Analysing spellings: metacognition


Whilst there are many creative approaches to teaching, spelling has not benefited from this in the past.

How has spelling been taught historically in your school?

Typically, spelling is not taught at all but delivered as lists, sent home to ‘look, cover, write and check’ and to be tested at the end of the week. Students who cannot spell exciting vocabulary will not use it in their writing. Difficulties with spelling will slow down the writing process and increase the cognitive load faced by struggling writers who often have amazing ideas.

Why do we need to analyse spelling errors?

Whilst a student may get 10/10 in a weekly spelling test, their free writing may tell a different story.
In starting to analyse their spelling errors, you can encourage them to monitor their own spelling mistakes.
The aim is confident spellers, with a repertoire of strategies, who use a range of ambitious vocabulary.
This can be a better approach for struggling spellers who may make little progress on phonics-based intervention programmes.

A note on High Frequency or ‘tricky’ words and why children can’t spell them:

From Reception, children are taught that certain words are tricky, almost as if there were no pattern or link to phonics at all, nonsensical even difficult. These are described as ‘look, say’ words and flash cards are used, even where these words follow phonic patterns , such as the split digraph word ‘like’.

A bit g favourite is the mnemonic eg big elephants can always understand small elephants (because) but this method requires much repetition and actually is very taxing for working memory.

How much more interesting and helpful is it to teach that because is from French ‘par cause de’:

Children tend to spell these words incorrectly from the start (because they are not encouraged to analyse them) and are allowed to build a motor memory of these words until by KS2 these mispellings become deeply entrenched.


Types of spelling error:

Semantics and homophones e.g. there, their, they’re.
High Frequency Words: whent, becuse
Orthographic/morphological e.g. slipt for slipped, happyness (affixes)
Reasonable phonic alternatives e.g. teecher, sed
Transposition (mixing up letters) or articulation e.g. callde, moth for month.
Letter reversals and directionality e.g. bad for dad, was for saw.
Additions e.g. frome.
Omissions e.g. mouten – mountain (see also articulation).


In starting to analyse your students’ spellings and helping them to analyse and manage their spelling, you are both building metacognitive strategies. Without this, students feel that spelling is random and arbitrary.


Contact me for whole school spelling training.


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