Spelling Words With /CH/: Is it CH or TCH?


CH or TCH? It isn’t about hearing the /t/.

The third of the short vowel spelling generalizations has to do with whether to use -ch or -tch at the end of a word. This generalization states that when you hear the /ch/ sound at the end of a syllable AND it is immediately preceded by a short vowel, it is spelled -tch.

If there is a consonant or vowel team before the /ch/, it is spelled -ch. -tch will never come at the beginning of a word.

Some words that follow the CH/TCH spelling generalization include:

catch               notch               witch               clutch              fetch

snatch             scotch              snitch               crutch              stretch

lunch               porch               couch               peach              mulch

starch              poach              birch                pooch              ranch

There are a very few exceptions to this rule, but they also happen to be extremely common and high use words and include: which, much, such, rich, and sandwich. It is probably advisable to teach these as learned words. There are a few cases where tch comes at the end of the first syllable in a multisyllable word. This is usually when the second syllable is an unaccented schwa sound as in kitchen, hatchet or satchel.

In order to teach this generalization, it is helpful for students to know closed, vowel team and r controlled syllable types, be familiar with the terms long and short vowel and discriminating between the two by sound, and be able to segment a word of 4 or 5 sounds.

I find it is generally most helpful to teach the -tch trigraph in reading first. Once students are comfortable and familiar with the phonogram, they are ready for the spelling generalization. It is important to refrain from giving words ending in ch and tch in dictation until this generalization has been taught.

Students can use some guiding questions to help them make a decision when writing a new word:

  • Is this word one syllable?
  • Is the vowel short or long?
  • If the vowel sound is short, does the /ch/ sound come after a consonant such as l, n or r? If no, add TCH. If yes, add CH.
  • If the vowel sound is long or a vowel team, add CH.

Here are some teaching ideas for CH versus TCH:

  • Sorting – You can sort words by spelling or sort pictures by medial sounds to build skills listening for short vowels.
  • Start from the known – Since students should already be familiar with the k/ck spelling generalization before learning the ch/tch guideline, activate that prior knowledge and help students to see the parallels between the two spelling rules. Ideally, ch/tch will be mastered much more quickly than the k/ck counterpart due to its relative familiarity and similarity to the known rule.
  • Review activities – Spending just a couple of minutes each lesson working with this generalization will help to solidify the learning. Have the student fill in the blank with ch or tch to finish spelling words. Ask them to segment a word into its sounds using counters or blocks and decide whether to use ch or tch at the end.
  • Dictation — Make sure to choose words that uphold the generalization. Have your student practice finding the base word and applying the spelling generalization before adding the suffix.
  • Games — Play games where the student not only needs to read, but actually make spelling choices between ch or tch. Make a word list that includes words with ch and tch. Have the student spell a word. If they are able to spell the word correctly, they can roll a die and move along a game board. This basic principle can be adapted in a number of ways. Play ch or tch Jenga, or Don’t Break the Ice or any of the other repurposed games in your collection. Even Go Fish or Concentration can be presented with a spelling twist.
  • Spiral and Review – I recommend reviewing the k/ck generalization shortly before teaching this one and to review this spelling generalization before teaching other short vowel spelling generalizations. I find that each spelling rule lays the foundation for those that follow.

Incorporating ch/tch practice into SOS review words is an excellent way to keep this learning fresh. If there are few concepts needing intensive review, cycling through spelling generalizations is always an appropriate review.

As new learning is added to your student’s repertoire, especially adding affixes, it is often helpful to review the ch/tch generalization to help situate it within the larger context of English spelling.

  • Verbalize – Medical doctors in training have a saying about procedures “See one, do one, teach one.” By verbalizing their knowledge, the medical student solidifies their own understanding. By the same token, it is very valuable to have students explain the spelling generalization in their own words. It is often easier for them to explain when to use TCH, rather than explaining all the many circumstances when they would use CH. Another way to encourage students to have a deep understanding and ability to explain the generalization is to ask them why they made the spelling choice that they did. For example, in the word patch, you could ask the student why they used tch or why they chose to use ch in the word branch or teach. This will often expose any misunderstandings or areas that need clarification.

Teaching and practicing this spelling generalization will not only provide students with learning differences a lifeline for spelling many words, but it will avoid inefficient and misleading practices such as trying to add or distinguish a /t/ sound in the word witch but not in the word pouch.

CH or TCH spelling rule

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