Spelling and the Speech Language Pathologist

Okay, true confession, I am a terrible speller. I went to parochial school and we had weekly spelling bees and tests. I consistently was the first one out in the spelling bee. The nuns would try to teach me and I remember one of them proclaiming ” Even a parrot can learn to spell” as I failed another test. She was not all bad the next spelling bee she manipulated so that I won. I guess she was practicing reverse psychology and was remorseful after her outburst but frustrated in how to teach me.

Now, as a speech and language pathologist there are times that my students need my support to work on their spelling.

There is a developmental process to spelling. The preschooler might scribble and make some letters mostly the upper case in their writing, there is a lack of understanding of the conventions of spelling. By the age of five or six, you begin to have some understanding that letters represent phonemes however the child may write two letters to represent a whole word ( ex. dg to represent the word dog). By seven or eight, you begin to see more vowels in their spelling and they become more aware of the pattern of letters in words. Their spelling is becoming more conventional however there are still errors in words that don’t follow conventional rules. By eight or nine the child is spelling most words correctly and is understanding the rules of English orthographic system. They begin to see that some words don’t look right and will try to correct them.

The first step is an assessment. There is a need to establish a baseline and to evaluate the skills sets so that you can establish goals for intervention and then to also measure changes based on intervention.

There are several ways to evaluate spelling. You can do a dictation task in which the student needs to write words or sentences. You can make an analysis of a writing sample. Finally, you can have the student identify words spelled incorrectly which is a recognition task.

Some norm-referenced spelling assessments are:

  • The Test of Written Spelling-5 ( TWS-5; Larsen, Hammill and Moats 2013)
  • The Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement-2 (Kaufman and Kaufman 2004)
  • Wide Range of Achievement Test 4 ( Wilkinson and Robertson 2006)

Spelling instruction:

An effective spelling program teaches spelling through the use of phonemic, whole word and morphemic instruction that includes direct instruction and supplemental research-based materials.

  • Rule-based instruction: Based on teaching the rules and generalizations using a linguistic or phonics approach. There is also direct instruction on those words that break the rules. It should be noted that only 50% of English words follow a rule.
  • Multi-sensory approach: Ferdinand’s approach, therapist writes the word as the student watches and listens. Student traces it while reciting the word. Word is written from memory. If correct put in a file of correct ( I use an index card box for this), if incorrect repeat the sequence of activities ( I put a rubber band around these to separate them from known words.)  Some students especially the older ones can eliminate the tracing of the words and just write the words.
  • Gillingham approach: Student gets words list and studies on their own. Student takes a spelling test and teacher gives verbal feedback to the child. Student says aloud and writes the words that they spelled incorrectly five times. Student retests and those words not spelled correctly are now saying and spelling words ten times. Student retests and any words misspelled are written fifteen times.
  • Test-Spell-Test: Pretest is given. The words that are misspelled are the words studied and instructed. A test is given again. Those words that are incorrect are studied again.
  • Self-Questioning: Do I know this word? How many syllables do I hear in the word? I will write the word as I think it is spelled. Is there any tricky part of the word or one that I am unsure of? Underline that part. Does the word look right to me?  If not, try again.
  • SPELLER: Spot the word. Picture the word. Eyes closed. Look to see if the visualization is correct. Look away and write the word. Examine the word and see if it is correct. Repeat if the word is misspelled or Reward if the word is correct.

Choosing Word Lists:

In choosing word lists there are several things you can do and some that you can do simultaneously. It is better to have flow lists rather than fixed lists as fixed lists seldom lead to mastery whereas flow lists are designed to work on error words.

  • Allow student to chose the words they want to learn how to spell
  • Teach words that are commonly misspelled
  • Teach words that the student would most need in their writing
  • Identify words that fit a particular rule pattern


The use of dictionaries assists those that are having spelling difficulties. It gives them some independence as the child looks up the correct spelling. The dictionary will provide information on syllabication, meaning, synonyms, and pronunciation. You can see how the child predicts how the word is spelled. It also can assist in teaching prefixes and suffixes.


Spelling City: There is both a free version and a paid version

Ed Helper: This is a paid site with fees for a year for basic at premium


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
, , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar