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The NLP Spelling Strategy

April 11th, 2013 by Tony Barlow

The NLP Spelling Strategy

The NLP Spelling Strategy

When I first started out helping students with NLP it just so happened that the first 3 students I worked with requested help with spelling issues, so I was keen to try out the NLP Spelling Strategy. The parents of these students told me the following:

“He gets a spelling test every week but out of the 10 words he is supposed to learn, when it comes to the test he generally gets 4/10 and is losing confidence”

“My daughter does ok in spelling tests but when it comes to using the words in writing the spellings have a lot of errors again”

“We are practicing the phonics rules but it doesn’t seem to be helping”


Our brain is the most powerful super computer on the planet, why on earth would your brain have trouble remembering the spelling of simple words like ‘happy’ or ‘one’ or ‘two’ or ‘scissors’.


Spelling Strategies with NLPWhen a student comes to me with a spelling problem I always ask them to spell a few words and I watch their eye movements and I ask them what they are thinking to come up with the answers. 9 times out of 10 when a student is having trouble, they are GUESSING FROM THE SOUND OF THE WORD what letters go there. For example I might ask “Can you spell the word scissors for me”? and the student will look to the side (auditory accessing) and SAY the word to themselves, and then they will look up and imagine what that sounds like. Well it sounds like S I Z O R S and that’s how they come up with the answer.


The NLP Spelling Strategy is something Richard Bandler (Co Founder of NLP) found back in the 70’s by modeling spelling bee champions. When I ask a good or great speller to spell a word they just immediately look up and look at the picture of the word in their mind, they remember what the word LOOKS LIKE, they have it recorded as a picture in their mind. Think of any word you already know to spell, (choose any word now) and ask yourself the following questions.

-How do you know how to spell the word ?
-Whats the last letter of the word ?

What happened INSIDE your mind in order to answer the above questions ? I can pretty much guarantee you that the reason you were able to answer the above questions is because you know what the word looks like right ? You have a visual memory of the word. In other words you have a picture of the word in your mind. Good spellers normally visualize a dark color on a light background and the picture is about a meter or closer away from the person. Richard Bandler discovered this back in the 70’s and has published the NLP Spelling Strategy in many of his books, but still schools teach the ‘phonics’ method which in my opinion causes an ineffective mental strategy for most kids.


I will write another article on this subject as it’s one of my pet peeves but he is the basic problem with the phonics approach when it comes to spelling. If a student is having trouble learning the spelling of a word a teacher may say to the student “Sound it Out”. So the student SAYS the word to themselves and then guesses from the sound what letters to put there. SOUND familiar ! This is exactly what the students who are having trouble with spelling do. The phonics approach encourages a mental strategy that doesn’t work. Why doesn’t it work ? because 40% of the words in English don’t look like they sound, it simply does not work. As I heard Richard Bandler once say “Sound out the word ‘caught’ Ka Ug Huh Tu, does that help to know what letters to put there ?, now I want you to sound out a silent ‘e’, does that sound like an ‘e’ to you ?”


Here is the NLP spelling strategy modeled from spelling B champions when they are learning new words. Its extremely simple. In order to record a word as a picture in your mind you simply need to visualize the word in your mind for a few seconds. After doing this 2-3 times it will stick in your neurology.

  1. Look at the word on the page
  2. Look up and picture the word in your mind, large letters that are in a color that is easy to see (black letters on a white background)
  3. Hold the image in your mind until you can read the letters easily forwards and even backwards just to be sure

That is the basic strategy, I will put a video up for a full demonstration its a little bit difficult to explain in words. I will eventually get around to putting up videos for all the strategies, I promise.


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Thank you for reading this article about the NLP Spelling Strategy, I really appreciate you coming to my site, I hope you are enjoying and benefiting from the information here. This site is designed to be the ultimate free resource for students / parents of struggling students.

Please leave a comment below because I’d love to hear what you think! Thanks again, and good luck!

6 Responses to “The NLP Spelling Strategy”

February 01, 2015 at 12:32 pm, DIna Almurda said:

Does this mean he doesn’t practice copying the word? I will try your method.


February 01, 2015 at 1:10 pm, Tony Barlow said:

Hi Dina, by all means have him practice copying the word a little but not as the main thing.
For him to retain spellings in memory easily he needs to look at the word he is learning, then, look away from the paper and make a picture in his mind of the word. Tell him “Pretend to paint the word in the air with your finger”, “Can you see it” , “What color did you use?” Let him look at the word on the page as many times as he wants. Then take the paper away and ask him to read off the letters from the picture in his mind. This is by far the easiest way and its what all good spellers do without knowing it. Phonics in my opinion makes things way more difficult, get him visualizing words and any issue will go away.
The only exception to this is when a child’s mental images are not stable, but I don’t think this is the case for your son based on your other comments.

People who believe in phonics will argue the following. “So does this means we have to get kids to visually memorize every word !!” As if this is a difficult thing to do. Then I ask them “How do you know how to spell the words ‘one’ or ‘two’ ?” Because you remember what they look like !! Right !! Try the phonics way. Sound them out . wun, tu, thre, for, fiv etc. IT DOESNT WORK !! Try it out then Set up Skype call with me if you like. I offer a free 20mins Skype call. OK good luck.


February 01, 2015 at 1:17 pm, DIna Almurda said:

Good to try this method


October 26, 2017 at 5:01 am, Ayswarys said:

hi i like to know the child whom i am attending in school cant understand the meaning of word and he finds to recollect spelling the next week.. i used to ask him to spell after showing him visually the word in big font .. he has a memory delay of 4 years . he is in grade 5 butlearning kindergarte level in english


October 26, 2017 at 8:09 am, Tony Barlow said:

Hi Ayswarys, without meeting your student I’ll try to give you some basic help here. There are two separate skills here. Remembering the spelling and learning the meaning of a word.
Spelling, you mentioned that you show him the word visually. That’s fine but then he needs to then look away from the paper and visualize the image INSIDE his mind, thats the key. When you recall the spelling of a word you do do from the image in your mind. So thats where you need to record it. So tell him to look at the word on the page, and then look up and ‘pretend’ he can still see it, ask him to draw it with his finger so you know his mental image is correct, and let him look at the correct spelling as many times as he needs.

Meaning, Once he can recognize and read a word you can teach him the meaning. Again the key is what he is doing INSIDE his mind, not how you are showing him. Example lets take an easy example, lets say you are teaching him the meaning of the word ‘giraffe’. Have him look at a picture of a giraffe. And then inside his mind ‘Imagine you are standing next to a giraffe’ Now put the word giraffe in the image and say “Giraffe”. Have him hold the mental image for a few seconds. The number of repetitions depends on the student. The next time he sees the word ‘giraffe’ hopefully the image will pop up into his mind.

Hope this helps for now, I will also set up a phone call with you.


September 24, 2018 at 7:24 am, Kamaljit said:

It really seems to be a wonderful strategy.
Have not applied it so can not say anything about the results.
I am interested in knowing about the mental strategy of a quick learner.also how to sharpen students memory.Please guide.


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