Comprehending Spelling

Bright, motivated, hard-working students often struggle to spell simple words like <been & says>.  And early in my training, one of my young students got my attention when he wrote *<hoam> for <home> and I realized that I had no way to help him understand why it wasn’t spelled with <oa>.  (The asterisk indicates that … More Comprehending Spelling

presidential presidents

From the very beginning, literacy instruction must incorporate orthographic phonology, including the ways that the distinctive segments of spoken words (phonemes) are represented in written words by letters and combinations of letters (graphemes).  These important phoneme-grapheme relationships are the focus of the instructional approach called “phonics.”  Note that words in italics (cat) refer to a … More presidential presidents

giant & gigantic

One of my students was trying to learn <giant> for a spelling test, but when she tried to spell it, she wrote *<gient>. This is a very reasonable spelling based on the pronunciation of the word.  Think about the pronunciation of giant, agent, moment, parent, distant, infant, absent. There’s virtually no difference in the pronunciation … More giant & gigantic

fasten & hasten

After studying a word, one of my students created a riddle:  “What word means ‘going quickly,’ ‘standing still,’ and ‘not eating’?” The word he was thinking of was fast and his riddle was inspired by studying the spelling of fasten. The written word <fasten> is often described as “irregular” because the <t> is not pronounced. … More fasten & hasten

foreword & forward

Why are the words <foreword & forward> pronounced the same but spelled differently? Is this an example of inconsistency in the English spelling system? Absolutely not. These words are spelled differently for a very good reason: in English, when two words sound the same but mean different things, they will be spelled differently whenever possible. … More foreword & forward

Teaching and Unteaching

I was talking with a student recently about the word family built on the base <mit>. We created this word sum: <per + mit ➞ permit>. I asked him to look at the word <permit> and tell me if he knew that word. He replied [pɝ] [mɪt] with a pause in between the two pronunciation. … More Teaching and Unteaching

the, a, an, any, many

Someone asked recently how to help students who struggle to remember even the simplest words. The word <the> was one of these words. The reason that so many words are categorized as “irregular” is because they have an unexpected pronunciation, not an unexpected spelling. But to understand their spelling and their orthographic phonology — the relationships between graphemes … More the, a, an, any, many


Recently, I came across a resource for teachers that demonstrated strategies for vocabulary instruction. They used the word <enormous> as an example. One of the steps in the instructional process was to have students analyze the word <enormous> by syllable, a common practice in systematic reading instruction. So the recommendation was to divide this word based on the way … More enormous

Terminology: Graphemes and Letters

When I talk with students of any age about how English spelling works, I introduce them to the term <grapheme>. I also talk with them about letters, but letters are not the same as graphemes. English words are spelled with graphemes, not letters. A grapheme is a unit consisting of one, two or three letters. A grapheme signals or represents a phoneme.  Here are some examples … More Terminology: Graphemes and Letters