Spelling: teaching and learning spelling

Colin Harrison and Greg Brooks | View as single page| Feedback/Impact

The spelling curriculum

Age 5-11 spelling curriculum

Here's an Anglicised version of a simple and straightforward curriculum for spelling, derived from the US equivalent of the National Curriculum, that of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010:

Age 4-5

  • Spell simple words phonetically, drawing upon a knowledge of sound-letter relationships

Age 6-7

  • Use conventional spelling for words with common spelling patterns, and for frequently occurring irregular words
  • Spell untaught words phonetically, drawing upon phonemic awareness and spelling conventions

Age 7-8

  • Generalize learned spelling patterns when writing words (eg 'hedge' -> 'badge'; 'light' -> 'flight')
  • Use conventional spelling for high-frequency and other learned words, and for adding suffixes to base words (eg 'sit' -> 'sitting'; 'cry' -> 'cries'; 'happy' -> 'happiness')
  • Consult reference materials, including beginning dictionaries, as necessary to check and correct spellings

Age 8-10

  • Use spelling patterns and generalizations (eg word families, rules such as 'i' before 'e' except after 'c', ending rules, and a developing understanding of the semantic components within words)

NOTE- the new spelling curriculum documents for England are much more detailed than those shown above.

New National Curriculum spelling requirements

New National Curriculum spelling requirements- these apply to England only

The UK government has published in September 2013 a new National Curriculum, most of which will be statutory from September 2013. For English, there is a separate 25-page Spelling Appendix that lays out in detail precisely what sounds and word lists pupils must be taught. The introduction states 'Some of the listed words may be thought of as quite challenging, but the 100 words in each list can easily be taught within the four years of key stage 2 alongside other words that teachers consider appropriate.'

These word lists include 'accidentally', 'knowledge', 'occasionally', 'purpose' and 'possession' for Years 3 and 4, and 'accommodate', 'achieve', 'appreciate', 'conscience', 'exaggerate', 'harass', 'leisure', 'opportunity' and 'pronunciation' for Years 5 and 6. University teachers will be particularly pleased to know that in future students will have known how to spell all these words for seven years before they arrived at university- in fact, the words above all occur on a list of spellings that postgraduate teacher trainees regularly used to misspell, that I compiled some years ago.

The good news is that- whatever you think of the government's spelling lists- the teaching methods suggested for this spelling work are helpful, and would be regarded by most experts as sound. Although the Spelling Appendix does not give lesson plans, there is actually quite a lot of guidance that would set an experienced teacher well on the way with planning. At least the requirements can't be accused of failing to offer detail that would support a teacher who wanted to deliver regular lessons on spelling.

The teaching approaches include:

Year 1 (age 5-6)

  • 'revising' reception work (letters, sounds, vowel digraphs, segmenting)
  • teaching children to divide words into syllables
  • teaching similar words in groups
  • teaching some of the simplest spelling rules
  • building vocabulary and word analysis at the same time as teaching spelling
  • teaching exception words

Year 2 (age 6-7)

  • teaching harder phonemes/blends (eg the final sound in 'bridge'/'badge', or 'measure'/'treasure')
  • the silent 'k'
  • more spelling rules
  • more common homophones
  • harder exception words

Years 3 and 4 (ages 7-9)

  • suffixes and prefixes
  • morpheme prefixes (with a fixed meaning, such as 'dis-', 'mis-', 'sub-')
  • more homophones

Years 5 and 6 (ages 9-11)

  • much of this work is also developing vocabulary
  • more work on roots and suffixes (particularly ones that have loads of rule exceptions)
  • the use of the hyphen
  • the ending '-ough', which can be pronounced 5 ways!
  • the -ce/-se words ('practise'/'practice')
  • tricky homophones ('led'/'lead')