Spelling: teaching and learning spelling

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

Age 0-6

Early years foundation stage

If you are a foundation stage or KS1 teacher, you already know some of the most important facts about learning to read, write and spell:

  • learning to read and spell begins at birth, and the language experiences of a child in the first 12 months are absolutely vital to its subsequent literacy development
  • in fact, some experts have argued that a child's literacy is determined some years before birth- as its parents learn (or do not learn) how important their role can be
  • for a child to spell well in English, their phonological knowledge and phonemic awareness both need to be good (Not sure how these concepts are different? Great video here)
  • phonological awareness starts developing from birth, and we now know that
    • if a child doesn't hear all the speech sounds of English in their first 12 months of life, it's much harder to learn them later
    • talking to an infant, using lots of intonation, repetition ('beddy'byes', 'din-dins', 'ma-ma', 'coochie-coo'), lots of poems, songs and rhymes will ALL help this development
    • linking speech, hearing and seeing is also valuable- so clapping games, pointing, touching fingers and thumb when you say 'quack-quack' (much better than 'duck'!) are all helping development

Dr Seuss was a genius!

In what ways was Dr Seuss a genius?

  • In 'The Cat in the Hat' he produced a story that included fun, drama, suspense, and finally an ending that was both complete and yet open-ended, with an unresolved ethical question
  • In 'The Cat in the Hat' he was able to incorporate nearly every major principle of developing phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics
    • as well as suspense, drama and tension (will Mother get back before the house is tidied up? - the cat has about 5 seconds to go from total mayhem to tidy)
    • the story makes excellent use of rhyme (developing both phonological and phonemic awareness, and also onset-rime discrimination)
    • the story uses lots of repetition- this is also good for reinforcing word recognition, but also embedding firmer representations of individual letter-sound relationships ('So all we could do was to Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit!'; 'You should not be here. You should not be about. You should not be here When your mother is out!' 'Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW! ) Note that the easy word is repeated first, then subsequent words are much more tricky ones- 'should' and a familiar but irregular word 'look', which isn't pronounced with either a short or a long 'o')
    • The story also obeys the important pedagogical rule: 'teach words that are spelled the same way together' ( 'Something went bump! How that bump made us jump!'; 'Then those Things ran about With big bumps, jumps and kicks And with hops and big thumps And all kinds of bad tricks.'; 'Thing Two and Thing One! They ran up! They ran down! On the string of one kit We saw Mother's new gown!')

p.s. Some of the US reviews that castigate this book for not offering 'positive role models' or accusing the mother of 'criminal negligence' (for leaving her children at home alone) are almost as funny as the book itself.

New National Curriculum spelling requirements: Key Stage 1- 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 good news is that 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 (see pages 2-6 of the Spelling Appendix)

  • '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 (see pages 7-10 of the Spelling Appendix)

  • 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