Inventive Spelling and Its Connection to Phonological Awareness

13 May 2021

As kids start to develop phonemic awareness, their spelling skills gradually get better and better. With the newly developed awareness, they can guess the probable spelling of unknown words.

We, adults, are quite familiar with the idea — how to associate letters and their respective sound to form words, even the unknown ones. But never actually paid attention to the fact how we developed this skill.

There are tons of ways to develop and sharpen phonological awareness. Today, we’d discuss an unconventional approach to developing phonemic awareness. As you can guess from the title of this article, we’re talking about inventive spelling.

Among all of the phonemic awareness development approaches, inventive spelling sits at an odd position. Some orthodox teachers and parents even forbid introducing inventive spelling to the kids.

Inventive spelling might indeed act as a double-edged sword. So, let’s consider all the facts and analyze should we even take incorporate inventive spelling in spelling training. And, if so, what are the best ways to use this approach.


What Is Inventive Spelling?

Inventive spelling is the practice of “inventing” the spelling of an existing word by only focusing on the sound/pronunciation of that word. That means you’ll just your sense of letter-sound correspondence and come up with the spellings of the words.

For example, let’s assume that you don’t know the exact spelling of the word — different. However, your sense of letter-sound coordination suggests that the word should contain the letters — D, I, F, R, N, and T — in this particular order.

So, you reinvent the spelling of the word as — DIFRENT.    

What you did is basically inventive spelling!

Children are born curious and they tend to do this a lot in the earlier days of school. As they easily forget the spelling of the words, they resort to inventing the spelling of the words themselves.

Some adults, both teachers and parents, frown upon such practice. They think that inventing the spelling of the words is a bad habit of misspelling and it should be corrected immediately!

Although kids are basically misspelling the words through inventive spelling, this spelling approach is one of the better tools for developing phonemic awareness. Also, kids often can guess the correct spelling of different words just by sticking to their intuition of the spelling of the words.

Eager to participate in spelling and reading age tests? Check out this article on spelling and reading connection now!


Why Is Inventive Spelling Important?

Almost every single child struggles with English spelling in the early days of education. And, a lot of these spelling issues are connected to their lack of knowledge of phonemes and letter-sound coordination.

As they grow up, their start to adapt to the letters and how these sound within a word. So, developing phonological awareness is a great way to solve the issue.

Now, inventive spelling directly impacts phonological awareness. Children can understand the individual sound of the words and join these sounds to form words. It’s true that inventive spelling might encourage students to misspell but they can sort out that issue by getting familiar with the correct spelling with experience.

However, the biggest positive thing about inventive spelling is that it encourages the children to express their thoughts without the fear of being judged. As there is no hard and fast law for spelling in this regime, children write down words and sentences as they please.

Such freedom cultivates creativity.

Studies show that the practice of inventive spelling in kindergarten improves concurrent reading with alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness. Another study suggests that inventive spelling helps the children to read by themselves.  

So, despite being an unorthodox approach, inventive spelling is a proven tool for improving spelling and reading skills.

Read More: What is phonemic awareness?


The Dangers of Overusing Inventive Spelling and How to Solve Them

You might be wondering what if kids love their invented spellings so much that they refuse to use the correct spellings?

It’s possible that kids could hand on to their incorrect spelling.

Of course, using the spelling — strait or stret, instead of straight — seems logical to the kids.

Here’s a good way to solve this issue — ask the children to guess the spelling first — before introducing them to the correct one. This solution can even be seen as a word game.

However, teacher and parents should take the long road here.

First, they should give the kids free roams. Just ask them to write things. It doesn’t matter whether they are using the correct or incorrect spelling.

Your primary focus should be not to discourage their enthusiasm for writing. The correction phase will come later.

At the same time, you should also be encouraging them to read — as much as possible. As they reading more and more, their brains will automatically remember the correct spelling.

It’s also a likely scenario that kids will self-correct their spelling gradually.

In fact, the regular stages of spelling development suggest that misspelling is a natural part of learning how to spell.

If you're eager to find more vocabulary activities for kids like inventive spelling, you should read this article. 


5 Stages of Spelling Development

Kids don’t jump-start from spelling the correct spelling of the words initially. They go through a transition — from zero knowledge about the alphabet and sounds to adept at using correct spelling.

A 1982 research by Dr. J. Richard Gentry, Spelling Genius at Work, breaks the complete transition into 5 stages —

  • Pre-communicative stage
  • Semi-phonetic stage
  • Phonetic stage
  • Transitional stage
  • Correct stage


Pre-Communicative Stage

This is the earliest stage of spelling and children in this stage doesn’t have any idea how or spelling work. In fact, they don’t even have a good command over the complete alphabet.

In this stage, children —

  • Getting familiar with the letters
  • Yet to figure out how letters form words
  • Don’t have any idea about left-to-right writing orientation

What you will see if you ask them to write —

  • Meaningless symbols
  • Poorly shaped or deformed letters


Semi-Phonetic Stage

In the second stage of spelling, children understand that letters have respective sounds and have a command over the complete alphabet. Also, they are capable of using logic to come up with letters that represent a word.

In this stage, children —

  • Adept in alphabet
  • Tries to find the connection between letters and respective sounds
  • Familiar with the left-to-right writing orientation

What you will see if you ask them to write —

  • Upper-case or lower-case letter writing capabilities
  • MM for mommy, or U for you


Phonetic Stage

In the third stage, children are able to use letters to represent words or syllables in a word. Their sense of letter-sound coordination begins to develop in this stage. Plus, they can identify different letter groups too, such as — cat, fat, mat, rat, etc.

In this stage, children —

  • Develop letter-sound coordination
  • Might form simple two-three letter words
  • Start to correspond letters or group of letters to a particular sound

What you will see if you ask them to write —

  • Successfully writing short words — at, it, I, ant, hi, etc.
  • Fon for phone, kek for cake, pnd for pond

Note: This is the ideal stage to introduce them with inventive spelling.


Transitional Stage

In the transitional stage, children get familiar with the common word patterns and structures. For example, kids rarely misspell patterned words like — cake, take, make, bake, etc.   

Also, they can successfully write three to four-letter words.  

 In this stage, children —

  • Adept at spelling three-four letter words
  • Able to identify common spelling patterns and word groups
  • Transitions from inventive spelling to correct spelling

What you will see if you ask them to write —

  • Successfully writing short words — cake, take, make, bake, etc.
  • Might make simple mistakes, like — afternewn for afternoon, tomoro for tomorrow, comiti for committee, etc.


Correct Stage

This is the final stage for developing spelling. Here, kids generally don’t make spelling mistakes of the words that they’ve collected in their vocabulary. This is the pinnacle of their English orthographic knowledge.  

To master spelling skills, one must be aware of all the common spelling rules. 


How Do You Teach Inventive Spelling?

The idea behind implementing inventive spelling is fairly simple. The teachers or parents only need to encourage the kids to write texts, disregarding the spelling or grammatical boundaries.

The goal is to motivate them to write more. Their intuition about phonemes will guide them through hard spelling words.  

Plus, the teacher and parents shouldn’t correct their spelling afterwards. It might demotivate the kids as they feel judged. You can solve the spelling issues later through proper spelling exercises.

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