Spelling Instruction that Makes Sense

by Jo Phenix and Doreen Scott-Dunne (Heinemann, 1991 ISBN 0921217684. Paperback) Professional Book.
This review by Carol Otis Hurst first appeared in Teaching K-8 Magazine.



I very much like the book Spelling Instruction that Makes Sense. They start with some basic truths about spelling: that its a skill of constructing words, not memorizing them; that a good speller has a sense of what is probable, possible, improbable and impossible in English and then predicts how the word is likely to be spelled. They point out that conventional spelling, like a neat paper, is a courtesy to the reader and only necessary when that writing is ready for another reader. The book is full of thought provoking and empowering information. The tone is light and I found myself wanting to convey it verbatim here and to my audiences of inservice teachers. Their rules for the teaching of spelling are wonderful and may reorient you as a teacher of spelling, don't miss them. They also provide suggestions for helping emergent spellers.

One of their most useful techniques for increasing the students chances of success in spelling is to give them the "Las Vegas Rules for Spelling - Playing the Odds." They suggest giving the kids a sheet of the following rules, not for memorizing but for using as reference sheets when they write.

"Always -

kw sound is spelled qu.
q is always followed by u.
Every syllable has a vowel.
Soft c and soft g are followed by i, y or e.
If a word sounds as if it starts with f but doesn't, it starts with ph.
If a word sounds as if it ends with f but doesn't, it ends with ph or, rarely, gh.
Use dge after short vowels and ge after long ones.

Most of the Time

Words do not end with "i" unless they are shortened forms such as mini -- try "y".
Occupations end with "er" or "or".
Use "le" at the ends of words. It's more common than "el".
A "k" sound at the beginning of a word is usually spelled with a "c".
A "k" sound at the end of the word is usually "ck" or "c".
Words ending in "c" will have an "i" or "ia" before the "c".
If it's a place where something is made, it's "ery" not "ary".
When you hear "chur" at the end of a word, try "ture".
After a short vowel, try a "t" before a "ch".
If it is a verb, it will end in "er" not "or" or "ur".


Never write "shun" at the end of a word.
No English words end in "j", or "v", or "q".
Never write "kk" in a word that isn't compound. Use "ck" instead."


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