This Section contains information on the following topics-
Spelling and Instruction
Some Basic Spelling Essentials
Spelling: A Miscue Analysis
Additional information on Spelling is included in the Learning Disability Section.
SPELLING AND INSTRUCTION
For many children the path to accurate spelling skills is the heuristic one of exploration and discovery; with experience and maturity, knowledge of spelling is almost “caught”. For others, specific, explicit instruction is necessary to ensure that these skills develop that is, they must be “taught”.
At the Primary School level, the development of spelling should be encouraged through the teaching of:
At the Secondary School level, several factors contribute to a change in instructional emphasis. These include:
While basic skill development should continue at the secondary level, the focus of instruction tends to move towards encouraging students to develop cognitive learning strategies. If necessary, accommodations should be considered in instruction and assessment.
Appropriate activities in skill development include:
Cognitive Learning Strategies:
For a student who, despite all efforts, continues to struggle with the mechanics of written expression and particularly spelling, a range of accommodations should be considered.
The aim of making accommodations is to provide the student with access to the standard curriculum. An adapted curriculum may, however, be necessary in some cases.
SOME BASIC SPELLING ESSENTIALS
I have found that students, irrespective of age, find the following “essentials” helpful, especially when trying to fathom out the many apparent inconsistencies in English spelling. Of course, in a “formal” sense, some of the information below will be beyond the understanding of many very young students but introduced carefully, it should provide helpful insights into the complexities of our written language.
Often, teachers are swamped with a torrent of materials including special commercial packages, activities, games, strategies, computer software, spelling rules and exceptions that are considered important in planning and implementing a spelling program.
Some “Essential” knowledge and skills considered worthy of teaching in a spelling program follow-
The 26 letters of the alphabet are usually recognised by their NAME.
The 26 letters of the alphabet can “make” more than 44 SOUNDS.
Linguistically, letters are called graphemes and sounds are called phonemes and phonemes are combined to form a morpheme or a spoken word.
The 26 letters can be grouped into
Most letters are consonants which can be classified as being-
Vowels are more variable than consonants
Vowels can be classified as being
The SOUND of the letter is articulated-a,e,i,o,u.
Usually has a regular letter-sound correspondence.
Usually only one vowel to “spell” a short vowel sound.
Some common irregulars e.g., ea-head, bread.
A common short vowel spelling pattern is VCCV-a vowel followed by two consonants and then a vowel.
The NAME of the letter is articulated-A,E,I,O,U
Many complexities, hence the very difficult aspect of English spelling.
Usually two vowels “spell” a long vowel sound.
A useful reminder-When two vowels go for a walk-usually the first will talk.
A common spelling pattern is the distant modification of “e” on the other vowels (a-e, i-e, o-e, u-e)-often taught as “e” on the end of a word makes the first vowel say its own name-e.g., a in lake.
Major long vowel spelling patterns with their estimated frequency of occurrence
I have found it helpful to teach students to HEAR the difference between the vowel sounds in target spoken words. For instance, I would say- “listen for the vowel sound in the word hop, if you hear the SOUND of the vowel (which “looks” short/quick on the lips and “sounds” short to the ear) that is likely to be a short vowel and hence one vowel is used in spelling; if you hear the NAME of the vowel as in the word hope (which “looks” long on the lips and “sounds” long/extended to the ear) two vowels will usually be used in spelling”.
Students quickly learn to hear the difference between short and long vowel “sounds” in spoken words and hence have a very useful starting point for spelling a given word-
Students find this step quite easy and hence reduce their initial uncertainty of not knowing whether to use one or two vowels in words.
A very “understandable” error occurs next when the student, spelling long vowels is unsure of what two vowels are used, say to spell boat. If "bote" is written, this is a more informed error than if only one vowel is used, e.g., "bot". The progression to accurate spelling should eventually come with direct attention to the selected word using flashcards etc.
Students also find such activities as the following, interesting and fun!
The letter “a” is pronounced differently in the following words-making the five short vowel sounds in these words-
and making other sounds in these words
Students like to make lists of the different ways of spelling the long vowel sounds e.g., “o”
I recommend that teachers use one of the basic word lists in planning an early spelling program. These lists including the Dolch 220, Fries, 300, Oxford, 307, Magic Words 200, contain words that represent over 50% of the words used in written language. Hence, they should be a central part of early spelling lists. These are basic, essential, “glue-words” that need to be read and spelled accurately. I have stressed the need to introduce young students to these words in a reading program and have suggested strategies to assist students master these words in the Reading Section. As many of these words are phonetically irregular, they are best learned as whole, “sight-words”.
