WFMW: Spelling for right-brained learners

My son has a hard time with spelling words. So, in the past I did what any good mom would do. I would make him practice writing troublesome words over and over again.

And over.
And over.

But this year, we are trying something new. Instead of writing the words, I let him do what he loves best. I ask him to draw the words.

Before I explain, I have to say that this idea isn’t mine. In fact, it’s the farthest thing from my left-brained way of thinking.

I went to a seminar this summer by this woman who gave me lots of great ideas for teaching my right-brained learner.

I’ve always loved the subjects my son dreads: math facts, spelling words and grammar. Left-brained learners like me excel at memorizing data, lists and rules.

But my son sees the world in pictures. His favorite subjects are history, science and Bible. While I struggle with these subjects, he can visualize the stories we read and re-tell them in great detail.

Did you know that half of all children learn best with their right brain? I also learned that if your first born is a right-brained learner, your second born probably will learn best with his left brain. Kids who have a learning glitch often are right-brained learners, making it even more difficult to thrive in a traditional classroom if it emphasizes memorizing data.

I learned that the right brain is where we store long-term memories. So, I’m trying to help my son visualize his spelling words and math facts so he can plant them in his right brain — the more creative side of the brain — and store them long term.

The first step we use is to separate troublesome words into colors, so that the part of the word that he tends to misspell stands out from the rest of the word.

In this example, he kept forgetting the “p” in empty, the “e” in pretty (he substituted an “i”), and the “a” in heavy.

If he continues to misspell a word, I ask him to draw a picture of it. I don’t set any limitations on his drawing. I want him to feel the freedom to use his creativity, so that hopefully, it will help him remember what he wrote.

This is his picture of “pretty”:

We also purchased these cards that we use for familiar words. They each come with a story on the back that explains the drawing. On the cards pictured below, the top one is a story about a boy who threw the ball over “there”. The bottom one is about a family with a dog. “Their” dog is very big.

We use the same concept for math facts that he misses repeatedly. Each of these cards has an elaborate story to explain the picture. On the one below, an 8-year-old boy was afraid of a 7-year-old bully. Even though the 8-year-old was older, the 7-year-old was much bigger in size. To protect himself, the 8-year-old got a big dog, named “56”, who scared the 7-year-old away.

To help him memorize this way, I ask him to look at the card for a few minutes. I then put it down and ask him to tell me the whole story on the card. When he comes across that math fact later, I ask him to tell me about the picture that he memorized, which helps him recall the answer.

We still have a long way to go, but I have seen progress using this method. I’m hoping it will Work For Me!

For more great tips, check out Works For Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

Don’t miss a post. Subscribe in a reader!


  1. Wow!! You have just changed my life. I am totally going to put this to use with my sweet girl who is home sick with me today. She struggles with math and spelling. In the past we would sing the spelling words so they had a "beat" to them and that helped us too. (think cheerleader)

  2. I love how you are figuring out how to teach your children based on their gifts and talents. It's so easy to try to force everyone to learn the same way. I taught my children piano. Two of the three were able to learn traditionally. But the other one struggled. I finally figured out that he had a hard time reading music, but he could play beautifully. So I decided that the most important thing for him was to be able to make music, not read music. I let him learn from watching me. I think it helped his self-esteem rather than tearing him down because he couldn't do it how everybody else did.

  3. Maggie, even when we weren't homeschooling we spent a TON of time working on spelling words!Lynn, I hope it works for you.Sarah, Thank you!JoLyn, was this the same child that was the "artister"? Right-brained learners tend to be more artistic and also prefer playing music by ear, rather than learning to read music.Lara, my son is really good at memorization, too! He has no problem learning Bible verses or studying for tests. He seems to have a lot in common with your middle child, so maybe they think alike? =]

  4. Very cool ideas Emily! Do you know can people be a little bit ambidextrous (sp?) when it comes to right/left brain learning?? I can see some of both in my kids… I think for the most part my oldest is a left brain and my second is definitely more creative but she's only in Kindergarten so I'm not sure about the spelling & stuff… she's starting to read too. My oldest is a spelling whiz but seems to have a little trouble with Math (or at least struggled learning some of the concepts, now that he has it figured out it's not as bad)Anyway, I enjoy your posts like these that make me think more about how my kids learn.Thanks!Laurel

  5. Laurel, I know what you mean… I feel like I use both sides of my brain, but I'm best at using my left brain.i think the big difference is that for some kids who have a learning challenge, they haven't developed the connections they need between the right brain and left brain. This causes them to try to do everything with the right brain. I don't notice the dominance nearly as much in my other children… I can see strengths, but they aren't so extreme as they are with one son.

  6. This reminds me of a memoir I recently read by Daniel Tamment (a savant who memorized pi to 22,500 places) called Born on a Blue Day. To him, numbers have texture, color, size etc. When memorizing the numbers of pi, he memorized them as a landscape and recited them by walking through the landscape. Fascinating book…Blessings, Holly

  7. I have been struggling with my son with spelling this whole school year. Thank you so much for sharing your tips. What I am doing with him is just not cutting it.

  8. Great post!! I am going to start using this with all 3 of my kids. I think my middle one the most. I also passed the information on to some friends. I think this is what I needed when I was a kid! 🙂

Leave a Reply