The purpose of spelling instruction is to develop good writers. Sometimes this purpose is overlooked and “spelling is sometimes seen as an end in itself…. Meaningful spelling instruction time is described as taking the form of learning about words-their history and functions-or the spelling period is closely tied to meaningful written experiences.”

Ruel Allred, 1987

In teaching spelling our purpose is to teach students strategies for transferring their knowledge to authentic writing situations. We should teach students strategies for writing words independently with fluency. Teaching children to use strategies during independent writing is critical to spelling instruction. As children internalize these strategies they will become more confident spellers and independent writers.

Examples of spelling instructional strategies:

  • breaking the word into syllables

  • showing meaningful relationships in words

  • providing visual techniques, looking at rime patterns

  • exposure to common spelling rules

It is critical that students study and learn words most commonly used in their own writing. Children should have a working knowledge of instant words, words with common patterns, and affixes. This knowledge base will propel students in becoming more aware of the words around them, which will support connections to new words they encounter in texts.

The spelling lists are developed by utilizing the district instant word list, rime pattern list, common spelling rules, words from student writing, frequently misspelled words by grade level, and affixes. The district developed consistent regular and challenge spelling lists that are developmentally appropriate for first through fifth grade students. In kindergarten, phonemic awareness, letter work, and word work activities lay a crucial foundation for direct spelling instruction in subsequent grade levels. Therefore, formal lists are not a part of the kindergarten program.

Strong spellers tend to break words into chunks, think about small words in big words, and visualize whether or not the word looks right. When in doubt about the spelling of a word, students are encouraged to write the word several ways and then determine what looks right. Typically when a student writes a challenging word, they have already encountered that word in reading, and therefore have some background knowledge of the word’s spelling. Often times, the best spellers are those who utilize visualization techniques.

Spelling is more than just a memorization task. Research studies support the use of formal spelling instruction only if it consists of a systematic and logical program of word study that includes many components (phonics, prefixes, suffixes, word endings, compound words, homonyms, word origins, proofreading, and dictionary skills.) Doing well on spelling tests alone will not ensure competency in spelling and transfer into authentic writing.

The most powerful tool to help children develop into thoughtful spellers is to work with words in meaningful writing. Helping children to learn to proofread their own writing promotes independence and allows opportunities for the application of spelling strategies as well as developing the ability to self monitor. Spelling instruction should take place within authentic writing opportunities. In the early developmental stages of spelling children should be afforded the opportunity to use “phonetic spelling” or “invented spelling.” This process allows the child to apply what they know to words that they want to write but do not know how to spell yet.

When children use invented spelling, they think about words and generate new word knowledge. A child who uses invented spelling builds a bridge from the known to the unknown. The use of invented spelling also enhances writing development and children are encouraged to use vocabulary from their receptive language base that they may not have yet mastered in spelling.

Spelling and writing are connected ways to promote learning. As children are given opportunities for purposeful writing, their thinking about spelling is unlocked. The child’s process of spelling helps their knowledge expand.

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