Teaching the spelling of words with silent letters can be a challenge. This is because to spell words correctly, letters are matched to their corresponding sounds. In the last post on spelling, we learned that for words with more than one syllable, we break the words into syllables and then say the letters that correspond to each of the sounds in each syllable when we spell them.
When we need to spell words with silent letters, this method cannot be used because silent letters are mute. The letters occur in the spelling of the word but are not said when we are pronouncing the word. Therefore, to teach these words effectively, we need another guide. And in instances where a guide is not available, we have to cram the spelling of the words. (some people do not like cramming, but this method of learning has its place in the modern classroom). One guide we can follow is teaching spelling using word origins.
Teaching Spelling Using Word Origin
For advanced learners, knowing the origin of a word can help them spell the words correctly. The origin of a word says something about how the letters work because it often carries over into English how spelling works in that language. For example, in German, there are “kn” words which have been borrowed into English. In German, the “k” and “n” are said, but in modern English, the initial “k” is not said. So, if a learner is told the word ‘knight’ is of German origin, he can tell that the initial ‘k’ will be silent. As can be adduced, other “kn” words from German are knee, knuckle, knob and knot.
Using Spelling Rules
For Intermediate learners, teaching the spelling of words with silent letters using rules are effective. There are some established rules that guide silent letters, so when learners know them it helps determine how they are spelt. One such rule is that in general, the letter B is silent after the letter M in monosyllabic words. Examples are bomb, comb, tomb. Another rule is that the letter B is silent before letter T. For example, in Subtle, doubt, debt.
As mentioned, this rule is useful for intermediate learners who must have seen these words written but want a mnemonic to help them remember the spelling. For a person who has never seen the word, knowing this rule will not help with spelling at all. It is more of a rule for pronunciation.
For beginning learners, the best way to teach the spelling of silent letters is simply learning the spelling by cramming
Teaching spelling of silent letters by Cramming
For beginning learners, the best way to teach the spelling of silent letters is simply learning the spelling by rote. The learners just have to cram the spelling of the words. They look at the words, listen to the spelling and the repeat. These actions help in memorizing the spelling.
Some people include these words when they are giving direct instruction on “Sight Words”. As the name implies, Sight Words are words you learn simply by looking at them. You reinforce the lesson by using flashcards. Simply spell out the words on the cards and have the children spell them. It will be helpful if the words are grouped into families of words based on the letters that are silent in them. For example, group “lamb” and “comb” not “comb” and “Wednesday”.
How ICCOM Teach spelling of Silent Letters
The Institute of Certified Communicators combine the three methods listed to teach the spelling of words with silent letters. We begin with cramming and then graduate to the rules and finally use etymology to teach spelling. In this way, by the time the learners have passed through five years of instruction using the Speech and Presentation Course, they would be equipped to spell words correctly.
We invite you to investigate how ICCOM teaches silent letters. You can ask for a demonstration virtually or in-person so that your school can benefit from our over two decades of experience and research into teaching spelling.