Stages of Spelling Development

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  • 0:01 Spelling Development
  • 0:45 Early Writing
  • 3:21 Later Spelling
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Children don't start out knowing how to spell words. Instead, spelling (like many other skills) develops over time and with practice. Watch this lesson to find out more about the stages of spelling development that children go through.

Spelling Development

Judah is concerned. His daughter Mae is four years old, and her spelling is very bad. She sometimes writes just the letter 'u' instead of 'y-o-u,' and often she reverses letters. Sometimes, she doesn't even do that much; instead, she'll just write a string of random letters.

Should Judah be worried? Does the way Mae spell indicate that she has a learning disability? Or, is it just normal for 4-year-olds to spell in weird ways?

Every child goes through a set of stages when learning how to spell. To help Judah determine whether Mae's spelling is normal for her age and what stage she's in, let's look closer at the stages of spelling development.

Early Writing

Mae has some unusual ways of spelling things, but Judah has heard that most children go through stages as they learn to spell and wonders if Mae's odd spelling is just part of her normal development.

Stage 1 is the pre-communicative stage of spelling development. This is common among three- to five-year-olds, and involves writing just random strings of letters, sometimes with numbers and other symbols thrown in. In this stage, children are learning that writing involves putting letters together, but they haven't yet figured out that which letters they use matters.

Mae is four, and she's showing some hallmarks of the pre-communicative stage. For example, she sometimes writes just a random string of letters, which is common in this stage. But Mae is also starting to realize that the letters matter. For example, she writes the letter 'u' for the word 'y-o-u,' and the letter 'r' stands in for the verb 'a-r-e.' These are part of stage 2, or the semi-phonetic stage, which is often seen in children between the ages of four and six.

During the semi-phonetic stage, children spell words based on what the child knows of phonics, but because their knowledge is limited, the words are often spelled with just one or two letters. For example, Mae knows that the letter is called 'u' and that the word 'you' sounds like it, so she spells it using just the letter. She's trying to apply phonics, but it's not quite working because she lacks an in-depth understanding of phonics.

Based on how she writes, Judah decides that Mae is probably between the pre-communicative stage and the semi-phonetic stage. She's four, so that makes sense; it seems like Mae is right where she should be in spelling development. But, what can Judah expect next from Mae?

Stage 3 is the phonetic stage, and is common between ages five and seven. Now, children have a better understanding of phonics and are able to spell words based on their sounds. For example, a child might spell the word 'done' (meaning finished) 'd-u-n.' This is, after all, how it sounds. During the phonetic stage, misspellings occur when words do not sound the way they are spelled. In our example from before, the word 'done' sounds like it should be spelled 'd-u-n,' not 'd-o-n-e.' A child in this stage will make that mistake because they are still simply sounding words out.

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