and Dirty Tricks of the Trade

Whatever your level of skill, you can benefit from the following eight time-tested spelling tricks. They're easy—and they work. Try them all, or pick and choose the ones that suit your needs.

  1. Classify errors. Why not specialize? Figure out what words pose the most trouble for you and concentrate on those errors. For example, if you have a problem with words that contain ie, study the “ie” rule and concentrate on the words that follow the rules and the major exceptions.
  2. Break words down into smaller parts. For example, to spell bookkeeper, break the word down to its two parts: book and keeper. Then you won't forget there's a double k in the middle of the word.
  3. Do word puzzles and games. There are many different kinds to choose from, including crosswords, acrostics, Scrabble, and Boggle. Each type of word puzzle or game gives you practice in spelling. As a bonus, doing puzzles also teaches you vocabulary. So what if it includes some useless words? You want, maybe, everything?
  4. Use dictionaries. I know, I know, looking up a word is a pain. So is exercise, but they both work. Using a dictionary will help you remember a word's spelling and its exact meaning.
  5. Try air writing. No, it's not a New Age crystal thing; it's what Miss Nelson taught you in the fourth grade. To check the spelling of a word or to learn the spelling of an unfamiliar word, try writing it in the air.
  6. Guess and check. It's a free country; you're allowed to guess. To check the spelling of a word, make a guess. Write it down and see how it looks. If the planets are aligned, you'll be able to see if you're right or wrong. You'll probably also be able to see where you went wrong: omitted letter, double letter, wrong letter.
  7. Use word cards. Those flash cards you used in elementary school still work quite nicely with spelling, thank you very much. Try this three-step plan:
    Strictly Speaking

    Compound words divide most easily into parts because they are made by combining individual words. For example: cross-dressing, chambermaid, four-poster.

    Quoth the Maven

    Print dictionaries don't run out of batteries; handheld computerized dictionaries are light and easy to carry. It's your call. Just be sure to use a dictionary.

    Quoth the Maven

    Mnemonics are memory tricks that help you remember everything from the order of the planets to your grocery list. For example, to remember how to spell principal, look at the last three letters: the principal is your pal. Principle, in contrast, ends in le, like rule (which is what principle means). Create your own mnemonics to conquer spelling demons.

    • As you read through this section, write each difficult-to-spell word on a 3×5 index card, one word per card.
    • Study the cards every chance you get.
    • Take them with you on the bus, train, and plane; hide them in your lap and sneak a peek during dull meetings.
  8. Visualize. Think about how the word is spelled; get a clear mental picture of the word. This will help you remember the word and spell it correctly in the future.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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