How Spelling Instruction Relates to Reading Ability

Spelling testSpelling instruction is not only an important part of the Language Arts classroom’s writing program, it also benefits students’ reading abilities. Because both spelling draws on the cornerstones of effective reading (phonemic awareness and phonics), instruction in this area helps children become stronger readers as well as making them more proficient writers. While many educators know this to be true they struggle to plan and implement spelling instruction in their classrooms. Here you’ll find some of the most successful methods for teaching children to spell.

Phonics Based Spelling Instruction

When young children attempt to spell new words they often fall back on the phonics skills they have learned during reading instruction to “sound” them out. They draw on their understanding of the connection between letters and sounds to make educated guesses about how words are spelled. While this method is not effective for all English words (since many have irregular spellings), this strategy is generally an effective and productive one for children to use. Teachers and parents should encourage children to use and build on what they know about phonics when teaching them how to spell. Children should be taught to segment the phonemes (sound units) in a word they are trying to spell and to connect these with the letters they associate them with when reading. For example, if a child is attempting to spell “hat” a teacher could remind him of what he already knows about the letters that make each of the sounds in this word. The teacher should encourage him to write the letters that he knows are associated with the sounds /h/ /a/ /t/. Even if the child’s spelling of the word is not exactly correct, the act of using segmentation to spell builds important skills that he can often apply when writing.

Direct Spelling Instruction

By far the most effective method of spelling instruction is direct teaching. While some approaches to literacy instruction favor allowing children to discover and invent word spellings as they learn to write, research shows that direct spelling instruction has the most beneficial and long lasting effects for readers and writers. Children tend to retain the words that they learn to spell during direct instruction and are able to apply them in both their reading and writing.

When employing direct instruction teachers should select words that are appropriate for their students’ current developmental levels. For example, Dolch sight word lists provide excellent age-appropriate collections of words to draw from when teaching spelling. Teachers should encourage students to use their knowledge of phonics as well as memorizing the spelling of words presented in a weekly spelling word list. They should provide the children with many opportunities to use and practice the words so that they will internalize and master their spellings.

Orthographic Patterns

While the English language contains many words that feature irregular spellings, there are even more that follow general patterns of construction. Letter or orthographic patterns reoccur frequently in our language. Teaching children these basic patterns will help them master the spelling of many words. For example, understanding the orthographic pattern of using the vowel set “ie”after all consonants except for “c” allows young writers to “unlock” many words. Children should be explicitly taught these patterns and then be given opportunities to practice producing words using them.

Spelling in Context

Anytime instruction can be made authentic for students it stands a strong chance of producing true learning. While it is important that children receive direct spelling instruction this does not mean that words should be taught in isolation. Rather students should have opportunities to use spelling words in context. Spelling word lists should come from texts that children are reading. High frequency words such as those featured on Dolch’s sight word lists are used regularly in grade level texts. Teachers should draw on these lists when selecting words to focus on during spelling instruction. In addition, they should select words that are important and have personal meaning to their students. For example, if a class is studying the rainforest their teacher should select related words such as wet, rain, hot and plants for spelling instruction during this unit of study. Children will be more engaged and interested in learning the words because they will be seeing and using them in context on a regular basis during the unit. In addition, spelling instruction will positively affect reading ability because children will be able to transfer their knowledge words they have learned during spelling lessons to their reading experiences.