Multiple Intelligences for Adult Literacy and Adult Education

© Leslie Shelton, Project Read
Development assistance Holly Fulghum and Joan Sheldon-Conan


Rationale: The purpose of this section is to give you a variety of approaches to teaching spelling.

"If I write what my soul thinks...then it will be visible, and the words will be its body."

Annie Sullivan, 1891

There are many different ways people can become better spellers. Author John Irving in The World According to Garp wrote that "no one should feel stupid for being a bad speller." He suggests we start by acknowledging that English is more mongrel than purebred. Because it's a combination of languages it offers many challenges to speakers and spellers of English. These challenges require us to work on developing some strategies to strengthen our skills.

Spelling is not a major focus of our program's teaching goals, largely because we believe it should be connected with other activities. Experience has taught us, though, that spelling is a common learner goal and tutor concern. If a learner came into the program asking to work exclusively on spelling, the natural question we would ask would be "spelling what?" When spelling is tied to the learner's life goals and survival needs, it is much more likely to be successful.

Research suggests that spelling relies heavily on visual memory. It is true that folks with a strong visual learning ability seem to do well, but not everyone has that strength. Additionally, many people have bad memories about spelling. They vividly recall spelling "bees," poor test scores, and their writing liberally sprinkled with red corrections. Considering all of the reasons that spelling is a challenge, the question we pose is: How can we improve spelling skills?

The following cards offer ideas from tutors, teachers, and learners.

In summary:

  • Spelling is best approached through writing or language experience stories generated by the student, rather than by using a textbook.

  • Use a multiple-intelligence approach to give learners numerous ways to improve their spelling.

  • Try strategies based on learners' goals or needs.

  • These ideas are seeds, the start of many different activities. We encourage you to use these ideas as a starting point to generate your own activities.


    Rationale: The more intelligences that are engaged while teaching a lesson, the more effective the learning. Try to involve at least three of the intelligences in a lesson for the day. Here are some ideas to try:


  • Write down words and look up their meanings and histories.
  • Discover how to change a word to mean the opposite.
  • Spell out loud.


  • Write words vertically.
  • Write words so their shape makes a picture of the word.
  • Break words into syllables and write each syllable in a different color.


  • To see the connections between words, build word families.
  • Teach those spelling rules which are the most consistent.
  • Practice prefixes and suffixes in pattern exercise.
  • Analyze your writing for errors.


  • Use the computer or typewriter--change the type often.
  • Use stencils to write words.
  • Trace letters in the air with an extended arm or a flashlight.
  • Mark up words or text to show stress or spelling patterns.


  • Use familiar tunes to memorize the letters to a word.
  • Use rhymes to remember words, "I'm a friend to the end" or "Miss-iss-ippi."


  • Play spelling games. One person starts with a letter, the other adds one until a word is made. The last person to add a letter wins.
  • Play Scrabble.


  • Picture a word in your head. What color is it? Spell it backwards. How many letters are in it?
  • Make a list of words that are personally important to you. Arrange them by categories or spelling patterns.



    Rationale: Many good spellers have strong visual skills. Use your ability to visualize to improve your spelling.


  • Enjoys the use of shapes, colors, and patterns.
  • Uses symbols to represent ideas or concepts.
  • Likes to draw or work with shapes on paper.
  • Can manipulate shapes in three dimensions in their minds.

    1.  Begin by imagining a blank screen above and to the left of your head. Make it big enough to hold any word. Make it close enough and bright enough to see clearly.

    2.  Start with a simple word like bat. Imagine the word bat on your screen. See the word in a bright color like red.

    3.  Now close your eyes, see the word on the imaginary screen and spell it out loud.

    4.  Pick more difficult words you want to learn. Write them out on a flash card in bright colors first. Then close your eyes and put the word up on the screen.

    5.  Spell the word out loud from the first to last letter. Then spell it backwards (last letter to first letter). Have someone quiz you by asking questions like "What is the second letter from the end?". How many A's are in the word?".

    6.   Once you can spell the word successfully out loud without mistakes, write it on a flash card or in a notebook to keep for later review.


  • For multisyllable words, write each syllable in a different color:

    Sti mu late

  • Write each syllable of a word in steps:

  • Use a different pen color to stress a pattern in teaching word endings, beginnings, or patterns.


    Rationale: Many people have an auditory learning style. These are activities for those learners.


    Likes to listen to stories, music, poems, audio tapes, radio shows.
    Learns when things are explained out loud.
    Needs to hear information to learn it.

  • Have tutor and student face one another to watch pronunciation and enunciation of letters and words.

  • Say letters aloud as you look at a word. Play relaxing classical music in the background when reviewing spelling.

  • Play spelling games: using the learner's words, the tutor says one letter, the student the next, until the word is finished.

  • Have an assorted pile of letter cubes on hand, and put a letter cube on the table as it is called.

  • Read spelling words into a tape recorder.

  • Use the See, Say and Look method: Look at the word, say a letter in the word, picture the word in your mind, say the letters.

  • Use an exaggerated pronunciation to give clues for spelling a word. For example: read-a-ble or mar-ket-ing.

  • Use small and large dots to show the sound stress patterns of a word.
    Read a ble mar ket ing
    O    o o    O o o


    Rationale: Physical work frees the mind; mental work frees the body.


    Likes to move objects around to remember them and learn them.
    Likes to move around while learning.

  • Trace over the letters of a word.

  • Use fingers or pipe cleaners to form letters.

  • Handle a Koosh Ball or worry stone while reading or studying.

  • Throw a Koosh Ball back and forth while spelling a word.

  • Each person says the next letter in the word as they catch the ball.

  • Use the block letters from the game Scrabble or Boggle.

  • Use various media such as chalk, felt pens, large pencils, typewriter, word processor, magic slate, or Franklin Speller.

  • Use your entire body to form letters.

  • Make up a story for a letter of the alphabet. Act out the story.

  • Say a letter as you touch a key point on your body.

  • Write words on a magic slate.

  • Make letters out of dough to spell a word, then bake them.

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