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First Year Teacher Self-Study Course

First Year Teacher is a self-paced professional development course for novice K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers.

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Spelling: In Practice

What should be included in a spelling program?

A spelling program at one grade level has many components, some of the main components that each grade level should introduce are highlighted below.

Beginning in the middle of first grade through third grade, students should be taught letter-sound associations such as:

  • consonants
  • short vowel patterns
  • consonant blends (e.g. string, block)
  • consonant digraphs (e.g. shot, the)
  • long vowels
  • different vowel combinations for long vowels
  • silent letter graphemes

Second through third graders should be introduced to plurals and past tense, and patterns or rules including:

  • q followed by a u (the sound /kw/)
  • drop e
  • adding suffixes
  • ch-tch
  • c, k, and ck
  • hard and soft c and g
  • plural endings
  • prefixes
  • consonant doubling

A teacher's instruction should also include activities in homophones (sea/see), contractions (can not; can't) and compounds (two words that when combined have a different meaning than when they are separate, e.g. cup and cake become cupcake).

Examples of spelling concepts for grades 1–3

Short vowel patterns

-ap -ell -it -op -ug
-an -est -ip -ot -uck
-at -en -ill -og -uck
-ask -in -ock -ump
-ad -ig -unk
-ash -ing -uck
-ink

*To spell a short vowel sound only one letter is needed. (e.g., at, red, it, hot)

Consonant blends
A group of two or three consonants is a consonant blend. Each sound is heard in a consonant blend.

  • L-Blends: (bl,cl,fl,gl,pl,sl)
  • R-Blends (br,cr,dr,fr,gr,pr,tr)
  • S-Blends (sc,sn,sk,sm,st,sp,sw,str)

Consonant digraph:
A group of consonants that stand for one sound that is different from either of the letters. . (e.g. shot, the).

Long vowel:
To spell a long vowel sound you must add a second vowel. The second vowel sound may be next to the first in the VVC pattern (boat, maid) or it may be separated from the first one, making a CVCe pattern (made, ride, etc.).

Doubling a consonant can be thought of as "protecting" a short vowel because it prevents an incoming vowel from getting close enough to change its sound from short to long. This is known as the VCCV pattern and the first vowel remains short. Examples of consonant doubling include madder and dinner.

Silent letter graphemes
Letters that appear in a word but do not represent themselves with a spoken sound are called silent letter graphemes. Examples are the letter e in the word time or the letter k in the word knee.

q followed by u (the sound /kw/)
This sound is always spelled with the letters qu. (Sidenote: In the English language q is always followed by u.)

Dropping e and adding ing
For words that end in "silent e", the e must be dropped before you add a suffix beginning with a vowel (such as -ing or -ed). For example: ride — riding, cure — curable, age — aging, ice — icicle, offense — offensive.

Adding suffixes
Adding consonant suffixes is easy. Just add them, but if a word ends with a y, you must change y to an i before adding any suffix! Common suffixes include: -ness, -less, -ly, -ful, -hood, -wise, -cess, -ment, -ty, -ry, -ward, -age, -ant, -ance, -al, -ism, -able, -an, -es, -ed, -er, -est, -y, -ist, -ish, -ing, -ar, -on, -ous, -or, -ual, -unt, -um, -us, and -ive.

The sound of /k/
This sound can be spelled four ways. (c, cc, k, and ck).

Hard and soft c and g
The consonants c and g make twp different sounds, hard and soft. Below are examples of these sounds.

  • Hard G — gorilla, gum
  • Soft G — gem, gym
  • Hard C — courage, cat
  • Soft C — receive, cell

Plural endings
Plural words are always spelled with a single letter s, unless you can hear a new syllable on the plural word. In that case, use -es. For example: loss — losses, bank — banks, twitch — twitches, tree — trees, box — boxes.

Prefixes
Adding prefixes generally does not change the spelling of the word. Common prefixes include: anti-, auto-, dis-, in-, il-, im-, inter-, mis-, post-, pre-, re-, sub-, super-, trans-, and un-.

Consonant doubling
Words that end in a short vowel sound must have the final consonant doubled to protect the sound when adding a vowel suffix. Examples include: upset — upsetting, occur — occurred, refer — referred, remit — remittance.

How can teachers enhance spelling development in their classroom?

An awareness of spelling development can help teachers plan instruction. For precommunicative and semiphonetic spellers, teachers may teach alphabet knowledge, letter-sound correspondences, the concept of "wordness," and left-to-right directionality. At the phonetic stage, students might be introduced, in the context of writing, to word families, spelling patterns, phonics, and word structures.

Teachers can encourage purposeful writing, such as the writing of messages, lists, plans, signs, letters, stories, songs, and poems.

Teachers can also provide opportunities for frequent writing, which, when integrated with all aspects of the curriculum, should be a natural part of the daily classroom routine. Frequent application of spelling knowledge by students while writing encourages spelling competency.

Teachers can also make use of instructional games since children acquire language, in large part, from their alertness to language around them.

Spelling instruction should be FUN!

Instruction should be clear, but it doesn't have to be dull! Students can become word-pattern detectives, hunting for samples of words and looking for clues to help form their understanding of spelling rules. They can develop knowledge through word sorts and spelling games. The mastering of spelling rules and patterns through fun activities can make learning enjoyable for all!


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

Word Families

At Sudduth Elementary School in Starkville, Mississippi, Tina Scholtes teaches first graders a handy spelling pattern that helps them recognize word clusters.

Spelling: In Practice

Learn More!

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Join Barbara Zielinski, a first grade teacher at River Plaza Elementary School in Middletown, NJ, during her first year teaching.

"Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks." — Dr. Seuss