June 6, 2017
“I don’t understand. When we were reviewing at home, he seemed to remember all his vocabulary words, but today he told me he had failed his dictation. What should I do?”
I hear this a lot from the parents who come to my Reading and Writing Clinic (French only), and the first thing I ask them about is the type of mistakes their children make when writing. In this article, we will cover three of the main mistake categories: spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as mistakes caused by the child’s difficulties with letter-sound correspondences*.
A child who makes this type of mistakes struggles to remember the spelling of words. For example, he or she might write “evry” instead of “every”.
- To help your children memorize how words are spelled – which can be extremely hard, especially if they include silent letters – work with word families. For example, when memorizing the verb “drive”, mention the name “driver” to help them visualize the silent E at the end of the former.
- Teaching them about word families is also helpful when they struggle with double consonants (e.g.: “annual” and “annually”.)
- You should also make sure that they can tell the difference between a word and its homophones*, when applicable. Use the words in context so they can tell them apart and avoid sentences like “I have a new pear of shoes”.
- Finally, you can also ask your children to spell a word aloud before writing it down.
Obviously, you can only make grammar mistakes when writing down complete sentences, and once your child reaches this level, most schools teach them to review their sentences step by step, to ensure they go over all the different components of a sentence, for example:
- Capital letters and punctuation
- Noun phrases
- And so on.
If your children make grammar mistakes, the first step is to make sure they follow the correction list they were taught. Then, see if they can tell apart nouns and verbs (to make sure the latter agree with the right elements) and whether they know the grammar rules children in their level are taught. Finally, use every tool their teacher might have provided them with when doing dictation exercises.
Mistakes can also originate from a child’s difficulty to write down the letters that match the sounds they hear. In this case, some strategies can be put into place to improve your children’s phonological awareness*.
Here are some suggestions of what you could do:
- break words into syllables with a colored pencil
- clap out the syllables
- highlight certain sounds in different colours
One of my 1st grade students even breaks out word when she’s walking and takes one step per syllable. The only limit here is your imagination!
Being aware of the type of mistakes your child makes allows you to find games and exercises that are suited to his or her particular needs, thus allowing for faster results! Get working!
Mistakes related to letter-sound correspondences: difficulty to associate letters to the sound they make (e.g., writing down a B when the sound you hear is a D).
Homophones: words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings (e.g.: buy, by and bye).
Phonological awareness: ability to recognize the different sounds of a spoken language.