A suggested activity to teach basic words
Firstly, it is important to check that the words can be read before expecting them to be spelled.
Mention has been made of a strategy that I have recommended to teachers and parents. As the feedback has been very positive, it would seem worthwhile to provide details on the way basic words and other selected words can be taught.
Once the target word has been identified either through direct assessment or through a search of workbooks to find spelling errors, the word is printed on the front of a flashcard. On the back of the flashcard, the same word is written with the “error”, “tricky bit” or “demon” letter(s) in red. For example, using the target word “any”-
When introducing the word to the child, the teacher/parent places the word on the desk/table before the child and says-
“This word is “any”. Look at this word. You found it a “tricky” word to spell. The “tricky” bit is written in red on the back of this card”. Parent/teacher turns the card over and shows the child saying-“See the letter “a” is red”. This can be repeated for two or three other “tricky” words during the session.
When each word is again placed before the child, (front side up), the teacher/parent asks “Which letter is red”? If the child is correct, turn the card over and reinforce the correct choice with praise- saying “Well done”. If the child forgets or chooses the wrong letter, turn the card over and say-“Have a look or check your answer”. “Where is the “tricky” bit?” Have the child say the letter then add “Yes, well done”. “We will try this word again later to see if you can remember the “tricky” bit”.
This activity can be repeated several times during the week. New words can be included while “known” words can be removed from the set. The set of words should not exceed 4 or 5 words at any one time. It is important to reintroduce the “known” words at regular intervals to reinforce correct spelling.
Three of these basic words lists are presented below. Other basic word lists are included in the Reading Section.
The Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary of 220 Frequently Used Words
There is general agreement that students are normally able to read these words by Grade 2 and spell most of them by Grade 3.
Dolch, E. W. (1955). Methods in Reading. Champaign Illinois: The Garrad Publishing Co., (pp. 373-374).
The Davidson and Wicking List
These twelve words make up, on average, one quarter of all reading:
a and he I in is it of that the to was
The following twenty words, together with the above twelve words make up, on average, one third of all reading:
all as at be but are for had have him
his not on one said so they we with you
The following sixty-eight words, together with the thirty-two words above make up, on average, one half of all reading.
about an back been before big by call came can
come could did do down first from get go has
her here if into just like little look made make
more me much must my no new now off old
only or our other out over right see she some
their them then there this two up want well went
were what when where which who will your
After the words listed above, the following are considered to be the one hundred most commonly used words.
after again always am another any ask away
bad because best bird black blue boy bring
day dog don’t
far fast father fell find five fly four found
gave girl give going good got green
hand have head help home house how
last left let live long
man many may men mother
once open own play put
ran read red room round run
sat saw say school should sing sit soon step
take tell than these thing think three time too tree
walk white why wish work would
Suggestion: Do not present the above list to children as a whole as given here. Rather, group the words in some meaningful way and add others to reinforce the pattern.
For example: fight, sight, might or to, too, two.
Then encourage children to add to the list.
Source: Davidson, C and Wicking, B. (1975). Spelling . . . a phonic approach. Australia International Press and Publications: Melbourne, p.51.
I have included the following words in my Basic Word List because of their frequency of use and their utility include the following-
Some “Mathematical” Words
In addition to the “number” words included in the above lists, the following words could be included-
Words involving the basic processes/algorithms-
Some other general words-
Some Instructional Words
These are some words that are frequently used when teachers are giving young children written directions or instructions in the classroom-
THE OXFORD WORD LIST
The recently published list by Oxford University Press, 2008, contains words gathered under the guidance of staff at the University of Melbourne. The list contains the 307 most frequently used words in the writing samples of students in their first three years of school. The words are listed in order of frequency. Words 299 to 307 occurred with equal frequency. This influenced the number of words on the list.
The most cited of all word lists is the Dolch 220 basic sight vocabulary which appears above. This list was derived from a compilation of children’s oral vocabulary and words commonly found in young children’s reading material. The agreement level of 54% with the Oxford List reflects both the changes in language usage over time and also Dolch’s decision to exclude all nouns.
The Oxford Wordlist Research Study: An Investigation of High Frequency Words in Young Children’s Writing and Reading Development. Oxford University Press. Melbourne. 2007.
Classroom resources based on the list including flashcards and games are available at-
Words 1–307 in Order of Frequency
The 200 Magic Words (M200W) in Level Order
First Set of 100-Golden-Violet Second Set of 100-Pink-Lemon
Source: Author-Reiter, M. (2003). Publisher-ACER Press.
