Chip, cheap, ship, sheep - remembering the spelling

Words that sound similar, especially to learners of English, can be a nightmare to spell.

A colleague in Algeria wrote that his young students mix up the spelling of the words chip, cheap, ship and sheep. If you're a native speaker of English you might think that the only problem here is the two different ways of spelling the long e sound in cheap and sheep. Otherwise the sounds tell you how to spell them, don't they?. But if you're a learner of English as a foreign language, you may well not be able to hear or produce the two different vowel sounds in ship and sheep. And the same difficulty is common with the different consonant sounds in ship and chip. So that's where phonics falls down for learners of English.

So let me try to help.

If we can't rely on sound for spelling these words, perhaps we can find something in the meaning to help. But that's usually easier with longer words. So I had to get a bit creative with these.

Linking the meaning with a photographic image of the letter.

Using synonyms to remember those two vowels
Using the word shape linked to the meaning 

Using drawn images to remember the vowels

You'll notice that:
  • there are lots of different ways to help learners remember
  • visual images stick in most people's memories
  • linking meaning with spelling gives learners a hook to hang the spelling on
  • this is a great way to differentiate between two (or more) similar words that cause spelling problems
  • I can't draw! It's true I'm rather embarrassed about these drawings - particularly those sheep! - but in fact here I think it's an advantage because it makes them funnier and it shows people (teachers and learners) that they don't have to be artists to be able to do this. I'm most certainly not!

Teachers! Parents! People who find spelling hard! 

I invite you to try it yourselves with words your learners / your children / you can't spell or confuse. 

Start by identifying the problem part in the word. Think about the whole word shape and think about the shape of those tricky letters, but always think about the meaning too and try to make a link. Can you make a visual link between the spelling and the meaning? 

Try out some different ideas - just the thinking and drawing will help memory, so it works best if the person who is having the spelling difficulty does it himself or herself or you do it together. The images can then be displayed as a reminder if necessary - but remove the display as soon as possible so the memory needs to do a bit of work. 

Please share your images with us in my Flickr group:

And please, feel free to tell others about this Flickr group, this blog, this idea and/or my Facebook page:

Looking forward to seeing your pictures!