Spelling Mnemonics – sentences for words

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Part 1 Intro to Mnemonics
Part 2 Making up sentences to remember how to spell words
Part 3 Building 'because' instead of the elephant story

Making up sentences to remember how to spell words

Making up sentences is great for medical students but very poor for spelling students. A silly sentence might successfully get a student to spell a word, but the process obscures characteristics of the word that would enable a student to spell a great deal more.

For instance, I've seen several versions of a very convoluted sentence to remember the spelling of 'geography', but it's always something to do with someone's old grandpa riding a pig home. A better option is to build the word (I'll demonstrate building in the next installment) if necessary, then bundle it with other 'geo' words according to the level of your students: geology, geometry, geothermal. Have a look at the online etymology dictionary to see that 'geo' means 'earth'.

Then bundle it with 'graphy' words: biography, typography, choreography. Let students contribute to the list. For creating bundles, I usually search online: "words ending graphy". I often end up at morewords.com for the answer, but there are lots of other sites. Now look up graphy in the etemology dictionary to see what it means.

You can learn 9 easily confusable words, "Graham Ellis' old grandpa rode a pig home yesterday" and be able to spell 'geography', or learn to say 4 syllables clearly, "ge/o/graph/y", then attach letters to sounds. In 15 minutes, your students will learn to spell a whole herd of words and never have to think about poor grandpa and that pig again.

It's the same with sentences about never eating various and sundry confusable things to get to 'necessary'. Instead, work from a clear pronunciation:

ne  ce  ssa  ry

Then attach letters to what you've just said. KS2 teachers would definitely use puzzle building the first time. There are two 's' sounds with different spellings and the tricky bit is to remember which comes first and which comes second. You might want to first show them the wrong way and ask them to read it.

ne  ca  sse  ry

They've written ne/ka/se/ry because we always read /k/ when we see a <c> followed by an <a>. We don't talk about spelling rules in That Spelling Thing because they're a huge burden on memory, but we do point out how the code behaves for both spelling and reading, and it behaves surprisingly consistently with more and more patterns and tendencies emerging as you and your students bundle words by spelling, by meaning and sometimes just by letter patterns.

As an absolute last resort, there's always the old mnemonic, "one collar & two sleeves", if they really need it. (See, I'm not a monster.)

This is getting long, so we'll look at elephants in the next installment. In the meantime, here's a big elephant who really does seem able to understant that small elephant.