Different approaches to teaching
spelling in the middle years
Teaching spelling and the different approaches used to
correctly teach spelling, specifically in the middle years is
a topic that has multiple points of views and opinions
from many; teachers, parents and some students.
Westwood (2005) states that the focus of teaching
spelling centres around the question of whether spelling
is best learned instinctively and incidentally by engaging
in writing or whether time and effort should be devoted
for explicit teaching of spelling (p. 1).
Westwood, P. (2005). Spelling: Approaches to teaching and assessment [online]. Second Ed.
Terms that are used throughout this topic need to be understood by you as
the teacher, before be able to teach spelling appropriately to middle years
Phonological- knowledge of the sound words
Syntactic- word function knowledge
Semantic- meaning knowledge
Etymological- word history and origins
Phonology- how words sound
Sight- how words look to print
Morphemes- how words are constructed from meaningful
Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L. & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy:
Reading, writing and children’s literature, 4th Edition. Melbourne: Oxford University
Terms you need to understand:
When it comes to analysing Winch et al (2010)
Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s
literature, 4th Edition, there are many valid
points that are of good concern to the different
approaches to teaching spelling in the middle
years students. As a teacher, you need to
understand not only the terms and their
definitions but also the developmental stages in
learning how to spell, according to Winch et al
Winch et al (2010) Literacy: Reading, writing
and children’s literature, 4th Edition
The precommunicative stage suggests the
use of random letters and symbols. This is
usually not legible and incorporates a string
of symbols such as letters, numbers and
shapes. Although there is no set age of this
stage, it is often associated with two to four
At this stage, children are starting to make
recognisable letters and link them with sounds e.g;
TL –table, HT –hit, BRD – bird.
Vowels are starting to be introduced but mostly
incorrectly e.g; BET –bat or LADE- lady. This stage
usually corresponds with children aged between
three and six.
They match between sounds and symbols are almost perfect
during this stage of development.
“My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and
the letters get in the wrong places” (A.A. Milne 1926). The
childs writing is readable and meaningful to a trained reader
during this stage.
Children are generally attending school at this stage and are
quickly developing word knowledge.
At this stage, children are using phonological, sight and
morphemic knowledge. Words are being spelt
accurately and now include vowels into every syllable.
Diagraphs are now being spelled (two vowels next to
each other to create one sound). This stage covers the
ages six to eight.
This is the last stage of development and the children
are aged between seven and eleven-plus and have
become more thoughtful and accurate with their
spelling. Children can spell majority of words they see
and they attain and spelling ‘conscience’. Students are
also beginning to know when a word is spelled
incorrectly by looking at it.
Correct spelling stages
There are four key principles that Winch et al (2010)
believe should be used for effective strategic spelling:
1. Make spelling instruction more fun and engaging, e.g.
use interactive whiteboards.
2. Increase student discussion, analysis, and thought.
3. Provide explicit instruction and practice with
4. Increase student awareness and the use of important
“The focus of concern in previous years hinged on the question of whether
spelling skills are best learned naturally and incidentally through the
process of engaging in authentic writing across the school curriculum, or
whether specific time and effort should be devoted to the direct and
explicit teaching of spelling skills and strategies” (Westwood 2005, p.1).
“Within an integrated language learning environment, where learning to
spell is closely linked to learning to talk, listen, read and write, students
should be taught in a systematic and explicit way about the types of
spelling knowledge that are appropriate to their writing purposes and
stage of spelling development” (NSW Department of Education and
“One of the major debates in the first half of the century had been whether
spelling is ‘caught’ incidentally from reading and writing or whether is
need to be taught systematically” (O’Sullivan and Thomas 2007, p.11).
Is spelling ‘caught’ or taught?
Educators will argue and will continue to argue what strategy
will work best for students when it comes to teaching and
learning spelling. Some educators believe that what the
students write and the ideas and opinions they convey and
the language used holds far more importance than accurate
spelling. Other educators will argue that accurate spelling
derives from explicit and direct teaching of the subject from
an early age.
In reading the conclusions from all references, it is clear that
the contemporary view on this issue is to incorporate spelling
into all curriculums with incorporation of direct and explicit
O’Sullivan and Thomas (2007) state a range of spelling strategies.
Encourage students to:
1. Write down what they know of the word
2. syllabify longer words
2. make analogies with known words
3. use rules where they are helpful
4. focus on word families
5. use mnemonics to help with memorisation
6. use ‘over articulation’
7. list the ways in which a word might be spelled, using what they
know, and then make decisions about which version is correct,
using the look of the word (page, 98).
Strategies for effective teaching of
Westwood (2005) has summarised 5 effective
1. Word Study
2. Word Families
3. Word Sorts
4. Spelling lists
5. Use of computers and technology (page, 27).
O’Sullivan and Thomas 2007, have developed a strong
assessment tool in assessing the spelling of students.
The CLPE Spelling Assessment Framework was created
and it enables teachers to look more objectively of
spelling development. This framework gives a record of
the spelling strategies the student’s are using (p, 101).
Assessment of spelling
Appendix 1. CLPE Spelling Assessment Framework. Taken from “Understanding
spelling,” by O. O’Sullivan and A. Thomas. 2007, p.112.
NSW Department of Education have listed a list of strategies they
suggest for teachers to accurately assess students’ spelling:
• observation and analysis of spelling behaviours
• collection and analysis of work samples
• guided spelling conferences
• student self-assessment
NSW Department of Education and Training. Teaching spelling k-6. Retreived from
The following are assessment tools from NSW Department of Education.
Three points that are important for classroom success relevant to
spelling. These points are discussed in an interview with Primary
school teacher Laura Smith and are supported by academic
Theory to Practice
Winch et al (2010) have set out a literacy session that is broken up into
three parts; Shared Writing, Guided Writing and Independent Writing.
As a whole class, they list words, phrases and sentences that relate to the
topic of monsters. All of these are written on cards and the students have
to sort them into sets.
With teacher assistance, the class creates sentences using vocabulary
they found on monsters. The teacher is to write a dictation on the board
and highlight the key words. Discuss the correct version so that students
can see how words are spelt correctly.
Students are to use dictionaries and thesaurus’ to find synonyms for
words associated with monsters (p, 347).
How do you set out your literacy block so that spelling is
O’Sullivan and Thomas (2007) believes that students
do not transfer their knowledge of how to spell words
from tests to their own writing (p, 79).
• Effective testing involves:
Working with a spelling partner
• a focus on a spelling pattern
• a focus on a group of words from a topic
• used as a part of a range of strategies not as the sole
approach to spelling
Regular Spelling Tests
Do you agree to allocate a weekly spelling test to the
students? If yes, why?
During my recent practicum 2A, I was in a grade one
class and every week the students were allocated a
list of six words that they were to go home and
practice until the spelling test on Friday. They were
given time during literacy groups to practice twice a
week during school time as well as homework. When
Friday came around all students were looking
forward to being tested on their words to see if they
would score better than the time before. As Laura
Smith stated, the students are only competing agaisnt
In reading statements from theme 1, where do you sit? Do you
believe that spelling is caught or taught?
Caught or Taught?
Westwood, P. (2005). Spelling: Approaches to teaching and assessment
[online]. Second Ed. Retrieved from
Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L. & Holliday, M. (2010).
Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature, 4th Edition.
Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
NSW Department of Education and Training. Teaching spelling k-6.
O’Sullivan, O & Thomas, A. (2007). Understanding spelling. Oxon: