Learning to write
This unit covers the issues of how to teach spelling and writing, identifying the multiple skills which a pupil must orchestrate in order to become an effective writer.
We look at:
- The not-so-simple view of writing.
- Learning to spell and all that it implies.
- The importance of learning spelling rules in addition to learning phonics.
- The importance of teaching handwriting skills.
- Working memory and the role it plays in text generation.
This flow diagram shows how pupils use the process of segmenting as they learn to spell, constructing words phonetically and matching phonemes to graphemes or letters. Select each heading on the diagram to read more.
Spelling: the process of segmenting
- Hear and divide
- Phonemes to graphemes or letters
- Choosing letter combinations
There are more than 40 phonemes in the English language, depending on your accent. This table shows the 44 phonemes based on the Received Pronunciation of Standard English. The letters marked in bold within each example denote how that phoneme is pronounced.
Table of phonemes
Spelling in English can be complex. Phonic approaches only work for regular words, and as such spellers have to learn a number of spelling rules, most of which have exceptions. To become a reasonably competent speller involves memorising at least 3,695 common words with exceptional spellings. The English Spelling website looks at such complexities and provides an amusing potted history of the development of English spelling.
This mind map provides an at-a-glance summary of the skills required to be a good speller in English.
- Phonic skills
- Morphological knowledge
- Words learned by rote
- Spelling patterns
- Spelling guidelines
Morphological spellings such as these retain their root words, despite the changes to phonetic spelling that they take with the addition of an affix such as ‘ian’ or ‘ion’. There are other examples, such as explanation, where the morpheme, explain, is not retained.
The use of the ‘ian’ and ‘ion’ affixes can initially confuse children as they learn to spell. Research by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (PDF, 1.1MB), conducted in Oxford and London with a large sample of pupils aged 6 to 11 years, found that they did not reliably spell words that were phonetically irregular, even though they were morphemically regular. Teaching the rule that ‘ian’ relates to words describing a person removes confusion.
Working memory and learning to write
Good writers generally have better working memory than their less-skilled peers. This resource shows the many different ways in which working memory underpins all the skills involved in writing.
Working memory is used to...
- Plan sentences and remember them long enough to write them.
- Say a word out loud and remember it long enough to spell it.
- Remember the correct motor process to produce a letter or word, at the same time as you learn a spelling.
- Plan a storyline and compose the story.
- Organise and present key points in a text logically.
- Keep track of your progress in a piece of writing.
- Correctly copy a word from a dictionary or word bank.
- Gradually automate low level processes (handwriting and spelling) so that resource can be made available for more demanding processes such as composition and planning.
- Gradually improve the automaticity for spelling and handwriting, which is particularly useful for pupils who struggle with transcriptional aspects of writing.