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Avoiding the Spelling ICK with a Sick Trick

Avoiding the Spelling ICK with a Sick Trick:

Spelling /K/ at the end of a word

Imagine yourself as a struggling speller… You know your letter-sound correspondences. You’ve worked hard to learn the differences between long and short vowel sounds, and you’ve worked through these funky things called digraphs (th, sh, ch, ck, wh). Now you’d like to simply sit down and write, but as you get started, you quickly realize that there are some words that you just can’t seem to spell. These are words you’ve heard hundreds of times. You’ve even seen these words before, but of course, you can’t picture what they look like in this moment. You see, the trouble is that the sound /k/ can be spelled in several different ways! Is it ‘K’? Is it ‘CK’? You remember that ‘C’ is used quite a bit too. If only someone could tell you exactly when to use each spelling! 

Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

Is your heart pumping just a little bit faster as you think about this scenario? Then perhaps this imagery is more familiar to you than it is to other adults that you know. Here’s the exciting part: There IS a formula you can show your struggling spellers that will tell them exactly when to use each spelling. Thank goodness!

Before You Begin

Before we dive into the details, let’s look at some prerequisite skills that your student will need before our new rules are taught. If you’ve read my other blogs before, some of these skills will look familiar. Before teaching, make sure your student knows:

  • All short vowel names and sounds
  • All consonant names and sounds
  • The difference between a consonant and a vowel
  • Able to identify "before" and "after" while sequencing sounds in reading order
  • Able to distinguish between one-syllable words and multi-syllable words
  • Understands what digraphs are, how to identify them in a word, and the letter-sound correspondences. I define digraphs in this blog.

The ‘Good Stuff’

At this point, your student knows the above skills, so it’s time to dig into the spelling rule. To properly explain how to spell /k/ at the end, let me introduce you to our guest, the Elk...

Now, Mr. Elk may not look like he’s into this gig, but I assure you, he’s just not feeling himself. In fact, he’s quite under the weather.

Sick Elk

“At the end of a word, always spell /k/ with a CK after a short vowel—otherwise use K.”

Well, I suppose Mr. Elk’s tough day has helped us discover our first rule when spelling /k/ at the end! Let’s hash that out for a moment. First, it’s important to emphasize that there are two common ways to spell /k/ at the end of a word: CK and K. In order to know which to use, the speller must look at the letter right before the /k/ sound. Then, insert a CK if it’s a short vowel and K if it’s not. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Unlike Kind Ken was Stinky and Cubs Can Drink Cola, this rule is a bit easier to navigate, as your student only has to look at the letter right before the target sound, following natural left-to-right writing order. I still tell students to begin practice by leaving a blank spot at the end and referring to their student spelling rule cards before deciding how to spell /k/.

Alright, let’s allow Mr. Elk to get some rest. Before we check out those great practice activities that we’ve grown to enjoy, I have one more guest to introduce you to!

Magic Trick

I’m going to withhold our next rule for just a moment to give you a bit of background information. While Sick Elk works most of the time to spell /k/ at the end of a word, it’s important to remember that there is a special sound that we need to pay attention to. At the end of a multisyllable word, we have to break our normal Sick Elk spelling pattern when we hear the sound /ick/. That’s right; it’s like that sound you make when you smell old leftovers—“ick!!” Some might call this a ‘rule breaker,’ but instead, I like to just call it a ‘special sound.’

“At the end of a multi-syllable word, /ick/ is spelled IC.”

And now we can all let out that pent up, ‘aww,’ as we appreciate just how cute our magician dog friend is!

Important Tips To Consider...

  • Prompt your student to focus first on the letter directly BEFORE the /k/ sound when spelling both multi-syllable and one-syllable words. It’s important to give logic and sequence to this rule. Sequence is important for success with both Sick Elk and Magic Trick. Not all learners think from left-to-right, so make sure your student is looking at this order in a sequential way.
  • Sick Elk and Munch a Batch use the same concepts. Note: There is another less common ‘special sound’ that fits with our /k/ at the end. If you hear /kt/ at the end of a word, spell it with CT. These words come from Latin origins. To learn more about this rule, please see our Silver Moon Curriculum. It makes sense to teach these two rules at similar times. For information on Munch a Batch, check out this blog. While you’re at it, you can check out our full set of instructor materials with both of these rules.
  • Emphasize that spelling /ick/ with IC is only done in multi-syllable words. When the same sound is at the end of a one-syllable word, your student should go back to using the Sick Elk rule. It’s also helpful to clarify that ‘multi-syllable’ means two or more syllables.
  • Provide your student with a resource that already has the rule written down. This allows you to focus on what matters most: learning and applying the rule. I highly suggest the Silver Moon Spelling Rules cards complete with illustrations for this rule. Both student and instructor sets of cards can be found here.
  • Practice using both real words and nonsense words. You may find that students have learned to memorize a lot of words. This is especially common when working with older students. Therefore, it’s difficult to know for sure if your student has really learned the spelling rule to the point of generalization (note that this is the ‘good kind’ of generalization). Using a mix of real words and nonsense words helps you better understand what your student knows and eliminates the memorization variable.
  • Once teaching and initial practice is underway, recite this rule out loud with your student, gradually fading any visual prompting until your student can verbalize the rule independently.

More 'Good Stuff'

You may know what’s coming next, and if you do, thank you for following our Silver Moon blog. If you don’t, then let me be the first to welcome you! You are in for a treat. Below, you will find a collection of FREE practice activities and reproducibles for you to use as you teach this rule to your student. All you have to do is click, download, and print!

Sick Elk and Magic Trick Reproducibles

As always, if you found this blog helpful, please share it with your fellow teachers, parents, and interventionists. Interested in learning more? You can find our other spelling topics HERE, and don’t forget to check out our complete guide to spelling at

Happy Teaching!

Written by:

Kate Wagner, BSE

Reading Interventionist, Remote Learning Coach

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