Here is a simple little activity parents can use to help children of any age with the mysteries of English spelling. It works for both English speakers and ESL students and can be easily adapted for classroom use.
Select three or four words that are meaningful to the student. (Words critical to the theme being studied at school is useful.) For example, "dinosaur, prehistoric, carnivorous, fossilized".
Print these on cards and cut into syllables. (Don't worry about being accurate with syllabification - let the pronunciation of the word be your guide.) In the above example you would end up with something like:
Scramble these word "chunks" on a desk and ask the student to build the word you say. Allow time to have some fun and build silly words like "fossditor" or "carilsaur". This provides extra practice in becoming familiar with phonetic units.
Once these words are mastered, place them in an envelope that has the same words printed on the outside. This allows the child to practice independently. (Don't worry about him "cheating" by looking at the words on the envelope; it's all about visual imprint and repetition of the correct form.)
Once the first set has been mastered (i.e. the student can guess and build the words without any guidance or reference), add another three or four words cut into chunks. Pace carefully; let the student decide how many new words to add.
Once you have ten or twelve words in one envelope, start a new one using paper of a different colour. (Occasionally come back to review the old ones.)
Within just a couple of weeks you will find that your child is not only spelling better, but reading better, and writing with more confidence and clarity.
The same approach works well for ESL kids by cutting sentences into "chunks" (phrases). Teaching English through phrases provides correct grammar and syntax. (I have detailed the use of phrases in an earlier article.)