Invented Spelling

Ideuz Furst, Speling Sekont: The Power and Purpose of Invented Spelling in Writing Development

Recently, a 4th grader told me, “I’m not a good writer.” When I inquired why, he shared, “Well, I don’t know how to spell a lot of words.” He’s not alone. In a recent Writing with Design poll, nearly 40% of students in 2nd through 8th grade reported that they often change the words they write to ones they know how to spell because they don’t want to make a spelling mistake.

Many parents also believe that spelling (and handwriting) are synonymous to writing. While spelling is certainly a needed set of skills to write; it is by no means synonymous.

The focus of writing should be more about the cultivation, organization, and sharing of ideas than proper spelling.


With over 50 years of research (Adams, 1991; Bissex, 2004; Burns, Griffin, and Snow, 1999; Chomsky, 1976; Clay, 1985; Clarke, 1989; Clay, 1975; DiStefano and Hagerty, 1985; Gentry, 1982; Hodges, 1981; Lutz, 1986; Rasinski and Padak, 2004, Read, 1975)  showing the powerful connection between writing development and invented spelling, I am a huge supporter of this stage of spelling development. Invented spelling, the spelling of words they way the sound instead of by conventional spelling rules, strengthens sound symbol correspondence and encourages fluency and risk-taking in writing. In addition, it builds writers’ confidence and supports their experimentation with unfamiliar words.

Yet, it is not enough for teachers to solely encourage writers to use invented spelling in their independent work. Like all aspects of writing, teachers must model invented spelling, too. Nor is this stage of spelling only for our youngest writers. The 4th grader who resisted writing because he didn’t trust his spelling skills needs to be encouraged to spell inventively just like the 4 year old who is just learning the sounds of letters.

When students observe their teachers being inventive in their spelling during the brainstorming stage of a piece of writing and even in the composition of the first sentence draft of writing, they develop a strong sense of how to trust their spelling knowledge and try different spelling options to eventually discover the accurate one. As Burns, Griffin, and Snow (1999) assert, “When children use invented spelling, they are in fact exercising their growing knowledge of phonemes, the letters of the alphabet, and their confidence in the alphabetic principle. A child’s ‘iz’ for the conventional ‘is’ can be celebrated as quite a breakthrough! It is the kind of error that shows that the child is thinking independently and quite analytically about the sounds of words and the logic of spelling.” (p. 102)

Spelling is a work in progress

Spelling is a work in progress

In the picture of a teacher’s model of invented spelling, notice that blanks are incorporated to encourage students to think about what letters could possibly be a part of the words. In addition, the second ‘e’ in “tree” was written in red to highlight to students it is not a sound they will hear, but rather, a spelling pattern they are learning and can try again in the future when they hear the long e sound in a word.

In older grades, model for and with students all the spelling patterns they know that can make the sounds in each syllable to see which version of the word “looks familiar.” This will encourage them to stretch their spelling knowledge through experimentation with spelling patterns.

So, incuraje studints to trust their branes and focus on the brillient content thay want to share insted of having purfect spelling. Once the ideas are shared, thin spelling can be refind and emproovd.