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7 Ways to Make Spelling Logical

“English spelling is crazy!”

I hear that a lot. Perhaps you’ve even uttered that phrase yourself!

Indeed, English spelling can seem ridiculous at times. With a nod to George Bernard Shaw (who jokingly claimed that fish could be spelled ghoti), I’d like to present the following crazy spelling for the word farmer:

7 Ways to Make Spelling Logical - from All About Spelling

Makes sense, right? After all, PH can say /f/, ARRE can say /ar/, MB can say /m/, and AR can say /er/.

7 Ways to Make Spelling Logical - from All About Spelling

No, we’re not nuts, and thankfully, such a word does not exist. But our crazy spelling for the word farmer does illustrate an important fact: there can be multiple ways to spell a single sound. But although English spelling is much more logical than the illustration above seems to imply, there is still a little problem to overcome.

Typical Spelling Programs Don’t Make Sense

Many educators believe that spelling is too unpredictable and random to make spelling instruction worthwhile,1 and that’s why so many schools have given up on teaching spelling. Simply put, the methods they were using didn’t produce good spellers, so they dropped spelling instruction altogether. (Click to discover “How to Find a Spelling Program that Works”.)

But good spelling does matter, and spelling isn’t nearly as random as you might think.

In large part, English conforms to predictable patterns, and those patterns can be taught to your child. That means there is a better—and more logical—way to learn to spell than by rote memorization of list after list of unrelated words. (Check out my post “Does Your Child’s Spelling List Make Sense?” to find out why most spelling programs don’t work, along with a solution.)

How to Make Spelling Logical

The best way to make spelling logical is to teach it logically! The seven tips below will help make sense of spelling for you and your student.

Teach the reliable sound-symbol correspondences of the first 72 phonograms.

A phonogram is a letter or combination of letters that represent a sound. At the most basic level of instruction, it’s important to show that these letters and letter combinations are the building blocks of language. Our free downloadable phonograms app makes it easy to get familiar with the sounds of the phonograms.

Teach how to segment and spell phonetically regular words.

It’s critical that there are no gaps at this stage. Learning to spell is like climbing a ladder, with each skill representing a rung on the ladder. When instruction begins on the most basic “rungs,” we are explicitly providing children with the skills they need so they don’t have to guess. This helps them learn to trust their own abilities and lays the foundation for a lifetime of spelling success.

Teach the six syllable types.

Teaching the six syllable types one at time, and showing how words fit into these patterns, helps make spelling more logical. Studies have shown that students who learn the six syllable types score higher on reading and spelling assessments than students who were not given this explicit teaching.2 Learn more about the six syllable types with this handy chart.

Point out predictable spelling patterns.

The English language is full of predictable patterns such as “CK is used after short vowel sounds” and “OI is used in the middle of English words, but never at the end.” For an example of this type of explicit teaching, download this lesson plan where we teach kids how to spell the sound of /j/ at the end of a word.

Eradicate “The Myth of Silent E.”

Dozens of phonics programs teach that Silent E makes the previous vowel “say its own name,” as in the word home. But that’s only part of the truth, and it doesn’t explain the Silent E in hundreds of words such as have and hinge. To make spelling logical, it’s important to teach all the jobs of Silent E. Download our infographic to learn more about all the jobs that Silent E performs.

End “Suffix Confusion.”

As you teach, it’s important to make the process of adding suffixes crystal clear and logical. We make teaching suffixes simple in the All About Spelling program. As an example, here are two spelling lessons that provide an introduction to vowel and consonant suffixes.

Teach the morphemic structure of words.

Words are composed of morphemes, which are the smallest meaningful units of language. One way we teach morphemic structure is by analyzing clues to the origin of words, such as words originating from French, Spanish, or Italian. Another fantastic way to study word structure is by teaching Latin and Greek word parts with word trees.

Bottom Line for Making Spelling Logical

  • Use a step-by-step explicit approach, with each skill carefully building upon the previous ones.
  • Draw attention to the organized, logical patterns behind English spelling.
  • Highlight the consistencies of the English language and its morphemic structure.

Are you curious about the logic behind how a certain word is spelled? Post it in the comments below and I’ll choose a few words to analyze from your suggestions!

___________________________________
1Simonsen, F., & Gunter, L. (2001). Best practices in spelling instruction. Journal of Direct Instruction, 1, 97-105.
2Blachman, B. A., Tangel, D. M., Ball, E. W., Black, R., & McGraw, C. K. (1999). Developing phonological awareness and word recognition skills: A two-year intervention with low-income, inner-city students. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 11, 239–273.


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Tom

says:

Hey! Thank You for writing such an informative blog- content.
Good spellers use a variety of strategies for spelling. These strategies fall into four main categories, phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic.

Amy Ludwig

says:

I love this! It really is important to teach the logic and rules of spelling rather than just giving in to the “English is just weird” excuse!

Claire

says:

Yes! I’m learning things as we go through AAR with my daughters!! I love the silent E tip – hadn’t thought about that before!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad to give you a new tip, Claire!