Homophones are a group of words pronounced in the same way but differing in meaning and/or spelling. Predictably, such words cause many students difficulties. Some students continue to be confused with these words throughout their school years. The direct, explicit teaching of homophones is recommended.
Suggestions for Teaching
Use pictorial cues where possible. Have cards with the target word together with an associated picture.
Specific spelling activities should also aid correct usage, including the following-
A List of Homophones
Obviously, this is not a complete list of homophones but a selection of words that are commonly used by students in their early to mid primary school years. This is a critical time to introduce such words as classroom teachers, at this stage of learning, are typically involved in the explicit, direct and systematic teaching of word recognition and spelling.
buy bye by
saw sore soar
there their they’re
to two too
SPELLING: A MISCUE ANALYSIS
The identification and classification of spelling errors (similar in nature to the well recognised error /miscue analysis in reading) provides a critical starting point for explicit instruction. Errors provide a direct insight into a student’s ability to-
Errors provide the best insight into a student’s spelling problems and instructional needs. While formal spelling tests or teacher initiated spelling tests/checks are sources of valuable information, a student’s spelling in their workbooks or in their creative writing, provide the most valuable insight into their actual, “natural” spelling knowledge and skills and are the best sources of both diagnostic and instructional information.
In the assessment of a student’s spelling, it is important to use as many sources and genres of written material as possible:
letters or diaries
work-books are a rich source of “errors”
The following framework can be used for the analysis of individual spelling errors:
Type of Error
Omission of needed letter(s)
Omission of syllable(s)
Addition of letter(s)
Substitution of letter(s)
Reversal of letter formation
Patterns of Errors
The most important pattern of errors to identify is that reflecting the predominant use of either visual or phonological strategies in spelling.
Is the student largely relying on visual strategies (presumably because he/she has difficulty with the analysis of sounds in words or because he/she has not been taught word-attack skills)?
Is the student largely relying on phonological strategies (presumably because he/she has difficulty either perceiving words as “visual wholes” or visually analysing words, or because he/she has not been encouraged to use this as a strategy)?
Is the student demonstrating difficulty with the application of both visual and phonological strategies (because of underdeveloped phonological analysis and visual gestalt and analysis skills or limited learning experiences)?
It is also important to identify specific areas of difficulty or underdeveloped knowledge.
Grapheme / phoneme correspondence
A range of instructional strategies is also included in the Learning Disability Section.
Following the established tradition on my website, I will provide up-to-date resources and references but also maintain original resources and references to give some historical context. This approach should enable the interested reader to identify trends in the development of educational and instructional resources. The original resources-now dated- were those that I used in my private practice so that I could comment personally on their usefulness. Having retired from private practise, I am unable to vouch for the usefulness of new specific resources, software and programs, but give the reader relevant websites for them to explore the extensive range of current material.
Macmillan Primary Texts: Spelling Rules, A-G
Wizard Books: Spelling (S. Clarke), Grades 5-9
Valuable information on spelling is contained on the Department of Education and Training website Victorian Curriculum. This information appears in the English Mode-Writing.
The collection of resources in the Readingrockets Program provides excellent information on writing and spelling. Also check the following-Reading 101-A Guide to Teaching Reading and Writing.
Other useful links are the following-
Texts and Resources
Amazon Books www. amazon.com
Pearson Australia www.pearson.com.au/
Pearson Uk www.pearsoned.co.uk/bookshop/
Teacher Resource Books and Software
Campion Education http://www.campion.com.au/
Fitzroy Programs www.fitzprog.com.au/
Hawker Brownlow Education www.hbe.com.au/
Link Educational Supplies www.linkeducational.com.au
Quellette, G. et. al., (2013). Guiding children's invented spelling: A gateway to literacy learning. Journal of Experimental Education. 81, 2, 261-279.
Bar-kochva K. et al., (2016). The relation between reading and spelling: An examination of subtypes of reading disability. Annals of Dyslexia. 66, 2, 219-284.
Quellette, G. et al., (2017). Learning from our mistakes: Improvements in spelling lead to gains in reading speed. Scientific Studies of Reading. 21,4, 350-357.
Zannikas, M.E. et al., (2018). A comparison of the taped spelling intervention and the Cover, Copy and Compare for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Behavioral Education. 27,3,301-323.
This resource has been prepared by Dr. Stewart C. Sykes - Psychologist. MAPS.
Former Associate Professor of Psychology and Special Education and Director of the Krongold Centre for Exceptional Children. Monash University, Australia.
Copyright © Dr. Stewart C. Sykes. All rights reserved.
Copyright Dr. Stewart Sykes