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Spelling: Instructional Guidelines

Spelling and Word Study

Spelling: Instructional Guidelines

A spelling program has many components. Some of the main components that each grade level should introduce are highlighted below.

On this page:

Examples of spelling concepts, grades 1-3

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

  • Consonants
  • Short vowel patterns

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

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


  • Consonant blends (e.g., string, block)

    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 digraphs (e.g., shot, the)

    A group of consonants that stand for one sound that is different from either of the letters.

  • Long vowels

    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.

  • Different vowel combinations for long vowels
  • 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.

Examples of spelling concepts, grades 2-3

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/)

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

  • drop 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
    • -ive
  • ch-tch
  • c, k, and ck

    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-
    • 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.

A teacher’s instruction should also include activities in homophones (sea/see), contractions (cannot; 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).

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.

You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.

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