Young girl working on spelling in classroom

Good spellers aren't born, they are taught! Nearly 90 percent of English words can be spelled if a student knows basic patterns, principles and rules of spelling. Good spellers end up as better readers and writers.

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Learning to spell is built on a child's understanding that words are made up of separate speech sounds (phonemes) and that letters represent those sounds. As they get more experience with words, children begin to notice patterns in the way letters are used and recurring sequences of letters that form syllables, word endings, word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Putting spelling in perspective

Most English words can be spelled if you know the basic patterns, principles, and rules of spelling. Students can use these rules as an aid to spelling unknown words. If a child can spell a word, he or she can usually read the word. 

There are about 400,000 words in the English dictionary. In about 50% of the words, sound and letter associations map simply and perfectly. These words don't have to be memorized. About 40% are easily learned through instruction of slightly more complex letter–sound correspondences. Only about 10% of English language words are truly exceptional, in that they must be memorized by sight.

Spelling instruction should include:

  • Alphabetic principle: Knowledge of which individual letters match up to sounds, in a left to right sequence (In the word cup each sound is represented by a single letter).
  • Pattern information: Which groups of letters function as a pattern to represent sounds. Examples of patterns would include: CVC (Consonant/Vowel/Consonant) pattern to form short vowels (e.g. like the word cat) or CVCe/CVVC patterns to form long vowels (e.g. like the words same or meat).
  • Spelling variations based on word origins (e.g., ‘ch’ sounds like /ch/ in Anglo-Saxon words like check, /sh/ in French words like niche, and /k/ in Greek words like chaos).
  • Meaning (morphological or morphemic) information: Which groups of letters represent meaning (The prefix re- as in redo, means to do again). Instruction should include Greek combining forms and Latin roots.

To learn more about spelling, browse the articles, parent tips, research briefs, and video below.

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"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald