What Are the Stages of Spelling Development?

23 October 2021

Parents often worry if their child is struggling or falling behind in class if they make a mistake spelling a word correctly. But what they need to understand is that the process of mastering spelling takes time. There are multiple stages of spelling development, and a student needs to develop a number of skills before being able to spell a word correctly.

In this article, I will explain the Spelling development process so that you can understand your child’s level and help them accordingly to advance.

Emergent and Invented Spelling

Before we start with the stages, I need to tell you about something first!

There are two types of spelling methods the students attempt while going through the stages of spelling development. In most cases, these attempts are made when they hardly have any knowledge about spelling rules.

Nevertheless, they are positive indications that their understanding and interest in learning spelling are growing. As a teacher or parent, you should praise and encourage them for taking more attempts while teaching them a few rules or other skills.

Emergent Spelling

Has your child ever shown you scribbles on a page and explained what they ‘Wrote’?

Normally when children are 3-5 years old, right before going to school, they start to distinguish between drawing and writing. They realize that writing is a way to express their ideas or a method of communication.

Obviously, they don’t have any knowledge about the alphabet or how a letter sounds. Some might argue if it can be considered ‘Spelling’ as there might not be a single letter on the page (which is the reality in most cases), but children in this stage start to grasp the meaning of spelling.

Not long after, they start to go to school, learn about the alphabet and its corresponding sound. They still might not understand uppercase or lowercase letters and spacing between words or the direction of writing.

At the end of this stage, children have pretty good knowledge about the above criteria and are ready to start learning to spell.

Invented Spelling

After learning the alphabet and its sounds, children try to arrange those letters according to their sounds to form words. This is called invented spelling because children are ‘inventing’ spellings as they have no prior knowledge about spelling rules or patterns. They are simply arranging the letters according to their best judgement.

Children mainly focus on their phonetic spelling skills in this method and analyze the relationship between speech sounds and their visual representation. For simple words such as ‘Bat’, ‘Lid’, ‘Go’, ‘Pin’, etc., this method might work, but spelling complex words would be a disaster.

If the student is attempting to invent spelling, this is an indication that they have profound knowledge of letter sounds now. You should start teaching them spelling rules so that they can successfully spell complex words.

Stages of Spelling Development

There are 5 stages of spelling development, and the transition from one stage to another is gradual. You can’t take a spelling test or make a checklist to see if your child is ready to go to the next stage.

Instead, you can provide related spelling activities to your kid for that stage so that they can understand the concepts faster and move on to the next stage.

Precommunicative Stage

In the first stage, the student might have mastered the alphabet but to match them to their sounds is yet to achieve. But this is also the stage when they are the most excited to learn to spell. They’ll show you their ‘Writing’, which consists of random letter clusters with no meaning.

Though their scribbling may seem meaningless to us, they will explain to you what they wrote enthusiastically. Try to listen to their explanation carefully and give suggestions about how to better their work.

Spelling Activities for this stage

  • Play games that involve learning letters and the sound of those letters with your kids. Alphabet puzzles are one of the games that grow the children’s interest in learning letters.
  • Give them letter blocks or magnetic letter shapes. Make a sound and ask them to find the letter that matches the sound or vice versa.
  • Alphabet songs are also a great way to teach your students.
  • Students at this stage are most likely to be kids. Provide them multicolor crayons when they write to color the letter they are learning.

Spelling difficulties can lead to more spelling problems. Understand the top spelling problems and solutions now!

Semiphonetic Stage

Phonetic learning starts in this stage. Children learn to match letters to letter sounds.

If they start to write in this stage, you’ll notice some significant tendencies-

  • They will confuse similar sounding letters. So, they might express a syllable consisting of several letters with just one.
  • They avoid vowels and use constants only.

For example, ‘The eye of Sauron’ might look like ‘D I op Srn’. Though the latter is the norm of texting nowadays, learning the proper spelling is heavily recommended for kids.

