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Cute Little Visuals and Why They Don't Help

Many of us have seen them by now. The word <their> printed with a little man as the <i>, the word <there> with the <r> as an arrow, and the word <they’re> with a tiny <a> as the apostrophe. While it’s certain the artist of the poster had good intentions, presumably that the images will stick in children’s heads and resurface the next time they’re choosing between the words, the effectiveness of such a visual is sadly found to be lacking. Lacking in what? Lacking in context, for one and lacking in substance secondly.

Instead of investigating homophones, words that are spelled differently and pronounced the same, it is more helpful to group words that share similarities in structure. For instance, instead of teaching <there>, <their>, and <they’re>, consider teaching <there> with the words it shares meaning and spelling patterns with.




See the spelling pattern? The meanings? All related to location.

Then, there’s <their>. This is related to <them> and <they>. For this possessive form, the <ey> that we see in <they> is an <ei>, a digraph that can do many of the same things.



Teaching <they’re> with other contractions is helpful. For most contractions, we place an apostrophe where we removed the letter(s) before contracting the words together.

cannot = cant

is not = isnt

do not = dont

they are = theyre

When kids understand why words are spelled the way they are, they’re not only more likely to remember the spellings, they also grow a deeper understanding of the meanings and relationships between words that are related. Isn't this the goal?

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