The research on spelling

We have set up this page to share links to relevant research that people may find interesting reading on the topic of spelling.

The Writing For Pleasure Centre is frustrated at the lack of high-quality evidence about how best to teach spelling. However, the evidence that we do have points towards spelling being actively taught rather than simply tested (Young & Ferguson 2021). 

We have split up this page into two distinct sections. The first is about how to teach children to spell correctly as they draft. The second section is devoted to practices which help children attend to their spellings whilst proof-reading (Ferguson & Young 2022). Both are important in developing confident and successful writers.

Harold Rosen once famously said to Donald Graves that any idiot can tell a genius they’ve made a spelling mistake (Graves 1983). We are sure there are many who have experienced ridicule or been made to feel unintelligent simply because they were unable to spell conventionally. Unfortunately, these negative views still persist in society and have serious long-term consequences for an individual’s confidence and desire to write. Ways in which teachers can improve children’s spelling include:

  • Prolific opportunities to write.
  • Prolific opportunities and time to read.
  • Explicit instruction in how to proof-read for spelling (Ferguson & Young 2022)
  • Explicit spelling instruction.

Spelling correctly whilst drafting

To help children spell correctly as they are drafting, it’s important that teachers explicitly teach spelling. It is suggested that children be exposed to a balanced approach to instruction which includes teaching: phonology, morphology, orthography and etymology in combination and at the earliest of stages (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Recommended text:

Adoniou, M. (2022) Spelling It Out: How Words Work and How to Teach Them Cambridge University Press [LINK]

Attending to spellings during proof-reading

Our Writing For Pleasure schools take proof-reading extremely seriously. The expectation is that children are to prepare their manuscripts for genuine publication beyond teacher evaluation. As a result, they are explicitly taught how to proof-read and are given many sessions to get their manuscripts ‘reader reader’ prior to publication (Ferguson & Young 2022). Part of proof-reading is obviously attending to your spellings.

Children are taught to circle any ‘temporary spellings’ (also known as unsure spellings, invented spellings or ‘sound spellings’) when drafting (Ferguson & Young 2022). This reminds them to look up the conventional spelling when it comes time to proof-read. However, dictionaries are probably one of the worst places to go if you are trying to look up a spelling you don’t know, since their main function is to supply definitions for words. Instead, we recommend children use:

  • Word walls (a list of common words children should know how to spell are up on the wall).
  • Common word lists (x,10, x100, x1000).
  • Their friends.
  • The book they are reading.
  • Electronic devices (such as computers or tablets) which include speech or autocorrect facilities like Siri or Google.
  • Electronic spell checkers.
  • Phonic dictionaries like ACE.

Recommended text:

Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022e) No More: ‘My Pupils Can’t Edit!’ A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre [LINK]

Research specific to the early years:

  • Byington T., Kim, Y. (2017) Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing Young Children 72(5) [LINK]
  • Gerde, H.K., Bingham, G.E., Wasik, B.A. (2012) Writing in Early Childhood Classrooms: Guidance for Best Practices. Early Childhood Education Journal 40, pp.351–359 [LINK]
  • Harste, J.C. (2012) Reading-writing connection. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.) The encyclopedia of applied linguistics (pp.5308-5315) Oxford: Wiley [LINK]
  • Louden, W., Rohl, M., Barrat-Pugh, C., Brown, C., Cairney, T., Elderfield, J., House, H., Meiers, M., Rivaland, J., & Rowe, K. J. (2005) In teachers’ hands: Effective literacy teaching practices in the early years of schooling Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 28, 173-252 [LINK]
  • Ouellette, G., Sénéchal, M. (2017) Invented Spelling in Kindergarten as a Predictor of Reading and Spelling in Grade 1: A New Pathway to Literacy, or Just the Same Road, Less Known? Developmental Psychology 53(1) pp.77-88 [LINK]
  • Perret, C., & Olive, T. (2019). Spelling and writing words: Theoretical and methodological advances. Brill.
  • Puranik, C., AlOtaiba, S. (2012) Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children Read Writ 25:1523-1546 [LINK]
  • Rowe, D. (2018) The Unrealized Promise of Emergent Writing: Reimagining the Way Forward for Early Writing Instruction Language Arts 95(4) pp.229-241 [LINK]

General spelling research:

