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Spelling & Written Expression

Research shows that learning to spell and learning to read rely on much of the same underlying knowledge.  Learning how to become a proficient speller involves a combination of several skills including:

1. Knowledge of letter names

Fluency with letter names and forms facilitates spelling and is an indicator that children are likely to develop oral reading fluency.


2. Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the ability to recognize that words are made up of a variety of sound units. A child with strong phonological awareness should be able to recognize and use rhyme, break words into syllables, blend phonemes into syllables and words, identify the beginning and ending sounds in a syllable, and see smaller words within larger words.

3. Phonics

Phonics is the understanding that there is a systematic and predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters that represent those sounds). In the context of spelling, children use this sound-letter knowledge to spell phonetically regular familiar and unfamiliar words. For example, children need to learn that the sound they hear at the beginning of the spoken word "bat" is spelt with the letter ‘b’, the medial sound is spelt with the letter ‘a’, and the final sound is spelt with the letter ‘t’.


4. Orthographic memory (symbol imagery)

While phonics knowledge serves as an essential base for spelling, it does have its shortfalls. Spelling a word such as ‘skirt’ based on its sounds, could also be spelt ‘skurt’ or ‘skert’. Knowledge of what the word ‘looks’ like is needed. Therefore, a second way students learn to spell involves visualizing the letters in words – known as orthographic memory or more specifically symbol imagery. Where phonological awareness and phonics are the foundation skills necessary for reading and spelling, symbol imagery is the ‘glue’ that makes this foundation ‘stick in memory’.


5. Knowledge of spelling rules and patterns

Although many English words do not follow consistent rules, some generalisations are very helpful to students, such as rules for adding endings to words with a silent e (make, making), or when to use a ‘hard c’ (as in ‘cut’) versus a ‘soft c’ (as in ‘cent’). They also need to learn the recurring sequences of letters that form syllables, word endings, word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.


Assessing your child's spelling skills

At Brain & Language Connections, our comprehensive spelling assessment may include some or all of the following:

  • knowledge of letter names and letter sounds

  • spelling skills (phonetically regular words and sight words)

  • phonological processing skills - (particularly phonological awareness)

  • symbol imagery/orthographic memory

  • working memory


It is through this comprehensive assessment, that therapy options best suited to your child's needs can be determined.

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