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First Year Teacher Program



Teacher Toolbox


 1.  Print awareness
 2.  The sounds of speech
 3.  Phonemic awareness
 4.  Phonics
 5.  Informal classroom-based assessment
 6.  Fluency
 7.  Vocabulary
 8.  Spelling
 9.  Writing
 10.  Text comprehension

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Module 8  –  Spelling

  |   Pre-test  |  Intro  |  In depth  |  In practice  |  Assignments  |  Post-test  |  

In depth

Video Clip

Invented Spelling

In a Connecticut suburb, first grade teacher Carol Spinello turns a spelling lesson into something of a game.

A child advances through identifiable stages through their development as a speller. These stages have been described by several different researchers but all derived from the research of Charles Read and Edmund Henderson in 1971. Through their work with children they began to understand that learning to spell is not a matter of memorizing letter sequences, but developing and applying the knowledge of letter-sound relationships and vowel patterns. Excellent spelling instruction includes building upon a child's word knowledge and enabling them to move from one stage to the next.

What are the stages of spelling development?

Richard Gentry (1982), describes five stages of spelling development. Click on the images beside each stage to see a larger example.

Precommunicative stage
The child uses letters from the alphabet but shows no knowledge of letter-sound correspondences. The child may also lack knowledge of the entire alphabet, the distinction between upper- and lower-case letters, and the left-to-right direction of English orthography. (e.g. The letter M used for the word Jessica)

Precommunicative stage

Semiphonetic stage
The child begins to understand letter-sound correspondence--that sounds are assigned to letters. At this stage, the child often employs rudimentary logic, using single letters, for example, to represent words, sounds, and syllables (e.g., U for you).

Semiphonetic stage

Phonetic stage
Use a letter or group of letters to represent every speech sound that they hear in a word. Although some of their choices do not conform to conventional English spelling, they are systematic and easily understood. (e.g. The letters TAK for take and EN for in.)

Phonetic stage

Transitional stage
The speller begins to assimilate the conventional alternative for representing sounds, moving from a dependence on phonology (sound) for representing words to a reliance on visual representation and an understanding of the structure of words. Some examples are EGUL for eagle and HIGHEKED for hiked.

Transitional stage

Correct stage
The speller knows the basic rules. The correct speller understands how to deal with such things as prefixes and suffixes, silent consonants, alternative spellings, and irregular spellings. A large number of learned words are accumulated, and the speller recognizes incorrect forms. The child's generalizations about spelling and knowledge of exceptions are usually correct.

Correct stage

It is important to note that the progression through each stage is a gradual one and that examples from more than one stage may exist in samples of writing taken from students. Instruction in spelling shapes the progression through each of the stages.

What is "invented" spelling?

Invented spelling refers to a child applying what he or she knows about sounds or visual patterns when attempting to write an unknown word. For example, a child who spells the word cake as kak. It is simply a phonetic approach to writing.

The value of invented spelling is allowing young children to express their thoughts in writing.

Does "invented" spelling interfere with standard spelling?

No, phonetic or "invented" spelling plays an important role in helping children learn how to write. When children use phonetic spelling, they are applying their growing knowledge of phonemes, the letters of the alphabet, and their confidence in the alphabetic principle. A child's iz for the conventional is can be celebrated as quite a breakthrough! It is the kind of error that shows you that the child is thinking independently and quite analytically about the sounds of words and the logic of spelling.

A balanced approach should be used, combining an understanding of invented spelling with formal spelling instruction. Teachers with this balanced approach should be able to develop more effective spelling programs.

Excerpted from: Lutz, E. (1986). Invented Spelling and Spelling Development. ERIC Digest. Eric Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills

And adapted from: Burns, Griffin and Snow (1999) Invented Spelling. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

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First Year Teacher was a pilot project of Reading Rockets, which is service of WETA, Washington D.C.'s flagship public television station. Funding for First Year Teacher was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs; The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation; and The Overbrook Foundation.

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