Multisensory Spelling Strategies For Learned Words


What are learned words? In Orton-Gillingham terms, learned words are what many people call sight words. You may also refer to them as red words or high frequency words. Most teachers can agree that learned words cannot be sounded out, and make up a large amount of our text in the English language. Our students who struggle with reading have an especially hard time with learned words, so that is why I’m going to explain how to use a two-pronged approach to teaching them.

Keep these two approaches in mind:

  1. Teach them using multisensory spelling techniques in a systematic format.
  2. Take a little time to learn the etymology of the learned word to learn the history behind it, and to solidify the reason for its spelling. (This is pretty interesting stuff!)

I have a private Facebook group for trained Orton-Gillingham teachers, and let me tell you, these ladies are pretty amazing. There is always interesting discussion, and the advice provided suggests such a thoughtful approach to teaching reading. Deneicia, one of the members, shared the systematic approach she uses to teaching learned words. It’s always interesting to hear how others teach learned words. We’re all basically doing the same the thing, but everyone has their own twist on it to make it work effectively for their kids. I’ll be honest. I needed to kick up my learned word practice a notch. Using this method for introducing new learned words was just what I needed to use with my kids.

Part One
This is a highly systematic approach to introducing learned words. I only intro one word at a time, BUT use all of these multisensory techniques to REALLY make an imprint on the brain and get kids to visualize the word in their mind before writing it. It may seem like a lot of steps to some, but think of your struggling readers. We’re presenting the word in a variety of formats, getting them ACTIVE with the word, and all while we’re employing multisensory (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile) techniques. Using these critical steps with kids will lay a foundation for long lasting success.

Putting the steps into a tri-fold really keeps me and my students organized. We start by folding the tri-fold and go through the ten steps together. I’ll explain how to fit the etymology piece into the lesson in a bit. For this post, I am going to use the word, two.

After typing up these instructions, I realized I need the directions broken down in a more kid-friendly format. That’s when I found the tri-fold template to use. All ten steps are included on both sides. Be sure to print/photocopy it double sided.

Using multisensory techniques for spelling might be new to some of you. I made some mini-posters to display or to create a flip chart. I absolutely love the clip art for these. A huge thanks to Jason from A Sketchy Guy for making these images.

Part Two
Learned words have a tendency to appear arbitrary in spelling to many people. Because of that, teachers take a great deal of time having their students memorize them. That simply isn’t enough to help them gain fluency. If we add inquiry to our instruction, we help children gain a deeper understanding. These learned words have a history and once we dig in to the etymological side, you may find your students becoming word detectives thirsty for more!

Use the Online Etymology Dictionary at the beginning of a lesson. In this lesson, I will use the word two. Ask students:

  • What does the word mean?
  • Are there any words that are spelled like the word two?
  • Where does the word come from?
  • What words are related to two?

You’ll find two is from the old English word, twa. You can read the full etymological background here. We have words like twin, twain, twice, twa, tuppence, twenty, and twelve. Even words like twist and twig are related to two in their history! Create a word web with two in the center, and write the related words stemming off of it.


You can follow these steps every time you intro a new learned word. Then your students will have a little tri fold collection that they can hold onto for quick practice. I’ve created all the materials you see in this post and then can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Find it here.

Find it here.

Before you go…

I’d love to share a tool that will cut some of that lesson planning time down for you.

Word List Builder is a time-saving, web-based tool that is going to streamline the lesson planning process for you.

Since it’s all web-based…

  • You can use Word List Builder anywhere.
  • Try the mobile or desktop version.
  • No need to bog your hard drive with lots of files or clunky software that becomes outdated.
  • Updates to the site are done automatically for you.

What can you do with Word List Builder?

  • Search for words with a highly unique search engine by spelling patterns, syllable types and division and morphological patterns
  • Create folders to save the words you searched.
  • Export the words from a folder into a template: Create word lists, word cards, phrasing templates for fluency practice and games.
  • Adjust for font size, font type and formatting
  • Save the templates you create.
  • Print and use what you made right away!

In this part one tutorial video, I show you how to set up a folder and begin searching for words. I have a tutorial for Word List Builder Part Two and Word List Builder Part Three.

You can catch them on the Word List Builder site or on The Literacy Nest YouTube Channel.

Sign up for a 21-day FREE trial of Word List Builder. Simply create an account, login and you’re on your way!

Thank you for stopping by my blog today.

Emily 🙂

Credits: An extra special thank you to Deneicia Harris and her colleague, Marsha Biesel for their contributions to the ideas and directions in this post.  THANK YOU! 🙂


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