  • Adoniou, M., (2014) What should teachers know about spelling?, Literacy, 48(3), pp.144-154 [LINK]
  • Alves, R., Limpo, T., Salas, N., and Joshi, R. (2019). Handwriting and spelling. In Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Graham, S., MacArthur, C., and Hebert, M. (Eds.) (3rd Ed.) (pp.211–240). New York: Guilford Press [LINK]
  • Arndt, E., Foorman, B. (2010) Second graders as spellers: what types of errors are they making? Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36, pp. 57–67 [LINK]
  • Berninger, V.W., and Amtmann, D. (2003) Preventing written expression disabilities through early and continuing assessment and intervention for handwriting and/or spelling problems: Research into practice. In Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Swanson, H.L., Harris, K.R., and Graham, S. (Eds.) (pp. 345–363). New York: Guilford Press [LINK]
  • Devonshire, V., Fluck, M. (2010) Spelling development: fine-tuning strategy-use and capitalising connections between words Learning and Instruction, 20, pp. 361–371 [LINK]
  • Fisher, B., Cozens, M. E., Greive, C. (2007) ‘Look-Say-Cover Write-Say-Check and Old Way/New Way – Mediational Learning: A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Two Tutoring Programs for Children with Persistent Spelling Difficulties’, Special Education Perspectives, 16 (1), pp. 19–38 [LINK]
  • Galuschka, K., Görgen, R., Kalmar, J., Haberstroh, S., Schmalz, X., Schulte-Körne, G. (2020) Effectiveness of Spelling Interventions for Learners with Dyslexia: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review Educational Psychologist, 55 (1), pp. 1–20 [LINK]
  • Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Fink Chorzempa, B. (2002). Contribution of spelling instruction to the spelling, writing, and reading of poor spellers, Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 669–686 [LINK]
  • Graham, S., and Santangelo, T. (2014) Does spelling instruction make students better spellers, readers, and writers? A meta-analytic review Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27, 1703–1743 [LINK]
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Adkins, M. (2018) The impact of supplemental handwriting and spelling instruction with first grade students who do not acquire transcription skills as rapidly as peers: a randomized control trial Read Writ 31:1273-1294 [LINK]
  • Henry, M. (1989) Children’s word structure knowledge: implications for decoding and spelling instruction Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 2, pp. 135–152 [LINK]
  • Hilte, M., and Reitsma, P. (2011) Activating the meaning of a word facilitates the integration of orthography: evidence from spelling exercises in beginning spellers Journal of Research in Reading, 34.3, pp. 333–345 [LINK]
  • Johnston, F. (2001) Exploring classroom teachers’ spelling practices and beliefs. Reading Research and Instruction, 40.2, pp.143–156 [LINK]
  • Kessler, B., Treiman, R. (2003) Is English spelling chaotic? Misconceptions concerning its irregularity Reading Psychology, 24,pp. 267–289 [LINK]
  • Kohnen, S., Nickels, L., Coltheart, M. (2010) Skill generalisation in teaching spelling to children with learning difficulties Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 15.2, pp. 115–129 [LINK]
  • O’Sullivan, O. (2000) Understanding spelling LIteracy, 34.1,pp. 9–16 [LINK]
  • Summer, E., Connelly, V., and Barnett, A. (2016) The influence of spelling ability on vocabulary choices when writing for children with dyslexia Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(3), 293–304 [LINK]
  • Templeton, S., Morris, D. (1999) Questions teachers ask about spelling Reading Research Quarterly, 34.1, pp. 102–112 [LINK]
  • Treiman, R., Bourassa, D. (2000) The development of spelling skill Topics in Language Disorders, pp. 1–18 [LINK]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers: A Handbook For Teaching Writing With 7-11 Year Olds London: Routledge [LINK]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge [LINK]
  • Ferguson, F., Young, R. (2022) No More: ‘My Pupils Can’t Edit!’ A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre [LINK]
Be reassuringly consistent

This chapter begins with a discussion of the importance of teaching the essential writing skills children require if they are to produce successful texts. This includes reflecting on the simple view of writing and what cognitive writing research has contributed to this area. The authors consider the cognitive load, metacognition, and demands on working memory involved when pupils compose and transcribe texts. They then explore what research and case studies into effective practice have been able to offer teachers in terms of successful and powerful writing instruction. The discussion includes developing children’s handwriting, typing, spelling, and editing (proof-reading) abilities. The chapter concludes with examples of effective practice from the classrooms of high-performing Writing For Pleasure teachers.


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