Spelling for Young Writers

In my combined first and second grade, learning to spell occurred throughout the day while playing a phonics game, during a casual discussion, during mini lessons in the afternoons, and throughout the writing sessions. Children used “My Wise Owl Speller” (See below in my book about how to download “My Wise Owl Speller”) initially for spelling unknown words and after that for privacy. Scraps of paper were always available to request a word, a phrase, or in the beginning sometimes whole sentences. Misspelling was accepted while composing when fully engrossed in creating, knowing that it could be corrected later. After learning to use the dictionary some used it but more often, I corrected all in their first drafts. For first graders, when only making a first draft, corrections they were ready for were made with explanations using a pencil and eraser. First drafts, preceding second drafts, were corrected with red pen and explained during early morning conferences. And as with all their writing, children knew that the first draft was their working copy, that any misspelled words could be corrected later.

Encouraging invented spelling as always acceptable was very distressing. For the last few years I taught, some children began to arrive in first grade using any combination of letters freely with no spelling conscience, no motivation to spell words correctly. I preferred children arriving without this belief. And trying to then develop a spelling conscience after a year of invented spelling was not so easily overcome. Early in September, for instance, Mari wrote a piece for her father with such imaginative spelling, it couldn’t be read easily. Asking if I could help fix the words so her father could read it, she exclaimed, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll just read it to him.” Well, of course, this indicated no idea of her audience and the whole purpose of writing. So right then I accepted her reason, walking away and wondering what to do with her next story. Thank goodness for the modeling of the other children. As time went on, Mari began to care about her spelling. Accepting invented spelling encourages a child’s egocentrism instead of encouraging him to overcome it – to write for an audience, others, instead of for oneself.

Spelling, of course, has tremendous variations – sight, site, cite, height; gate, weight, gait; rough, muff, and on and on we could go. I can’t resist presenting the following:


Eye halve a spelling chequer. It came with my pea sea.

It plainly marques four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say

Whether eye am wrong oar write. It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite. Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it, I am shore your pleased two no.

Its letter perfect in it’s weigh. My chequer tolled me sew.

Would yew bee happy two no it is based on a poem buy a Professor Jerrold Zar of Northern Illinois University? His entire poem is entitled, “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.”

(Nye, Jody Lynn. 2004. “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise.” Reader’s Digest, 7/2004, page 24.)

And another one…


Aoccdrnig to rescheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in what order the ltteers in a word are, the only iprmoetnt thing is that frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total

mses and you can still raed it wouthit problem. This is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by istlef but the word as a wlohe.

(Powell, Johnathan. 2003. “IT’S ALL SO OVIBUOS.” Reader’s Digest 12/ 2003, page 79)

So, what does that say about teaching spelling? Frank Smith believes that: “Spelling, for example, demands the memorization of every word we are ever likely to write. The ‘rules’ of spelling can be numbered in the hundreds and still carry only a fifty percent probability of being correct for any particular word.”(Smith, Frank. 1988. Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. page 18.)

How many times do adults, wondering how to spell a word, end up with the dictionary because they are not sure the word will fit a known rule? Spelling is not something to be invented. It’s already been done. When children are too busy writing to stop and do feel free to misspell a word, they are still apt to try and imitate or reproduce the correct spelling. That’s different than full acceptance of invented spelling. By using “My Wise Owl Speller”, children were quickly spelling many words from memory.

In addition to the daily emphasis and focus on spelling while writing, there were three spelling programs. Learning to spell using phonograms offered some consistency plus an opportunity for children to develop spelling sense and the ability to spell words according to classes involving common patterns. And finally in order to be good spellers, they must memorize the words that fit the patterns plus the exceptions. So, by the end of the year, the spelling programs included the common patterns of phonograms plus memorizing the spelling of irregular words. (A copy of each test is in my book.)

Read about the techniques of writing in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

Teaching Phonics With Phonograms

A phonics Reading Folder for each child was stapled inside a manila file folder with his name and Reading printed on the cover. Inside, the first page contained upper and lower case alphabet letters, the second page beginning sounds, two pages of phonograms, one page of consonant blends, and one page of nonsense words to see if what had been learned could be applied. Each section of each page had a readable and easily pronounceable code on the right.

On each of the two pages of phonograms, there were four sections with six phonograms in each. The beginning phonograms were rather simple, such as: at, up, ook, it, and, all - progressing to more complex phonograms, such as ell, ight, ould, en, ain, tion.

In the Book Center, there was a bookcase containing materials and games that corresponded to the codes in the reading folders. For instance, if a child was going to teach a section labeled with a triangle, a triangle would be on a shelf containing all the appropriate materials and games that would teach the phonograms in the triangle section of his folder. And each activity had a triangle printed on the outside of it, to be returned to the correct place. Some games would require two folder sections in order to have enough variety to play the game. In that case, on the outside of the game there might be, for instance, a triangle and an X, therefore, using both the triangle and the X phonograms. Children were usually free to choose which game or activity to use.

There were as many different activities as could be provided. For many years I made them myself. After becoming wiser, when asking for parent volunteers in September, I added one more – to make games and activities. They did not create them, only remade those that were worn out. Many sets of the same activity or game were made for each section, with variations in color and format.

Folder Time on Mondays through Thursdays included each child with a partner either to teach or be taught, or was in a group with me. No Folder Time on Fridays when there was a conference with each one. This recorded information was used to formulate partners and a group for the following week. Across the top of the grid were upper and lower case letters and each of the codes. So during a conference, the section of a child’s folder that was passed was checked in my record keeping and Good written in red across the code in the child’s folder. Then she and I knew exactly where she was. At first it might be a few weeks on one section, but before long, achievement became more rapid.

Read more about the Reading Folder in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success, on page 49. There is a web site included showing all materials and activities discussed in the book. The Reading Folder may be viewed in Appendix B and the folder may be printed for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on www.amazon.com

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved