The Development of Spelling in Primary Schools

Spelling in primary schools… What are the developmental steps that children go through to become confident and accurate spellers?

The development of spelling in primary schools

As in all areas, there is a developmental process in spelling that children go through to improve their spelling, and to become confident and accurate spellers.

Preliminary Spelling

  • The child uses scribbles, letters, and letter-like forms and shows a preference for uppercase letters.
  • There is no understanding of phoneme-grapheme correspondence.
  • The child’s writing shows a lack of understanding of the conventions of print, such as spaces between words and left-to-right progression of writing.

Semi-phonetic Spelling

  • Developing an understanding of GPCs and attempting to use them
  • Use phonemes which are most obvious – initial and final (wt for went) or initial/medial/final (bab for baby)
  • Whole word with 2 or 3 letters, mostly consonants (ktn for kitten)

Phonetic Spellers

  • Choose GPCs on the basis of the sound of a word rather than conventional spelling patterns (wen for when, wich for witch)
  • Mostly represent the phonemes in a word (necst for next, peepl for people)
  • Alternative graphemes insecure (ai, ay, a-e, eigh, a, ey)
  • Write as they speak (fink for think, apsolootlee for absolutely)

Transitional Spellers

  • Move from sounds to structures
  • Use graphemes to represent all consonant and vowel phonemes with vowels in all syllables (enchanted, castel for castle)
  • May still over-focus on the sound of words and misunderstand word boundaries (curry door for corridor)
  • Beginning to use other strategies – knowledge of common letter patterns, critical features of words (silent letters, double consonants) and making analogies
  • Growing bank of known words

Independent Spellers

  • Aware of the many patterns and rules of the English spelling system, including uncommon patterns and irregular spellings (ceiling, pleasure)
  • Generalise and apply to unfamiliar words
  • Use prefixes and suffixes
  • Use a range of strategies
  • Aware when a word does not look right
  • Have a large bank of known words

Some of our children need to progress successfully through these stages of spelling development, but too many remain stuck at the phonetic or transitional stage.

We need a clear understanding of what children need to ensure that they progress and develop the skills they need to become independent and proficient spellers. In ‘Improving Spelling’, the publication from which this extract is taken, we make some suggestions about the needs of children at each stage of development and activities to support effective learning. To purchase the ‘Improving Spelling’ publication, please click on the image below.

Continue the Conversation :

For more information and support on improving spelling in your primary school, look at our ‘Improving Spelling‘ publication by Ros Ferrara. You can also contact our consultancy team here to enquire about inset consultancy to support the improvement of spelling and writing in primary schools.


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