Helping Students Find Out How Words Work...
Read about the stunning results from the Shine 'Sounds Like Fun' Literacy Project at literacysuccess.org.nz

 

There is a lot more to learning to spell than learning lists of words!

In their article 'How Words Cast their Spell', Joshi et al stress the importance of teaching spelling as a foundation for learning to read and write.

"In 1773, Noah Webster stated that "spelling is the foundation of reading and the greatest ornament
 of writing.” He was right. Good spelling is critical for literacy, and it makes writing much easier—
 allowing the writer to focus on the ideas to be conveyed, not the letters needed to put those ideas on
 paper.  But ever since Webster’s "spellers” (which focused on how to spell the sounds that make up
 words and thus taught spelling and reading simultaneously) went out of fashion in the early 1900s,
 spelling has not received as much attention as reading. This is unfortunate because spelling 
 instruction underpins reading success by creating an awareness of the sounds that make up
 words and the letters that spell those sounds. As children learn to spell, their knowledge of words
 improves and reading becomes easier."


Read this article: How Words Cast Their Spell. Spelling Is an Integral Part of Learning the Language, Not a Matter of Memorization, by Joshi, R.M., Treiman,R., Carreker, S.,& Moats, L.C (American Educator, Winter 2008-2009)

Although English is a sound-symbol alphabetic language, words are not simply spelled to represent the sounds they contain.  All sounds can be written in different ways but there are often reliable reasons for choosing the correct spelling pattern.  For example, the 'j' sound is usually written with a j and sometimes with a g.  If a g is used it will always be followed by the letters e, i or y (gently, giant, gypsy). If 'j' is the last sound in a word, it will never be written with a j.   It will either be a ge pattern (orange, gorge) or if it follows a short vowel sound, it will be written dge (badge, dodge, hedge, bridge, budge).

Some words are spelled in particular ways because of a reliable spelling rule that influences both spelling and pronunciation.   For example, words that end with a single short vowel followed by a single consonant will double the last consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel is added: run - running, bat - batted, thin - thinner, big - biggest.  If a student sees this spelling convention in an unfamiliar word they are decoding, they should be able to think "There's a doubled consonant after a single vowel pattern - I guess the single vowel will be pronounced as a short vowel!"

Some parts of words that sound the same are spelled differently to reflect meaning.  Greatest and florist both end in 'ist' but greatest is spelled with est (the est suffix means more than) and florist is spelled with ist (the ist suffix means a person who does something).   Knowledge of these morphemes influences correct spelling as well as assisting students work out the meaning of words.

So teaching spelling means teaching phonemic awareness skills (the skills to work with the sounds of English), phonics knowledge (the spelling patterns that represent the sounds of English), morphological knowledge (the meaning parts of words), spelling rules and conventions and strategies for using spelling knowledge to spell and read unfamiliar words.