My spelling is wobbly. It's good spelling, but it wobbles and the letters get in the wrong places. A.A. Milne
Although we have often taught spelling as a subject, separate from reading and writing, research conducted over the last decade, or more, has redefined the way we think about how students learn to spell.
The research has helped us understand that:
|Level of Development||Descriptors||Strategies to Support Spelling|
(typically 3+ years to
There is little or no evidence of alphabetic knowledge or letter-sound relationships.
Writing resembles random strings of letter-like forms and numerals.
Upper-case letters or letter-like symbols predominate.
May lack understanding of left-to-right directionality.
stage (typically 4+ years to 6+ years),
Understands that the sounds in spoken words can be represented by letters.
Beginning to understand the concept of a word.
Words, sounds and synonyms may be represented with one or two letters, e.g. U for you, BKS for because.
Some letter-sound correspondence is evident.
The main sounds in words are used.
Begins to use some common letter patterns.
Consonants are used more often than vowels.
A few sight words are spelled correctly, e.g. I, me, mummy.
Knowledge of the alphabet is evident.
|Phonetic (typically 5+ years to 7+ years)||
Letters are chosen on the basis of sound.
A letter or group of letters is used to represent all major speech sounds heard in a word e.g. BCOZ, LIVD.
Unconventional or invented spellings make sense and are easily understood, e.g. KOM for come, STOPT for stopped.
Letter names are used in spelling, e.g. GAV for gave, AWA for away.
A growing number of known sight words are used correctly.
(It is important to note that although this is a very normal stage of development for younger children, older students who struggle with spelling may not have progressed through or beyond this stage and will need help to develop visual and meaning-based spelling strategies.)
Transitional (typically 6+
years to 11+ years)
Most basic conventions of English spelling are understood, e.g. places vowels in every syllable, such a HOLADAY.
Most common words are known.
Is able to recognize when a common word is misspelled.
There is less dependence on sound for representing spelling and a greater reliance on visual patterns and an understanding of the structure of words.
Is beginning to use word meaning to help with spelling.
Common English letter patterns are evident, but may not always be used correctly, e.g. EIGHTEE for eighty, STRAIT for straight)
Extended knowledge of the structure of words is shown. E.g. prefixes, suffixes, contractions, double letters, are evident.
Resources such as dictionaries, word lists are used to check own spelling.
|Correct (typically from 10–11+ years)||
The English spelling system and its basic rules are well understood and used.
Prefixes and suffixes, silent consonants, alternative spellings, and irregular spellings do not cause problems.
Applies knowledge about spelling to unknown words, e.g. rules for adding suffixes, word origins.
Uses context to distinquish between homonymns, e.g. to, two and too.
Proof-reading strategies and skills are used with increasing proficiency.
Has a large bank of words that can be spelled automatically, including complex and sophisticated words.
A variety of tools and strategies are used to make sure spelling is accurate.
In this video clip, a grade one teacher demonstrates the importance of invented or temporary spelling in the development of early writers.
It is important to remember that spelling and opportunities for purposeful writing go hand in hand. Spelling has no purpose outside of writing. Please refer back to the Development of Writing section of the website for additional information.
Stages of Spelling This pdf contains practical ideas about how to develop students' spelling knowledge in ways appropriate to their stage of spelling development.
Gentry, J. Richard. The Science of Spelling: the Explicit Specifics that Make Great Readers, and Writers (and Spellers!). Heinnemann, 2004. This article is available online and has numerous ideas of quality-based spelling instruction.
For more information about the research behind developmental spelling, check out the following sources.
Gentry, J. Richard. "An Analysis of Developmental Spelling in GNYS AT WRK." THE READING TEACHER 36 (1982).
Hodges, Richard E. LEARNING TO SPELL. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills and National Council of Teachers of English, 1981. ED 202 016.
Read, Charles. CHILDREN'S CATEGORIZATION OF SPEECH SOUNDS IN ENGLISH. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills and National Council of Teachers of English; Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, 1975. ED 112 426.