How to Use Spelling Wisdom

Charlotte Mason believed that we should give children ideas, not just information. So she taught spelling, not in isolated lists of words, but in the context of useful and beautiful language.

We can present the child with a list of words to learn, such as: “am, will, can, I, ought.” How much more pleasant to rearrange that list of words into an inspiring or interesting thought, like Charlotte Mason’s motto for students: “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

Charlotte used this principle with prepared dictation to teach spelling, beginning in about the third or fourth grade. In prepared dictation, the student is given a passage to study before he is required to write it—the chief objective being to write it correctly.

We designed Spelling Wisdom to help you easily apply this pleasant and effective method, while being confident that you’re teaching the words your student needs to know.

How to Use Spelling Wisdom

  1. Once or twice a week give your student the dictation exercise you want him to learn.
  2. Look through the exercise together and identify the words that you or the student thinks needs his attention in order to spell them confidently. Ideally, you should find no more than three or four words to be studied.
  3. Instruct the student to study the identified words—one at a time—until he is sure he can spell every word in the exercise. Have him also notice the punctuation and capitalization in the passage. This study period may take anywhere from a few minutes to several days, depending on the length of the exercise and the needs of the student. Set aside a little time each day for brief but consistent study of the exercise as needed. Some moms also like to use the Spelling Wisdom exercises for copywork as part of the studying process. (See below for ideas on how to study a word.)
  4. When the student (and you) are confident that he can spell every word in the exercise, dictate the passage to him one phrase at a time, saying the phrase only once. Pause after each phrase is spoken to allow him time to write it. Keep a careful eye on his efforts. If a word is misspelled, quickly cover it with a small self-stick note so its false spelling won’t be engraved in the student’s mind.
  5. After the dictation is complete, the student should study any words that he misspelled and, when he is ready, write the words correctly on the self-stick notes. Misspellings should be rare when using this method.

How to Study a Word

You may want to work with younger or uncertain students to teach them how to study an unfamiliar word, as outlined below. Older students or students more accustomed to using the method below may study independently.
Use any or all of the study methods that will help your child and his particular learning style.

  • Look at the word and copy it carefully, making sure it is spelled correctly.
  • Look at the word until you can close your eyes and see it spelled correctly in your mind.
  • Look at the word and say each letter aloud.
  • “Write” the word with your first finger on a sheet of paper or other smooth surface, being careful to look at the word and spell it correctly.
  • Practice writing the word from memory only if the teacher is nearby to immediately erase any misspellings.