This website provides information and support for those who wish to learn more about English orthography. This information is vital for teachers, tutors, administrators, advocates, parents, and anyone involved with the science of reading and structured literacy.
The resources I recommend will help you develop a deeper understanding of the writing system. As you learn more, I encourage you to use that knowledge not only with students but in your conversation, collaboration, training, and mentoring of other adults.
In addition, some of these resources provide information about specific teaching approaches. Because of my focus on students with dyslexia, I support instruction that is engaging and explicit, which includes opportunities for students to practice, apply, and continue exploring the concepts and skills they are learning. The resources listed below may present differing approaches to instruction, but they all provide access to an accurate understanding of the writing system. Ultimately, we want to empower all students and teachers to be lifelong learners, able to make sense of novel words as they encounter them—in ways that will develop a deeper understanding of the overall writing system.
Watch for the addition of more resources as they become available.
BOOKS AND RESOURCES THAT EXPLORE THE ENGLISH ORTHOGRAPHIC SYSTEM
Toolbox2: The ToolBox2 was the original source of much of the information on these pages. Initially created by Real Spelling in 1999 and revised in 2011, the Toolbox2 has now become available on the web. It provides information covering an extraordinary range of orthographic topics and consists of six Toolkits, each containing 12 “themes.” Each theme covers a particular topic, but within each theme you will find links to related (or background) information discussed in other places in the ToolBox. The landing page for the Toolbox2 site provides a link to an Overview of the themes, as well as a link to a sample theme, “Learning from the Spelling of <Love>. The website is .
Orthographica: This site provides access to a rich library of short films that were used for study in the Spellinars offered by Real Spelling. They were not designed as stand-alone films, but are intended to be used in collaborative study. Visit the site and read more about these resources here: .
Beneath the Surface of Words: What English Spelling Reveals and Why it Matters. The author of this site published this book in December 2021. Beneath the Surface of Words takes readers on a step-by-step journey through the information explored on this site, introducing and explaining three concepts that are essential to an understanding of English spelling. You can read more about it here. It’s published in paperback form, available in the U.S. and globally through Amazon. It’s also available in the U.S. through Kendore Learning and in Australia through Seelect Educational Supplies or SilverEye Learning Resources.
In the U.S.: https://www.amazon.com//dp/057832671X
For non-U.S. Amazon sites, type in your local Amazon site name (e.g. Amazon.com.au or Amazon.co.uk) and follow it with //dp/057832671X. Or you can just search for the title.
Backpocket Words: Sharing the Essence of English Spelling, written by Gail Portnuff Venable. This wonderful book is a collection of 53 engaging stories and fascinating explanations of words. Each entry shows how the process of making sense of a given word’s spelling reveals universal concepts of spelling. While Beneath the Surface of Wordswas written as a step-by-step introduction to those universal concepts, Backpocket Words shows that we can find them at work everywhere in the system. Available as a paperback through Amazon in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com//dp/1940722101. Worldwide, type the Amazon site name and follow with //dp/1940722101. It’s also available through Kendore Learning in the U.S. and Seelect Educational Supplies and Silvereye Learning Resources in Australia (see above for links).
Truer Word Cards, created by Emily O’Connor. This resource consists of several decks of 10 cards, each card exploring words in two ways. The front of each card offers an exploration of a word and its etymological family using a metaphorical floral illustration. The back of each card provides a morphological matrix and considers the word through the lens of Structured Word Inquiry. See more at .
A Field Guide to Words, created by Lyn Anderson and Ann Whiting. Each guide takes a deep, rich look at a key word and its relatives to reveal how the English orthographic system works. The Field Guides demonstrate how to carefully unfold an orthographic investigation in the classroom. Learn more at .
Webinars through the International Dyslexia Association.
Click the title of any webinar to go to the YouTube video.
The following three webinars can be found on the Webinars page of the website for the Upper Midwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (). You can find handouts there, along with the links to the YouTube videos. Click the titles below to go directly to the recorded presentations.
Making Sense of “Irregular” Words — Sue Hegland — May 2016.
Discussion and examples of many words often considered “irregular,” showing how they make sense.
Developing Literacy in the Content Areas Through Structured Word Study — Sue Hegland — March 2017.
Discusses the value of word study focused on morphological families with examples showing how this can be applied to content areas.
An overview of the some of the foundational patterns in the English writing system, along with examples from dyslexic and non-dyslexic student work.
BOOKS AND RESOURCES ON SPECIFIC TEACHING APPROACHES
The concepts explained in the resources above can be taught in many ways. Many of the teaching resources available today focus on inquiry-based learning, but it’s possible to teach these concepts in direct ways as well. Here are a few of the growing resources to learn more about approaches to teaching these concepts.
Teaching How the Written Word Works. Peter Bowers wrote this book as an introduction to Structured Word Inquiry (SWI). It provides a series of 10 lessons that can guide students through an inquiry-based process of discovering various aspects of spelling. Available through wordworkskingston.com.
Dyslexia and Spelling: Making Sense of It All. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute, authored this book on Structured Word Inquiry. In it, she provides examples of student spelling errors and explains how they can inform and guide Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) instruction. Available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Resources for Training and Further Learning:
The term “Structured Word Inquiry” (SWI) was first used by Bowers and Kirby (2010) to describe the instruction in their instructional study that showed generative vocabulary learning. Bowers has since suggested that the phrase “scientific word investigation” may be a more accurate description of this type of instruction. His work with SWI has taken him to schools around the world, where he provides engaging, practical sessions that model classroom activities using scientific investigation to learn about the English writing system.
Ann Whiting and Lyn Anderson are experienced Australian based educators who have taught orthography in their classrooms to a wide range of students for many years. They conduct collaborative workshops modelling the inquiry process to develop an understanding of orthographic principles and conventions.