Spelling is an important component of communication and is closely linked to the development of skills in reading and writing. In fact, there is a strong relationship between decoding – matching graphemes (letters) to phonemes, syllables and morphemes (sounds)) and encoding (using spoken words to put phonemes and morphemes into graphemes). Essentially, there is a relationship between learning to read and learning to spell!

Children develop their spelling ability over time and in a variety of ways. For example, children start to experiment with scribbling and recognising that symbols on a page have meaning, before discovering beginning and final sounds, rhyme and other patterns and blends. (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2004).

Sometimes we look at the English language and wonder if there really is any rhyme or reason to how we spell – our spelling ‘rules’ if you will. Some of my favourite memes involve the complexity of spelling rules.

However, there are a lot of predictable patterns that the English language conforms to, and these can be taught directly to students. Like all aspects of literacy, a multifaceted approach is essential, so that students have a range of knowledge to draw from when spelling.

Phonological knowledgeknowledge about the sounds in language; the ability to hear, identify and manipulate syllables, rhymes and individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonological knowledge can be used to segment words and to match these to graphemes (letters/letter combinations).

Orthographical knowledge – the awareness of the symbols used to represent sounds, in written form. The 26 letters of the English alphabet can be arranged into graphemes to represent sounds. These can be in a variety of ways – for example, single letters, double letters, consonant graphemes, digraphs (two different letters representing a phoneme, such as sh in sheep), consonant clusters (such as  gl in glow) and trigraphs (three different letters representing a phoneme, such as dge in judge). This can all seem rather confusing, but our teachers do a wonderful job of making this clear to our students.

Morphemic knowledgeunderstanding how the smallest parts of words carry meaning. This includes words such as play in playing, or prefixes (morphemes added to the start of words, such as re- in rediscover) and suffixes (morphemes added to the end of words eg, -able or -ly). Knowing how and when to change a prefix or a suffix plays an important role in developing our knowledge of spelling.

Etymological knowledge – the knowledge of the history and origin of words. I always enjoy watching the big Spelling Bees on TV. Often participants will hear a word and request to know the country of origin. It always amazes me how this can determine which spelling combinations may be used. For example, we know that ch can have a hard sound as in Christmas (often derived from Greek), or a sh sound as in chef (often derived from French), or a -tch sound as in chase (often derived from old English and German). Understanding etymology can also allow students to have a better understanding of root words and families of words, and how these can be changed.

Learning to spell is quite complex, as you can see, and takes time. During our upcoming Spell-a-thon week in 2020, our aim is to allow students a chance to develop their knowledge and to experiment with words and spelling, in conjunction with our normal spelling programs.

Students will have opportunities to take part in games in the library (for example Boggle and  Banagrams) or participate in Spelling Bees throughout the week, as well as other activities in class time. The week will end with our inaugural SpellX competition for each grade, which is bound to be an exciting time.

Mrs Stephanie Cairns
Coordinator of Literacy and Numeracy K-12

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