Jennifer

says:

This is definitely an aspect of AAS that we appreciate. Why do we spell it that way? We have some guidelines to go by! We know which spelling for which sound is most common and learn the sounds by the most used to least used. Really thankful for the systematic approach to spelling. Thanks for a great resource!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, you are so welcome, Jennifer! It’s exciting to hear that All About Spelling’s approach is working so well for you!

Theresa Kingsmill

says:

I cannot wait to start using All About Spelling with my students’ next year! The bits and pieces in which I have used to hone some skills my current students lack, have proven effective. I have printed and read as much of the literature as I could regarding All About Spelling and the Orton-Gillingham approach. Thank you for posting so much information!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear that the information on our blog has been helpful for you, Theresa! But if you have any questions or need more information, please let us know. We’re happy to help!

Cheri

says:

My daughter is almost done with AAR level 1, so we will begin AAS soon. This was a helpful preview!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Cheri. Congratulations on nearing the end of All About Reading Level 1!

Dalia Giampa

says:

Thank you for bringing help to many parents like me!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Dalia. I’m glad this is helpful!

LaQuandra Adebajo

says:

Excellent. Checking into AAS now!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, LaQuandra! If you have questions or need help with placement or anything, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Julie Bryce

says:

I totally believe this is quality and a great way to teach spelling!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, thank you, Julie!

Beth J.

says:

So many helpful tips! I’m going to download a few things you offered. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Beth! Enjoy!

Mary E

says:

We are on the rule breaker, was. Why is it spelled that way? Wish I had a logical program to learn spelling as a kid. I’m learning too as we go through it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mary,
That’s a good question, but I am unsure of the answer. I do know that the word “was” comes to us from Old English, and it was spelled w-a-s since the time of Middle English (most of the time, spelling wasn’t standardized until a couple of hundred years into Modern English). It is likely the pronunciation of the A in “was” shifted over the centuries but the spelling did not. This is more likely to happen with words that are extremely common, such as this word.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out our blog post on How to Handle Spelling Rule Breakers. There are some great tips there!

Note that it is only the A that doesn’t say the sound we expect it to say. Focusing on what letters in a world make it a rule breaker is very helpful, as it means your student doesn’t have to memorize the entire word. The W and the S can be spelled by sound and a student needs only to remember the A.

Deborah Hunt

says:

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoy this spelling program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Deborah!

Brandi

says:

Thank you for this. Spelling is one of my child’s trickiest subjects.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Brandi. Spelling is tricky for many students. I hope you find these helpful. If you have questions or need anything, please let me know.

Shelley

says:

We love all about Spelling and reading!!!

Dawn

says:

Great tips! Amazing program. Everything is so detailed and laid out so easily for us to teach our kids-Love that!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Dawn! I’m pleased to hear it is going so well!

JoAnna

says:

Your curriculum makes sense of spelling! I love how you lay out the concepts logically and understandably. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, you are so welcome, JoAnna!

Meghan

says:

Your Curriculum makes learning the English language fun for my children even my three year old wanted to get in on some of the fun games my seven year old was playing from the back of the teachers guide.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love that your little one was so excited to get on the fun too, Meghan! If you haven’t seen it already, check out the many fun activities we have for Preschool Learners.

Rebecca

says:

Thank you for sharing the detailed lesson plan for dge. I appreciate how things are laid out with explicit instruction.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rebecca! And thank you.

Heather

says:

As an engineer, I love that All About Spelling makes spelling logical! I’ve always been a good speller, but never knew the reasons why words are spelled the way they are. With this curriculum I’m learning why!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Heather,
My son is an engineer, so I appreciate the need for providing as much logic to learn as possible. I’m glad All About Spelling is helping you to learn the why of spelling!

Katie

says:

Everyone always says English isn’t logical, but I love how your curricula show how it is!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Katie!

Courtney

says:

We love All About Spelling! I like that it’s open and go. The multi sensory approach to teaching makes it fun.

Lola

says:

Fantastic tips!

Amber

says:

I love the visuals along with this example. Very helpful. And we love All About Spelling!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Amber!

e

says:

This program is unbeatable! In All About Spelling, the children can learn at their own pace.

e

says:

This program is great! Multisensory learning is vital for these children!

Alea

says:

These are great! Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Alea!

Mandy

says:

I have a struggling speller and we are looking for resources and tips to help them improve in this area.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your student is struggling with spelling, Mandy. Do you have any questions or concerns? I’m happy to help!

Our How to Find a Spelling Program That Works may be helpful.

Roxy

says:

This is so encouraging and helpful. Thank you so much

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Roxy!

Jessie Burnett

says:

Some of these steps are ones I wish I had when I was learning.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

So true, Jessie!

Carla G.

says:

This program worked well for my two older children, and now for my youngest son. He is in 4th grade, homeschooled and we just finished Level 3. His standardized testing this week shows he is already at a grade level of 4.5 in Spelling. He loves the logic of this program and internalizes the spelling rules. It’s fun to see him grow in this area! Thanks for a great curriculum that’s easy and fun to use!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing how well the program is working for your children, Carla! Great work!