Is It C or K? Multisensory Spelling Strategies

c or k spelling rule

Does it start with c or k?

A simple spelling generalization that students find very empowering regards the spelling of the initial /k/ sound or when the /k/ sound is part of an initial blend.

Initially, students are usually aware that ck is not found at the beginning of a syllable, but they often aren’t aware of how to decide whether to use c or k.

And so we have the Kitty Cat rule. This generalization says that when the /k/ sound is followed by i, e, or y it is spelling with a k. The rest of the time it is spelled with a c. There are some rhymes to help  such as “k takes I and e, c takes the other 3” (meaning the 3 other vowels) but this rhyme, while catchy, is incomplete. “k takes I, e and y, c takes everything else” is more accurate but less memorable.

Some words that follow this generalization include:

Cat       crust    clog     cub      camera            kiss      Kevin


It is helpful to be sure to consider this rule not only for the very beginning of words, but for other syllables or as part of blends.

For example in the  words:

Focus               ridicule            fact                  scarf                skin


Although this spelling generalization applies much of the time, there are a few notable exceptions, including:

Skunk               Kate                 skate                koala               kangaroo         Korea

Kung fu            skull                 Kansas


In order to teach this generalization, it is helpful for students to:

  • know closed syllables and blends.
  • be able to segment 4 or 5 sounds.


It is probably best to teach this generalization early on with e and i and then revisit it after teaching the vowel sounds for y. In addition, I like to teach the Kitty Cat rule BEFORE I get into VCe syllable types because they will have to make the C or K grapheme choice quite a bit when encoding VCe words, particulalry the word cake.

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

  • What sound do I hear after /k/?
  • Is this sound a consonant or a vowel?
  • If the sound is a vowel, which vowel is it?



Some teaching ideas include:

  • Using a Dictionary to Introduce – It is often helpful for students to understand that c is a much more common spelling for /k/ at the beginning of a syllable than k. It is a fun and surprising activity for many children to pull out a dictionary  with the guidance of an adult, and simply count the number of pages for words that begin with c and for words that begin with k. The difference whether you are using a children’s dictionary or a collegiate dictionary is remarkable. When in doubt, children can know that c is a more likely choice even if they have forgotten the rule.


  • Sorting – You can sort words by spelling or sort pictures by vowel sound to build phonemic awareness skills and to build orthographic mapping skills.


  • Start from the known – Using words that students know how to read and spell can help to introduce and reinforce this 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 c or k to finish spelling words. Ask them to segment a word into its sounds using counters or blocks and decide whether to use c or k.


  • Dictation — Make sure to avoid using c and k words in dictation (after both of them have been taught) until you have taught this generalization. Avoid using exceptions to this spelling generalization in writing, although it is helpful to familiarize students with these words through reading.


  • Games — Play games where the student not only needs to read, but actually make spelling choices between c or k. Make a word list that includes words with c and k. 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 c or k 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 this spelling generalization before teaching other spelling generalizations involving the /k/ sound. I find that connecting their knowledge about spellings of /k/ together builds a more solid understanding.


Incorporating c/k practice into SOS review words is an excellent way to keep this learning fresh with the previously mentioned cautions. 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 with multi-syllable words, it is helpful to review this learning.


  • Verbalize – It is very valuable to have students explain the spelling generalization in their own words. 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 class, you could ask the student why they used c, or WHY they chose to use k in the word kettle or kiss. This will often expose any misunderstandings or areas that need clarification. Asking a child to verbalize WHY they spelled a word a certain way helps to solidify their understanding and builds metacognition.



Teaching and practicing this spelling generalization will not only provide students with learning differences a valuable tool for spelling, but also through many repetitions of correct spelling with the aid of this guideline, build a repertoire of known words and an overall orthographic awareness.

c or k spelling rule

Guess what?

I have a fun FREEBIE for C or K practice. But, if you are seeking more advanced practice, you’ll want to check out this Spelling Generalizations bundle.

C or K practice is being added to it in the month of March, 2019.


Be sure to catch the other spelling generalization blog posts HERE for LOTS more tips. I’ve got you covered. 😉






Similar Posts