Learning to Spell
by G.E. Tompkins
As young children begin to write, they create unique spellings, called invented spelling, based on their knowledge of phonology (Read, 1975). The children in Read’s studies used letter names to spell words, such as U (you) and R (are), and they used consonant sounds rather consistently: GRL (girl), TIGR (tiger), andNIT (night). They used several unusual but phonetically based spelling patterns to represent affricates; for example, they replaced tr with chr (e.g., CHRIBLES for troubles) anddr with jr (e.g., JRAGIN for dragon). Words with long vowels were spelled using letter names: MI (my), LADE (lady), and FEL (feel). The children used several ingenious strategies to spell words with short vowels: The preschoolers selected letters to represent short vowels on the basis of place of articulation in the mouth. Short i was represented with e, as in FES (fish), short e with a, as in LAFFT (left), and short o with i, as in CLIK (clock). These spellings may seem odd to adults, but they are based on phonetic relationships.
Based on examinations of children’s spellings, researchers have identified five stages that students move through on their way to becoming conventional spellers: emergent spelling, letter name-alphabetic spelling, within-word pattern spelling, syllables and affixes spelling, and derivational relations spelling (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2008). At each stage, students use different strategies and focus on particular aspects of spelling.