Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check – A Strategy for Struggling Spellers

In today’s world filled with auto-correct, spell check, and classrooms with 1-to-1 computing, it’s no wonder that spelling often gets overlooked. Teachers are overloaded with content to teach, and something as mundane as spelling can be easily pushed by the wayside.

struggling spellers

As a parent, it is easy to think…

Oh [insert name here] doesn’t need to be an awesome speller. Any important writing task in the future (aka college entrance essays, resumes, emails to their bosses, etc.) will be done on the computer.

So then, why should we care about spelling?

Good spelling makes you look smart.

And unfortunately, whether you like it or not, the opposite is also true of poor spelling. First impressions are everything, and in many circumstances that starts with your words.

Imagine reading this blog post only to find it littered with grammatical errors. What would you think? Would you think of me as an intelligent, experienced educator with a Master’s Degree? Would you think the information that I was sharing with you was credible? Probably not. You would probably read a few lines, be appalled by my poor writing skills, think that I, more than likely, had no idea what I was talking about, and move along to another website in a matter of minutes.

Writing, whether formally or informally, in all its various contexts, is a way to share your ideas with the world. The first way to present yourself as a credible, knowledgeable, and thoughtful person is through good spelling.

Good spelling instruction improves reading skills.

According to the article, The Importance of Spelling by Spelling City, “Learning to spell helps to cement the connection between the letters and their sounds, and learning high-frequency “sight words” to mastery level improves both reading and writing.” Children can learn to spell many words just by sounding them out. Through appropriate phonics and spelling instruction, students are able to string letters and sounds together to create words. Spelling programs, such as Words Their Way, teach children spelling rules that they can apply to the reading and writing of many different words.


Spelling can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

Think of spelling words like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. While some puzzles are more challenging than others, and there are  many strategies to use, the end result will always be the same. The puzzle will always look the same in the end no matter how you go about solving it. You simply (or not so simply) have to figure out the correct way to fit the pieces together.

jigsaw puzzle

Spelling words is exactly the same, and there are actually many products out there today that teach beginning spelling through puzzles.

spelling puzzle

Kids have to figure out the correct way to fit the letters together. One way to do this is by breaking the word into parts or syllables.

For example, let’s look at the word habitat. Habitat can be broken up into 3 syllables.

Ha – bi – tat

While it may have seemed like a challenging word at first, once it is broken up into syllables, it is easy to make out the different sounds in each syllable. Then, just like in a puzzle, you put the syllables together to spell the word!

sight words

Although many words in the English language can be spelled phonetically, or by sound, some words seem to follow their own set of rules.

These words are known by many names, based on the program your child’s school uses, such as high-frequency words, sight words, red words, etc. These words do not completely follow the typical spelling patterns.

For example, let’s look at the word from. A child attempting to spell this word would probably write frum because that is how it sounds. The f, r, and m are easier to make out because you can hear them, while the o sounds like short u.

While you may be able to hear some of the letters in tricky words, such as the f, r, and m in from, the correct spelling will ultimately have to be memorized. You can read more about sight words in my post Teaching Sight Words with Picture Cues.

Now that we can all agree on the value and importance of good spelling, let me share with you a spelling strategy that I love to use on those tricky words!

Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check

Look, say, cover, write, check is a simple spelling strategy that does just what its name says and will work for any list of words. I love using this technique with my tutoring students and have found it to be very effective. I adapted this product from Repeating Third Grade, which you can download for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

look say cover write check

To start, take a file folder and cut the top flap into 3 sections. Label them as shown above.

  1. Look, Say, Cover – Look at each word with your child. Encourage them to take a picture of the word with their mind. Then say the words aloud, breaking them up into syllables. Try to stress the sounds you hear in each syllable. Before we cover the words, I like to go back through one more time and identify any “tricky” letters in each word. These might be letters that do not follow the typical spelling rules. We usually highlight the “tricky” letters so they are easy to see. Then cover the words with the flap so you cannot see them.look say cover write check
  2. Write – Say each spelling word aloud for your child to write.
  3. Check – Flip up all the flaps and begin checking each word. If the word was spelled correctly, your child can put a check mark in the box. If the word was spelled incorrectly, go back to the “write” column and circle any incorrect letters. Then write the correct letters above them. Finally, write the word correctly on the line, as shown. look say cover write check

I like to use a graph, like the one shown below, to keep track of my student’s progress. It is a great visual for my students, and they love to see their improvement.

spelling graph

You can download a blank copy of my Spelling Monitoring Chart to use with your kids at home.

If you have questions about this spelling strategy, or would like other ideas to help your struggling speller, please reach out to me! I would love to work with you and your child to help them become the best speller they can be.

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