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Spelling: what your child should know and how to help at home


Apr 13, 2023, 2:16 PM

Children practising spelling

Looking to help boost your child's spelling skills? Find out everything you need to know about spelling in Years 3–6 and get tips to help your child master tricky words.


Why does spelling matter?

Spelling is an important part of your child's early education. Being able to spell is a foundational skill that will support them throughout their school and working life.

Learning how to spell improves skills such as:

  • Written communication: accurate spellings help children communicate their ideas to produce well-written content. As your child learns how to spell more words and increases their vocabulary, they'll be able to write more creatively.

  • Verbal articulation: spelling teaches children how particular sounds match individual letters or words. This makes it easier to pronounce words accurately and make an informed guess when they encounter an unfamiliar word.

  • Reading comprehension: a solid grasp of spelling helps children accurately interpret new words. Once they recognise new words, they are able to understand and process information quickly and accurately.

  • Memory retention: the act of spelling helps to encode the word and its meaning in your child's long-term memory. This improves their ability to recall words, facts and concepts at a later date.

  • Attention to detail: learning how words are built and spotting spelling mistakes helps children improve their attention to detail.

  • Self-esteem: the act of learning how to spell a new word can boost your child's self-esteem. As a result, they'll become a more confident reader and writer.

Spelling in Key Stage 2

The national curriculum at Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11) builds on the foundational skills taught in Key Stage 1 (ages 4–7).

Your child will be taught particular spelling rules and patterns in the classroom but will be expected to learn their spellings at home. Many schools assess their pupils' spelling progress with weekly spelling tests.

All children in state schools are tested on their spellings in Year 6 SATs at the end of Key Stage 2. The spelling test is taken one-on-one in a room with a teacher or a classroom assistant and lasts 15–20 minutes.

Year 6 SATs English: what to expect

Spelling in Year 3 and 4

In Year 3 and Year 4, children will be taught the following spelling patterns and rules:

  • adding suffixes (letters added to the end of a word): -ation (information), -ly (completely) and -ous (famous)

  • adding prefixes (letters added to the start of a word): dis- (disappoint), mis- (mislead), in- (incorrect), il- (illegal), im- (immortal), ir- (irregular), re- (refresh), sub- (subheading), inter- (interact), super- (superman), anti - (antiseptic), auto- (autobiography)

  • words containing y in the middle: 'myth' and 'mystery'

  • words containing ou: 'young', 'double' and 'country'

  • words with ure endings: 'measure', 'furniture' and 'nature'

  • words with similar-sounding endings: -tion (invention), -sion (comprehension), -ssion (expression), and -cian (musician)

  • words spelt ch but sound like 'k' (Greek origin): scheme, chorus, character

  • words spelt ch but sound like 'sh' (French origin): chef, machine, brochure

  • words spelt sc but sound like 's' (Latin origin): science, scene, crescent

  • words spelt ei (vein), eigh (neighbour) or ey (obey)

  • words ending with gue (tongue) and que (unique)

  • using the possessive apostrophe (') with plurals: girls', children's, mice's

  • homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently): accept/except, grate/great, meat/meet

Year 3 & 4

Virtual lesson: building words

Join Wing in this virtual lesson. Learn how to use prefixes and suffixes to build new words, which rules are used to form plural nouns, and how to build compound words.

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English: Building words (Year 3 & 4)

Spelling in Year 5 and 6

In Year 5 and Year 6, children revise the work completed in previous years and learn new patterns and spelling techniques:

  • words ending with -cious (precious) and -tious (nutritious)

  • words ending with -cial (official) and -tial (essential)

  • words ending with -ant (observant) and -ance/-ancy (substance/hesitancy)

  • words ending with -ent (innocent) and -ence/-ency (confidence/decency)

  • words ending with -able/-ably (adorable/adorably) and -ible/ibly (possible/possibly)

  • adding suffixes beginning with vowel letters to words ending in -fer: referring, preferred, transference

  • using hyphens: co-ordinate, re-enter, co-operate

  • words spelt ei after c: deceive, receive, ceiling

  • words containing ough: bought, tough, borough

  • words with silent letters: doubt, island, knight

  • more homophones: advice/advise, morning/mourning, led/lead

Atom Learning

Key Stage 2 spelling list

Download our Year 3–6 spelling list. See which words your child should learn how to spell before secondary school.

Download now
Key Stage 2: statutory spelling list

Spelling strategies to help your child

Try some of these popular methods to help teach your child how to spell at home.

Look, cover, write, check

The 'look, cover, write, check' strategy is a common spelling method taught at school which is easy to replicate at home:

  1. Write a word on a piece of paper and ask your child to read it carefully

  2. Hide the word under another piece of paper, or cover it with your hand

  3. Ask your child to write the spelling as they remember it

  4. Uncover the word and let your child check to see if they've got it right

  5. Repeat!


'Chunking' is a useful method to help your child learn how to spell longer words with multiple syllables. It involves breaking down a word into smaller, separate chunks, memorising each chunk separately, and then combining them to form the full word. For example:

  • 'ac' + 'tu' + 'ally' = actually

  • 'diff' + 'er' + 'ent' = different

  • 'know' + 'ledge' = knowledge

  • 'poss' + 'ess' + 'ion' = possession

  • 'Wed' + 'nes' + 'day' = Wednesday

If your child is learning how to spell a multisyllabic word, encourage them to speak the different chunks out loud. Verbalising the sounds and listening to them fit together can help to make sense of the word as a whole.

Games and puzzles

Playing word games and solving worded puzzles can help reward your child for accurate spelling.

  • Scrabble can help your child learn new words from other players while finessing their spelling technique. Only correctly-spelt words gain points, and building more complex words with less commonly-used letters (e.g. J, Z and K) result in higher scores.

  • Word searches require children to know how to spell a word correctly before finding it in the grid. Completing word searches can also help your child develop pattern repetition in spelling. For example, knowing that 'q' is often followed by 'u' makes the word easier to spot among many other letters.

  • Crosswords can be a great tool to help improve your child's vocabulary and practise spelling at the same time. The number of boxes shows how many letters the word needs to be (which is particularly useful if a word contains silent letters). Parts of the puzzle that overlap provide your child with clues for the correct spelling.

Make spelling fun with Atom Nucleus

Wondering how to make sure your child recaps the Key Stage 2 curriculum, stays on track with their progress, and gets help when they're stuck? Online learning is a particularly efficient, cost-effective and fun way to do this!

Atom Nucleus is an award-winning online learning platform that helps children get ahead at school.

Your child can work independently through over 70,000 interactive questions in English, maths and science. Teacher-created helpsheets and videos help them discover new concepts and consolidate their learning.

Atom's algorithm keeps your child on their ideal learning path. This is tailored to their unique learning style and pace to ensure they stay challenged and motivated.

Spelling resources on Atom Nucleus

Engaging learning

Discover how to build words and identify word sounds with questions, helpsheets and mini-tests.

Everything is automatically marked for you, and you'll get instant data on your child's progress!

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