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The importance of teaching spelling

The importance of teaching spelling

The importance of teaching spelling

In the age of autocorrect, the importance of spelling seems to have lost some of its value. Why bother learning to spell when your phone/computer/tablet will autocorrect for you?

The fact of the matter is, spelling is one of the essential components of successful writing. Without spelling skills individuals will struggle with their writing, and as former Associate Professor of Education Dr Peter Westwood (2005) suggests, their literacy level will inevitably be judged by others in terms of their ability to spell words correctly.

Armouring pupils with adequate spelling skills will create confident spellers and, in turn, lead to confidence in all aspects of literacy.

Interestingly, research has found that spelling, reading, writing and comprehension skills are all closely linked. A research study by L C Ehri for the Scientific Study of Reading (Ehri, 2005) found that spelling instruction improves reading ability, as it builds a learner’s knowledge of the alphabetic system as it is used in reading.

Teaching young spellers the strategies, rules and concepts to grow their spelling and vocabulary knowledge benefits them in all aspects of their learning, as well as in their everyday life. Learners who feel confident with letters and word patterns are able to read and comprehend more complex texts. They also have the necessary language tools to better convey their own ideas through both written and verbal communication

(Westwood P. 2005).


How should we teach spelling?

This is a question which inevitably leads to more questions. Should spelling be taught explicitly or through the curriculum? Should the focus be on all or just specific skills and strategies? Should there be an investigative approach to spelling? The answer to all these questions is yes, with a multi-strategy approach to spelling the most ideal.

If pupils were explicitly taught to use a greater variety of spelling strategies, they might use them more effectively and selectively when they write. However, as Dr Westwood states, ‘the ability to spell is without doubt a literacy skill that does span the entire curriculum’ (2016). Common words are taught explicitly, but subject-specific vocabulary would require a cross-curriculum approach. Focusing on skills and strategies is also important, but an investigative cross-curricular approach would promote word study at a deeper level. By catering to all learning types, the multi-strategy approach will ensure all pupil needs are accommodated for.

Although he promotes the multi-strategy approach, Dr Westwood cannot deny the benefit of explicit teaching of spelling. He believes there can be no doubt that improvement in spelling can be achieved when pupils are taught more about how to learn words, and how to check the spelling of words they have attempted. As he states,

‘Effective instruction in spelling involves not only teaching knowledge about words, but also reaching specific strategies to enable students to approach the task of spelling an unfamiliar word or checking the spelling of a word with a systematic plan of action. Strategies are usually taught most effectively when the teacher models how they would approach the same task of spelling or checking a word’ (Westwood P. , 2005)


Skills and strategies used in spelling

Teaching pupils to spell is still vitally important, but what approach is the best for the teacher to implement? Dr Westwood (2005) suggests that skills and strategies are more powerful when used together, with research-based approaches being most effective, and should be taught as an essential aspect of learning about language.

In a thought-provoking study to investigate the spelling strategies used spontaneously by children in the age range from Reception through to Year 6, Dahl [RG1]  and her associates (2003), as cited by Westwood (2005), suggest that children tend to use five main strategies:

  • Visualising: remembering the appearance of words; picturing the word in the mind; writing two or more alternative spellings and choosing the one that looks correct.
  • Making connections: spelling words by analogy; drawing on knowledge of word families; identifying component letter patterns; recognising syllables.
  • Attending to sounds: sounding out the target word; identifying onset–rimes; using syllables.
  • Reflecting: verifying the spelling of the word by self-checking, self-correction, use of dictionary, list, or computer spell-checker.
  • Combining information: using several cues together; applying several of the above strategies.

Dahl reported that the range of these strategies the children use increases with age and experience. Proficient spellers tend to combine information from multiple sources and use strategies in a flexible manner, while less competent spellers are more limited in their choice of strategies. (Westwood P. , 2005)

The research concluded that teachers need to closely observe the strategies their pupils are using at that present moment so the classroom program can help them refine these strategies and add others to their current skill set.


Types of spelling abilities

Knowing how to teach spelling skills and strategies is important, but knowing the different types of spellers in your classroom will help to teach to their needs.

As we know, pupil understandings are acquired in different ways. The same applies to learning spelling. Some pupils will learn spelling well through explicit teaching, others perhaps learn better through the multi-strategy approach. It is important to remember, however, that ‘the ability to spell well is not a measure of intelligence, nor does its lack of automaticity reflect laziness or carelessness’ (Westwood P. , 2005).

Dr Westwood defines three categories he believes that learners appear to fall into in relation to acquisition of spelling ability:

  • 1st category: Those who seem to almost have a natural aptitude for language and easily accomplish the task of learning to spell in the same effortless way that they learned to speak, listen and read. This is usually a small group of children.
  • 2nd category: Usually a much larger group which comprises those pupils who have no major problems in getting underway with spelling, but who benefit considerably from some degree of regular explicit teaching of word-study strategies appropriate to their level of development. Their progress through the various stages from beginner to independence is more likely to be smooth.
  • 3rd category: Pupils who appear to find the task of spelling incredibly difficult, and who become frustrated by their inability to write correctly the words they can so easily use in speech. Pupils in this group are not necessarily of low intelligence; a few may be highly intelligent.

(Westwood, 2005, p. 21)


Need an effective spelling resource?

Look no further than The Spelling Box, a modern resource that caters to all abilities. Help your pupils discover their love for words through adaptable and easy-to-use activities developed to utilise different strategies to help every speller in the classroom. Fortify their skills and provide extension opportunities with 100 unique cards featuring activities that will improve pupils’ spelling, taking your spelling scheme to the next level. Designed with flexibility in mind, this resource can be used with any spelling scheme and any spelling list.

Features of the resource include:

  • A Dedicated box for each year
  • 100 unique cards in each box (200 total)
  • Based on nine well-researched spelling skills and strategies
  • Includes downloadable, supporting resource sheets


Here are some sample activities of each skill or strategy:







Just for Fun – Year 1

Just for Fun activity cards let pupils enjoy engaging in a fun spelling activity.










Using Etymology – Year 2

Understanding the origin of words and the historical development of their meaning is helpful to pupils when learning to spell them












Chunking – Year 3

Chunking is a strategy that allows pupils to more accurately read unknown words by breaking down and identifying parts of the word they already know.









Applying Morphemic Principles – Year 4

By gaining morphemic knowledge (the smallest parts of words that carry meaning), pupils will be able to identify and put together the necessary morphemes for the spelling of longer words.











Visualising – Year 5

Through participating in activities that will help pupils remember the appearance of words, they will become more familiar with them and, in turn, become better at spelling them.







Using Rules and Generalisations – Year 6

There are many reliable rules and generalisations in English spelling that will help pupils make the correct choices in their own writing.




The Spelling Box can be used in so many ways!

The activities are great for early finishers, extension work, language centres or literacy time slots and as quick consolidation activities.



 Request a free evaluation pack here. 




Ehri, L. C. (2005). Learning to Read Words: Theory, Findings and Issues. Scientific Studies of Reading , 9 (2).

Westwood, P. (2016). A cross-curricular approach to spelling. Retrieved from Teacher Magazine: https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/a-cross-curricular-approach-to-spelling

Westwood, P. (2005). Spelling: appraoches to teaching and assessment. Camberwell, VIC: ACER Press.


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