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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!

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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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Marquez

says:

hello trying to figure out a good way to teach my 8 year old her spelling words. It’s difficult for her on the silent letters she just leave the ones she can’t hear out. Ex. castle, psalm, whistle, answer, unknown, honor, kneeling, wrinkle, wreath, doorknob. just a few that she is struggling with.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Marquez,
The best way to approach all these sorts of words is by pattern. Teach a bunch of words with KN together. KN is a phonogram that says /n/ but only at the beginning of words (doorknob is a compound word made of two words, so it still applies). In our What’s the Difference Between AAR & AAS?, you will find our spelling lesson on the KN phonogram.

Once she’s doing well with KN, then work on WR. It is a phonogram (you can learn about phonograms here) that says the sound /r/ and is only used at the beginning of words. An interesting fact about words that have WR, they have to do with twisting motions like how wrists move and what wrestlers do, and the circular shape of wreaths. Occasionally, however, the twisting aspect of the word’s meaning is lost in history, such as wren.

Castle and whistle, as well as other words like rustle and thistle and others, are a regular pattern in English. Teach a bunch of them together and practice them.

A silent H at the beginning of a word happens occasionally. In addition to honor, you’ll find it in heir, honest, hour, herb, and others. Again, teach a bunch of them together and practice them.

Words with PS, such as psalms, as well the phonograms RH (rhyme), PT, PN, and maybe another one or two I’m forgetting, come to us from Greek. But like all the rest, teach a bunch of words with that phonogram and practice them until your daughter has them well.

Between teaching each pattern, practice those words for a week or so. Do dictation with sentences using those words. Wait until she as a good handle on them before starting with the next pattern. However, review words from previous patterns periodically to make sure she is remembering them.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you need anything more.

Marvin Weber

says:

I’m beginning to beleive/beleve/bleive/billieve/believe that spelling can be taught in an orderly fashion, as I read over your blogs. I especially appreciate the emphasis on rules that are mostly consistent, also recognizing Latin and Greek word roots.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks for the laugh this morning, Marvin! I believe I needed it. 😉

Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

corumeach

says:

It’s not more logical just because you apply a whole lot of rather abstract rules to it. Finnish or Korean use logical spelling and proncounciation systems. European languages simply are what they are – a convoluted mess created by mixing several of them over centuries. 100 years back half of the rules would not have worked properly. I would like to see evidence (studies) that show that actively learning and applying those rules makes it easier for children than simply memorizing a few hundred to thousand correct spellings (like a billion Chinese do, too).

gail tucker

says:

i ed like to buy just the tiles with the letters
if u could give me a price on the set
thanks
gail tucker

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gail,
Here is the direct link to purchase our Letter Tiles. Please let me know if you need anything else.

Stacey

says:

Thank you so much for all the free things you offer. I teach young children abroad and appreciate your ideas and resources.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Stacey!

Michele Harkins

says:

My daughter is finally able to see that there is a method to the madness she calls spelling. Thank you!!

Megan

says:

I am learning spelling from working with my child in Step 1! I never knew some of the rules this program goes over. It is wonderfully thorough!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Megan,
I know what you mean! I have learned so much while teaching my children.

Christine

says:

We are all learning too
I’m not to bad at spelling but my other half is terrible. We never learnt any of these rules so they are new to us. I take pictures of what we are doing and send them to him throughout our day this way he gets to see what they are learning and feels included, as a bonus it’s helped him learn too. Like the fact of c make the ‘s’ sound when followed by e i or y. We was never taught that as children but it’s helped him make sense of it now. We don’t ever remember open and closed syllables either. If we were taught like this I’m sure both of us would have got better exam grades. You would think in the UK we should have been taught English better lol

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christine,
Most English schools around the world don’t teach these rules and spelling patterns, even though they are very helpful. I never knew why there was a silent e on the word have, but after using All About Spelling with my children it is so obvious (English words don’t usually end in i, j, u, or v, so have needs a silent e to keep v from being the last letter).

Petra Hess

says:

I’m from Australia, and one of my year 3 students asked me recently why the word ‘put’ is pronounced ‘poot’ not ‘putt’. Can you enlighten us?

Marie Rippel

says: Customer Service

Hi Petra! The vowels each have several sounds. If you visit our online Letter Sounds app, you can hear the three most common sounds for the letter U. Students should be prepared to try each of the sounds until they find the one that works for the word. I hope this helps!

Kelly Taylor

says:

Thank you for sharing such valuable information and resources. You have been a huge help to me in teaching my children how to read and spell.

Merry

says: Customer Service

Hi Kelly,

You’re welcome! I’m so glad we’ve been helpful to you!

Terri

says:

We love AAS…my 8yr old boy always wants to do spelling first!!

Sheila York

says:

This makes sense to me, thanks for helping me break it down better for my daughter!

Thanx so much for your help! I live in South Africa, but found your information very helpful – i am a remedial teacher – I have been teaching for many years but your suggestions helped me a lot and I found a lot of new methods in your info. Keep it up!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Annemarie.

