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Developing Spelling Skills

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Developing Spelling Skills

Written by Sheila O’Reilly

Following on from my previous phonics blog, I thought it would be helpful to explore how to  develop your child’s spelling skills. Early phonics is the first crucial step in improving your child’s spelling ability, and in turn develop their word attack and reading skills.

In order for children to become good spellers, they need to develop a range of strategies and know when to apply them.

These strategies include:
1. Phonological Strategies (how words sound)
2. Visual Strategies (how words look ‘See it Right’)
3. Morphemic Strategies (word meanings and how they can be changed)
4. Etymology (word origins)

The development of spelling skills begins in the early years through play activities such as providing opportunities in role play set ups. From the age of 2, my girls loved pretend play and they would make shopping lists, create menus for cafes, make signs for shops, price labels  and so on. Initially it was simple mark making of course, but it was important for them to understand how words and spellings are used in every day settings. We have continued with role play activities as they have grown and developed and now my eldest writes independently during play activities and her younger sister is having a go at making letters and symbols.

Exposing children to a rich language environment is essential for spelling development. The more words children hear and understand, the more likely they are to make a correct or near correct spelling attempt. Reading together from an early age is so important. Children hear words being used in context so they develop their understanding of when and how to use words and spellings correctly. Also, the more children see common words in books, the more likely they are to spell them correctly, without having to consciously ‘encode’ them.


1. Phonological strategies are developed through exploring letter sounds, how to segment words and blend sounds together. Here’s the link to my phonics blog for more details
2. Visual strategies are developed through reading and exploring words. Children need to know what letter sequences are possible/impossible and be able to identify visual patterns in words. Basically they need to be able to look at a word and decide if it looks right or not! The more books and words children are exposed to, the better they will become at using this strategy.
3. Morphemic strategies refer to the link between spellings and word meanings. Some words can have the same meaning/sounds but different spellings (homophones) and some words can have the same spelling but different meanings (homonyms). Words can also be changed by adding or removing different parts (prefixes, suffixes, plurals, tenses), snd words can be combined to make new words and new meanings (compound words).
4. Etymological strategies explore how words in the English language have developed from other languages which can explain how words are spelled. This strategy is used with older children in primary school.

Children need to be explicitly taught spelling strategies. Having a repertoire of strategies and knowing when to apply them is key to successful spelling. When my daughter is sent home with spellings  to learn, I use the words in a variety of activities to help her learn and understand and explore the different spelling strategies.

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Some activities I use  include:

  • Putting words into sentences,
  • Exploring alphabetical order,
  • Using the spellings in word searches and crossword puzzles,
  • Jumbling up letters in words,
  • Finding rhyming words/making rhyming sentences.


There are lots of ways to play with words to help your child explore the four different spelling strategies.

I hope you find this blog useful and it helps you support your child in developing their spelling skills.

Some of our resources used in the activities

Phonics Pebbles

Wooden Writing Board

Word Building Tray

Chalk Board Houses

Wooden Animals

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