Spelling By Numbers

By Catherine Eagleson

The traditional way of learning to spell is essentially by sounding out the letters, as well as studying them to memorise them.  We all remember the old adages such as “I before E, except after C”.  But what if we adopted a more cryptographic approach?  Well we think we have found it.  We call them our Clue Detective numerical spelling bees.

Numerical spelling bees

As a teacher you can give your students exercises in a variety of formats.  It is very easy to create the puzzles because the values are constant – A is always 1 and Z is always 26.  You can be as creative as you like, and students will very quickly start to build their vocabulary.

There are a number of ways to teach kids to spell by numbers.  It’s a lot of fun, and it will make them feel like codebreakers and detectives.

– Write the numerical sequence on the blackboard and get the students to solve it as a class.
– Use the blackboard to have them write the code down and then decode it individually.  It will help their retention.
– You can also provide them with an exercise consisting of a list of words for them to decipher, either in class or as a homework exercise.  

Start off with words that have similar letter pattern. They will begin to see the structure of the words with the help of the numbers.  Then as students get used to using the code make the words more imaginative. You do this by choosing ‘sesquipedalian‘ words, those with a larger number of syllables. The longer the word, the more interesting it is for them to decode.

– Allow student to choose the words.  Get them to think of a topic and write down a list of words associated with it.  Have them play a couple of rounds of The Librarian’s Cat, and encode the words they think of. This helps reinforce spelling  

The alphabet is the code!

1 = A
2 = B
3 = C
4 = D
5 = E
6 = F
7 = G
8 = H
9 = I
10 = J
11 = K
12 = L
13 = M
14 = N
15 = O
16 = P
17 = Q
18 = R
19 = S
20 = T
21 = U
22 = V
23 = W
24 = X
25 = Y
26 = Z

A sample decoding exercise

It is also good to include some interesting consonants – eg. C, F, P, Q, X and Z, or 3, 6, 16, 17, 24 and 26!

1. 5-24-3-5-12-12-5-14-20
2. 7-15-22-5-18-14-13-5-14-20
3. 22-5-14-20-18-9-12-15-17-21-9-19-20
4. 5-14-20-18-1-14-3-5
5. 1-3-3-9-4-5-14-20-1-12
6. 16-12-1-3-5-12-5-14-20
7. 1-13-1-26-5-13-5-14-20
8. 19-5-14-20-9-13-5-14-20-1-12
9. 13-5-18-18-9-13-5-14-20
10. 20-5-14-20-1-20-9-22-5

Have fun making up coded messages

Once you have decoded all your words, you have your spelling list.  There will be no doubt be a situation where one of your students says ‘I don’t know what this word means…’ If they have it written down, it makes it very easy for them to look it up in the dictionary. You can even turn spelling into a game you and your friends will enjoy together. Challenge your friends with coded messages. 


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