We have recently established a South African distributor of All About Reading and All About Spelling. Her name is Lindie Bull and her website is The Book Connection.

Mary M.

says:

Thank you! Really helpful.

Karyn

says:

I am so thankful for this step-by-step, no-gaps approach. I’m learning alongside my kids!

Lisa

says:

Lots of good information. We love using AAS. Just started AAR today.

Christine

says:

We have only just started AAR
The only problem I’ve had so far is that my 7 year old is on AAS 2
She’s very good at reading so the AAR Level 2 readers was way to easy for her
So we got her AAR3
Started the lessons but the lesson in level 3 are too advanced as she hasn’t learnt it all yet. So what we have had to do is go done to level 2 but use the readers from level 3 is that ok or is this going to complicate things for her ?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Christine,
The stories scheduled in each level reinforce and practice the concepts being taught. We do not recommend using the higher level Readers with lower level concepts.

Rather, we recommend moving through All About Reading 2 as quickly as she can to get her ready for All About Reading 3 as soon as possible. Since the AAR 2 stories are easy for her, skip them. Teach the concepts in the lessons to her, practice them, have her read some of the practice sheet, and then move on. In this way, at 20 minutes a day, you may be able to get through as much as 3 lessons a day (skipping the story lessons and doing 2 concept lessons). Don’t push her if she needs more time with the concepts, but her ability to read the stories so easily suggests that she only needs exposure to the concepts.

Please let us know how this goes or if you have further questions.

Em Rio

says:

I’m so glad I found this program. We are heading into level 5! AAS works!

Alisha Strunk

says:

My son is 9 and we have never used the all about curriculum. But I agree English spelling is so hard for some children! I am thinking we might need to go a different direction to help him with spelling and this may be what we choose!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alisha,
Let us know if you have any questions.

Carli-ann Hook

says:

Teaching spelling is so hard! This looks really cool.

Sarah

says:

I love how logical this approach is. Thanks

AJ

says:

Thank you for these tips! I know that I’ll be putting them to use.

Melissa Jerusalem

says:

My son has done SO much better since learning the rules of spelling, it’s a world of difference! He is on level 6 now, thank you!

Jennifer

says:

I enjoy learning the rules behind words I already know how to spell (and a few that I don’t!) as we use AAS.

I’m a slow learner, though. On more than one occasion, when my student misspells a word, I have to go to the book/lesson where that word was taught before I can explain WHY it is misspelled. An index which includes locations for ALL of the words from all of the levels would be handy. : )

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
Thank you for this suggestion. I will definitely pass it along.

Rebecca

says:

Love the tips you offer! They are so helpful especially with children who struggle with spelling!

Karen

says:

This is fascinating to me! Spelling has always been easy for me and it was my best subject in school, (I’ll admit I’m a geek about it) but I have never seen it taught this way! I love that by using AAS, my children will not have to guess at spelling new words!
So, I have a word for you to analyze as to the logic of how it’s spelled: THEREFORE. We already have the word ‘for’ without the e, so why put it at the end of this word?
Thanks for caring so much about spelling!
Karen

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Karen,
Great question!

Therefore and therefor are both words and have different meanings. Therefore is much more commonly used, meaning “as a consequence of” or “hence”. Therefor is more of a legal word, meaning “for that” or “for it”. Here is an interesting discussion of the two words on the Grammarly blog.

So, the silent E in therefore is performing it’s 7th job, clarifying the meaning of word pairs. Another example of word pairs with one having a silent E would be by and bye.

Does that clarify it for you? I love questions like this!

Karen

says:

Yes! Thank you! I am in ‘awe’ of how much I learn from AAL compared to how much I *thought* I already knew. Fascinating! I will no longer say our language is illogical.

Alice

says:

My daughter felt so hopeless when she started reading because she had so much trouble deciphering words. Your program has helped us so much. After a few years of helping her, I remember thinking, “How did I ever learn to read without this?” It seems so much easier when you know, for example, that you use -dge after a short vowel and only -ge after a long vowel. Oh! I have had so many aha! moments while teaching her. We did all 4 reading and are still learning through the spelling books.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alice,
Thank you for sharing this. I know exactly what you mean about “aha! moments”, as I have had so many. We are very pleased to hear your daughter is doing so well now.

Brandi Skidmore

says:

This is why we are starting your program!

Shelley

says:

I am looking forward to doing this program with my son when he is older (he is 4), in part so that I can learn the correct spelling framework!

Lisa Hall

says:

We are finishing level 1 with my second grader. I just wish I had found it sooner. She has learned so much this year. We both enjoy the logical, easy, and fun progression of the lessons.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lisa,
Thank you for letting us know that your student has learned so much this year. Keep up the fabulous work!

Carly Staub

says:

This list of suggestions makes so much sense! My 10 y.o. really struggles with spelling, so I am eager to give All About Spelling a try.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carly,
You may find our article, Using All About Spelling with Older Students, helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions.

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