Teaching Spelling

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Perhaps the best-known way to teach spelling is through weekly spelling tests, but tests should never be considered a complete spelling program. To become good spellers, students need to learn about the English orthographic system and move through the stages of spelling development. They develop strategies to use in spelling unknown words and gain experience in using dictionaries and other resources. A complete spelling program includes the following components:

  • Teaching spelling strategies
  • Matching instruction to students’ stage of spelling development
  • Providing daily reading and writing opportunities
  • Teaching students to learn to spell high-frequency words

Students learn spelling strategies that they can use to figure out the spelling of unfamiliar words. As students move through the stages of spelling development, they become increasingly more sophisticated in their use of phonological, semantic, and historical knowledge to spell words; that is, they become more strategic. Important spelling strategies include the following:

  • Segmenting the word and spelling each sound, often called sound it out
  • Spelling unknown words by analogy to familiar words
  • Applying affixes to root words
  • Proofreading to locate spelling errors in a rough draft
  • Locating the spelling of unfamiliar words in a dictionary

Teachers often give the traditional sound it out advice when young children ask how to spell an unfamiliar word, but teachers provide more useful information when they suggest that students use a strategic think it out approach. This advice reminds students that spelling involves more than phonological information and encourages them to think about spelling patterns, root words and affixes, and what the word looks like.

Two of the most important ways that students learn to spell are through daily reading and writing activities. Students who are good readers tend to be good spellers, too: As they read, students visualize words—the shape of the word and the configuration of letters within it—and they use this knowledge to spell many words correctly and to recognize when a word they’ve written doesn’t look right. Through writing, of course, students gain valuable practice using the strategies they have learned to spell words. And, as teachers work with students to proofread and edit their writing, they learn more about spelling and other writing conventions.

In addition to reading and writing activities, students learn about the English orthographic system through minilessons about phonics, high-frequency words, spelling rules, and spelling strategies.

Word Walls

Teachers use two types of word walls in their classrooms. One word wall features “important” words from books students are reading or thematic units. Words may be written on a large sheet of paper hanging in the classroom or on word cards and placed in a large pocket chart. Then students refer to these word walls when they’re writing. Seeing the words posted on word walls and other charts in the classroom and using them in their writing help students learn to spell the words.

The second type of word wall displays high-frequency words. Researchers have identified the most commonly used words and recommend that students learn to spell 100 of these words because of their usefulness. The most frequently used words represent more than 50% of all the words children and adults write!

The table below lists the 100 most frequently used words.


  • a
  • about
  • after
  • all
  • am
  • an
  • and
  • are
  • around
  • as
  • at


  • back
  • be
  • because
  • but
  • by


  • came
  • can
  • could

D, E

  • day
  • did
  • didn't
  • do don't
  • down

F, G

  • for
  • from
  • get
  • got


  • had
  • have
  • he
  • her
  • him
  • his
  • home
  • house
  • how

I, J

  • I
  • if
  • in
  • into
  • is
  • it
  • just

K, L

  • know
  • like
  • little

M, N

  • man
  • me
  • mother
  • my
  • no
  • not
  • now


  • of
  • on
  • one
  • or
  • our
  • out
  • over

P, Q, R

  • people
  • put


  • said
  • saw
  • school
  • see
  • she
  • so
  • some


  • that
  • the
  • them
  • then
  • there
  • they
  • things
  • think
  • this
  • time
  • to
  • too
  • two

U, V

  • up
  • us
  • very

W, X

  • was
  • we
  • well
  • went
  • were
  • what
  • when
  • who
  • will
  • with
  • would

Y, Z

  • you
  • your
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