Spelling Activities for this stage

  • The activities for the previous stage would be beneficial in this stage too.
  • Students at this stage should focus more on the letter-sound correspondence. So, try to play games that focus more on learning the sound of each letter than just the letter.

It’s best to always include a fun way of learning spelling. There are many online programs for that. Check out our honest review of spelling shed to get an idea about this program now!

Phonetic Stage

After children have fully comprehended the letter-sound correspondence, CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words would be easy to spell for them. The phonetic stage of spelling development is very important for children. They may start identifying word families such as -ly, en-, -ing, etc.

However, irregularly spelled words, especially the ones with double consonants or vowels or silent letters are still inappropriate for the students. They may write ‘Small Talk’ as ‘Smol tak’ or ‘Swiss Cheese’ as ‘Suis Chij’. Your child can also try out an adaptive spelling test.

Spelling Activities for this stage

  • Phonic games are easy to find- they’re tons of them available on the internet! Find a few that are suitable for your child.
  • Rhyming games will improve their phonics spelling skills. You can tell them to find a rhyming word or the one that doesn’t rhyme. In each case, ask them to spell the word they found verbally.

Transitional Stage

When children are in the transitional stage of spelling development, their phonetic skills are fairly strong, so they may start memorizing words without sounding them out.

It is time for them to focus more on learning spelling visually. You can add some traditional methods of teaching spelling in your lesson plan.

There might still be a bit problem with similar-sounding complex words such as ‘Exceed’ and ‘Accede’, ‘Affect’ and ‘Effect’, ‘Mousse’ and ‘Moose’ etc.

There are various stages in spelling development. It’s a great practice to use spelling mastery program for making it a fun process.

Spelling Activities for this stage

  • Sight word games are perfect for this stage. You can use the SpellQuiz Sight Word List for free to teach your students. Just make sure you are not using too many words in one sitting.
  • Host a spelling bee competition! The words should match your students’ level. To add more excitement, tell your students that they’ll get an extra chance every time they spell a word correctly. They can use those chances when they can’t spell a word correctly the first time.
  • Give them a word with two different spellings and ask them to find the wrong one. You can either write them down on cards or spell both spellings verbally. Instead of points, they’ll be rewarded with crayons that they can use later to color the words.

Correct Stage

The final stage of spelling development is the Correct stage. Students in this stage are well-aware of basic spelling rules and patterns. There will be less struggle with spelling new words as they now can handle silent letters, irregular spelling, and other tricky spelling cases. They will be able to recognize their mistakes in most cases and correct it according to their knowledge.

More so, they can read a book suitable for their reading level on their own, and their vocabulary range would be considerably large. They can also take a vocabulary test to determine their level of expertise.

Spelling Activities for this stage

  • Students at this stage are definitely up for more challenging games. Traditional spelling games should be introduced, and scrabbles are a must! Hangman or Boggle are also options that could be played pretty regularly.

After completing the final stage, your child is qualified to join a Spelling Bee competition. You can help them with SpellQuiz Spelling Bee Online Competition, where they will compete against students around the world. You can track their progress via a dedicated dashboard.

Nurturing the stages of Spelling Development

In addition to the special tasks for spelling stages, you need to add other activities in your lesson plan that will help them to understand the art of spelling better.

  • Teach the students at precommunicative stage about the left-to-right direction of writing.
  • In addition, to improve their phonic skill, teach them about spelling patterns and word families.
  • It might turn boring after a while to just write down the words. Instead, ask your students to make lists, stories, or poems with the words they learned. There might be a problem with grammar, though, in the case of story writing. But instead of expecting absolute correctness, ask if they need help when writing the story and tell them to keep it as simple as possible.
  • Try to link learning spelling to creative writing rather than simple instructions and memorization. Practical applications will keep the students hooked to learn new words.
  • You may teach them some basic synonyms so that if they are struggling to remember a particular word, they may use another similar one instead.

Now that you have understood the spelling development process and how to support it, I hope you won’t ever be worried about your kid’s progress. Keep patience and give them proper guidance to ensure constant improvement of their skills.

Happy Spelling!

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