Learn what works

Understanding the relationship between letters and their corresponding sounds is an important skill for successful reading and spelling performance (Simonsen & Gunter, 2001). Writers apply phonics as they spell the words needed to express thoughts and to communicate with others.

Teaching children how to spell is different from teaching them to memorize words in order to spell them. Children initially learn to spell by being surrounded with print in their environment, by experimenting with print, and by being willing to risk mistakes
in order to eventually get it right. Teaching spelling is best done as part of a program that focuses on content and the oral exploration of ideas, followed by reading and writing (McCracken, 1996).

Frequent opportunities for children to write and spell are essential ingredients of an effective, comprehensive literacy program.  Just as children interact with oral language in order to speak, they must interact with written language in order to learn to write and spell (Gentry & Gillet, 1993).

According to Gentry & Gillet (1993), these key elements will lead to a balanced, research-based theory of spelling as well as more successful spelling instruction in the classroom:

  • Treat spelling as a complex process. It should not be treated as a memorization task.
  • Help kids meet all four demands of expert spelling, which are phonetic, semantic, historical, and visual.
  • Treat spelling as a developmental process. Invented spelling must be used to set the foundation for spelling competence.
  • Individualize spelling. In order to make instruction student-centered, the instruction must be individualized for each student.
  • Integrate spelling in all subject areas in addition to time spent on spelling.
  • Take advantage of invented spelling as an opportunity for learning. This can be a powerful tool for learning and assessment.
  • Educate parents and solicit their help. This will help them better understand the rationale and purpose of your spelling program.
  • Pay attention to commonly used words. Word study can be playful and fun. These are appropriate words to use for a spelling study.
  • Remember that spellers must also be readers and writers. Children must read and write daily to develop properly as spellers.

See how it works

Strategies to Develop Spelling Lists
Frequently Misspelled Words
Most Common Word Families
Spelling Scope and Sequence

Do what works

Activities for Phonetic Spellers (Letter-Sound Relationships)
Activities for Phonetic Spellers (Visual Memory and Visual Coding)
Activities for Transitional/Conventional Spellers (Awareness of Structural Patterns)
Activities for Transitional/Conventional Spellers (Awareness of Derivational Patterns)


  • Beck, I. (2006). Making Sense of Phonics: The How’s and Why’s. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Gentry, J. R. & Gillet, J. W. (1993). Teaching Kids to Spell. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • McCracken, M. J. & McCracken, R. A. (1996). Spelling Through Phonics, 2nd Edition. Winnipeg, Canada: Penguin Publishers.