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Young boy writing in class

Spelling: Introduction

Many people think spelling consists of memorizing all the words in a dictionary and that spelling comes naturally to some and not to others. These are misconceptions. Good spellers aren’t born, they are taught! Nearly 90 percent of English words can be spelled if a student knows basic patterns, principles and rules of spelling.

Certificate of Completion

After completing this module and successfully answering the post-test questions, you’ll be able to download a certificate of completion.

If a child can spell a word, he or she can usually read the word. In fact, there is a strong relationship between spelling and word reading, because many of the same abilities — phonemic awareness, knowledge of letter patterns, an understanding of morphology and word meanings — underlie both reading and spelling. Good spellers make for better readers and writers.

Spelling and reading

Dr. Louisa Moats, an expert in literacy instruction, says that spelling is a visible record of a child’s language processing, and gives us a window into what a child understands about word structure and speech sounds, and how we use letters to represent those sounds. Looking at a child’s spelling is a wonderful diagnostic tool.

Putting spelling in perspective

There are about 400,000 words in a dictionary. In about 50% of the words, sound and letter associations map simply and perfectly. These words don’t have to be memorized. Another 37% are easily learned through instruction of slightly more complex letter-sound correspondences. Only 13% of English language words are truly exceptional, in that they must be memorized by sight.

What spelling instruction should include

  • Alphabetic principle: Knowledge of which individual letters match up to sounds, in a left to right sequence (In the word cup each sound is represented by a single letter).
  • Pattern information: Which groups of letters function as a pattern to represent sounds. Examples of patterns would include: CVC (Consonant/Vowel/Consonant) pattern to form short vowels (e.g. like the word cat) or CVCe/CVVC patterns to form long vowels (e.g. like the words same or meat).
  • Spelling variations based on word origins (e.g., ‘ch’ sounds like /ch/ in Anglo-Saxon words like check, /sh/ in French words like niche, and /k/ in Greek words like chaos).
  • Meaning (morphological or morphemic) information: Which groups of letters represent meaning (The prefix re- as in redo, means to do again). Instruction should include Greek combining forms and Latin roots.

Spelling patterns

The Johnson School in Charlottesville, VA, has its own homegrown reading program called RISE (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence).