Spelling Rules: Do I use c, k, or ck?

Help your students learn when to use c, k, and ck!

During spelling in my tutoring sessions, students often asked, “Do I use c or k?”, and honestly I didn’t know how to answer that question! Once I did some research, I created a simple anchor chart. Read on for some pointers on how to help your students become super spell checkers!

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3 Steps to Help Your Students Learn When to Use c, k and ck

One sound in English can be represented with one, two, three, and even four letters! Well four-letter phonics patterns are debatable…but thinking about teaching the countless spelling variations can be daunting. Now, imagine trying to learn this complex system!

Here we will help students understand when to use <c, k, ck> in spelling the /k/ sound. At this point in the Viva Phonics program, students have learned to read and spell one-syllable words that begin with <c> and <k> as well as one-syllable words that end in <ck>. As you teach, point out that the vowel that comes before or after the /k/ sound helps us determine if need <c, k, or ck>.

In words like skunk and skull, you use the letter <k> before <u>. The words “skull” and “skeleton” are related so the <k> connects this relationship. Now, why is there a <k> in skunk?

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1. Teach when to use c

The letter <c> will be used most often. It’s also the letter used in the consonant clusters <cl> and <cr>.

Use <c> in simple spellings before the vowel letters <a, o, and u>. Some exceptions: skate, skunk, skull
When used with <e, i, and y> c spells /s/!

2. Teach when to use k

The letter <k> is not used as often as the letter <c>.

Use <k> in simple spellings before the vowel letters <e and i>.
If you hear a long-vowel sound before /k/, you should also use <k>!

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3. Teach when to use ck

The phonics pattern <ck> will never be in the initial position of a word. It can be found in the medial or final position after a short-vowel sound such as in pack and pickle.

4. Bonus words that end in -ck video

Here’s a bonus video for the <ck> phonics pattern!

More Teaching

Complete a word and picture sort. You’ll need labels for each category: <c, k, ck> and you can print out the pictures here or use your own.

As you set down the cards under their corresponding labels, explain the reasoning behind the sorting. “In these words, <c> says /k/. In these words, <k> says /k/ and in these words, <ck> says /k/, too.” After you have laid down all the cards, ask students what was the same about each group and what is the same about all of the groups. One group has words that start with <c>, the next group contains words that start with <k> and the last group contains words ending with <ck>. All three groups have words with the /k/ sound.

Continue the lesson by telling the group that when it comes to spelling, there are clues that tell us which letter or letters to use for /k/. Refer to the anchor charts and walk your students through each section and emphasize “usually” because there are some words where the usual spellings don’t work.
The vocabulary is simple because again, up to this point we have only learned to read three-letter words with vowel-consonant-vowel patterns such as cat and cob and words that end in <ck>. The point is to make the reference sentences decodable for the student.

The chart also displays using <k> after consonants and long vowels. When your students are at that point, refer to the chart again.

You might have someone ask, “Why can’t we use <c> with <e> or <i>?” This is a good time to tell students that when <c> is followed by <e, i, and y> it makes a different sound. “When you see the pattern <ce, ci, cy>, <c> says /s/.” This skill is covered later in our phonics program.

Keep it Going!

Students can continue practicing with the following activities:

  • Word sorting – Students can sort words based on <c, k, ck>.
  • Fill in the blank – You can provide students with words and pictures that are missing the letter for /k/. Students will then fill in the missing letter based on the spelling rule.
  • Write the room – Students can look for objects around the room and determine whether those objects use the <c, k, ck> for the /k/ sound. Then students will use this knowledge to spell those words.
    Always, provide spelling support.
    You can refer your students to the anchor chart. Providing feedback and support will help your students build strong spelling habits and you will soon notice that they become their own proofreaders!

Until next time, patience and practice! Angelica