6 Easy Steps to Teach Better Spelling (Video): SOS Technique

6 Easy Steps to Spelling Better: SOS Spelling Technique

Spelling can be a challenge for both kids and adults but throw in a word that makes no sense phonetically, (especially when you are teaching phonics!), and it can throw students for a loop. Simultaneous Oral Spelling (SOS Technique) can be a spelling-lifesaver. It’s used in multi-sensory learning approaches like Orton Gillingham.

Multisensory Approach

Multisensory means we want students to hear what they see and spell what they hear. To do this, we use lesson plans including auditory, visual and kinesthetic parts. In an approach like Orton Gillingham, we start with phonemic awareness, teaching the smallest unit of a letter sound, and work our way up to syllable division, spelling rules, plural rules, and much more, until a full picture of the English language emerges.

But what about those sight words?

Simultaneous Oral Spelling Saves the Day

Simultaneous Oral Spelling uses a multi-sensory approach found in most multi-sensory lessons, but in this case, it we are concentrating on learning sight words.

Steps to SOS Spelling Technique

Let’s got through each step and use the word, said to illustrate the steps. In this word, the “ai” sounds like a short “e” sound.

This is a red word, meaning it is unphonetic.


1. Pronounce the word.  

Say, “said.”

2. Analyze and study the word. Look for the challenge.

In said, the challenge would be that the ai sounds like short e.

You can also segment out the sounds as a way to study the word.

In said, you would want to make sure the student hears the sounds clearly, s /s/-ai (/e/)-d (/d/)

3. For an older child, have them copy the word, naming each letter as the student is writing. For younger children you would have it on a card for tracing.

4. With a pencil, have the student trace the word while naming each letter (not the letter sound, the name of the letter). Do this 3 times (it’s important to do it at least three times). After the word is traced, underline the word with a pencil or finger moving from left to right.

In our example word, said, trace the word three times while naming letters:

“s-a-i-d – said, s-a-i-d said, s-a-i-d said”

(Underline the word each time with a pencil or finger)

5. Hide the word (or if using a card turn it over); write the word on paper. Name each letter as you write. Read the word just written. Check against the traced word to make sure it is correct.

In our example: “said.”

Write the word from memory – read – check – cover

Write the word from memory – read – check – cover

Write the word from memory – read – check – cover

6. Hide-Write-Read-Check until the word is written three times correctly, from memory.

A word can usually be retired after 10 times of being spelled correctly. You could start the next lesson with the same word(s), especially if there were any issues with a particular word, to be sure it is committed to memory after a break from it.

What is a Sight Word

Not all sight words are unphonetic, but they have a component to them that students will need to learn aside from rules or just breaking down words. We divide these into Red Words (unphonetic), Yellow Words (patterns), and Green Words (phonetic, but learned early, so a rule may not be yet associated with the word).

Learned words consist of:

  • Red Light (Red Words) – sight words that cannot be sounded out
  • Yellow Light – words grouped by auditory patterns, for example: light, sight, might
  • Green Light – can be spelled phonetically by listening to the sounds, for example stop, bland, napkin

These include:

  • Sight words – words that can’t be sounded out, examples, said, done, among, against
  • Categories of Words– learned words like all, alk, augh vs. ough, eigh, oe saying long o, as in toe or ea saying long a as in steak, great, break.
  • Everyday Words – days of the week, months, family names, seasons, holidays, colors, name, address, states
  • Homonyms – examples whole/hole, through/threw, since/sense, their/there, to/two/too, sail/sale, great/grate, hair/hare, break/brake
  • High Frequency Words, phonetic but learned early

Help is On the Way

Check out this SOS Technique workbook for help with using this technique with students. Included are 7 lists for Pre-K and up (4th grade+), 252 words. There are mini “cards” with each word, followed by worksheets with traceable letters and blanks for writing the words from memory. Also included are checklists for each list.

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