Spelling Rules: C, K or CK?

One sound in English can be represented with one, two, three, and even four letters! Well four-letter graphemes 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>. During dictation in my tutoring sessions, my students often asked, “Do I use c or k?”, and to help 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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Teaching the Skill

Start with 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 this group, <ck> says the /k/.” 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 chart below and walk your students through each section and emphasize “usually” because there are some words where the standard rules don’t apply.
Click on the image to print out the PDF. The vocabulary is simple because again, up to this point we have only learned to read three-letter words with vowel-consonant-vowel patterns 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 paired with <e> or <i> it makes a different sound. “When you see the pattern <ce, ci, cy>, <c> signals /s/.” This skill is covered later in the program.

Video for words that end in <ck>.

Continued Practice

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.

Ongoing Support

In segment two of the Viva Phonics Program, inform your group that this rule also applies with blends such as in the words clap, crop, club. 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?!

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!