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Who has a child that has ever cheered over spelling? Well, our boys do! In Year 3 we have combined Word Study sessions where we explore topic words together on an adventure of linguistics.

Literacy involves three skills: reading, writing, and spelling. Often an enormous amount of teaching time goes into the skills of reading and writing, yet not nearly as much into the teaching of spelling. However, spelling tends to be the most tested skill in many classrooms across Australia. Here at St Peter’s College, we are doing it differently. Rote learning of spelling words may get you good results in the weekly spelling test, but we were finding that most of our boys weren’t being able to use or spell these words correctly after test day.

As you know, there are 26 letters in the English alphabet and 44 phonemes (speech sounds). These 44 phonemes have numerous different spelling choices (graphemes). Navigating your way through spelling English words is hard enough especially if we don’t give our boys explicit teaching on how to spell! In our classrooms, we use the tool THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) to help our students learn the 44 phonemes of the spoken English language and the spelling patterns we use to represent these phonemes in our written language. We are explicitly teaching our boys the code of English. Traditional approaches teach that one letter makes one sound. This approach fails our learners when they open their first reader and come across the most used word ‘the’.  By using THRASS we can clearly explain to our boys that ‘the’ is made up of 2 phonemes, ‘th’ as in feather and ‘e’ as in garden. We explain the phonemes and graphemes and then use examples of other words that have the same patterns. It is important for the boys to understand that a letter does not make a sound until it is a word. They are taught all the sounds (phonemes) each letter can represent, e.g:  the letter “c” can say /k/, as in “cat” and “cow” , or /s/ as in “city”, “circle”, or /ʃ/, as in “ocean” and “crustacean”, or /tʃ/ as in “cello.

The English language is not disordered or unsystematic as we may have been taught previously, there is in fact meaning and reason behind the spelling of the words we use. This is the exciting part and our boys love spelling adventures, where together, we solve spelling investigations as spelling is a linguistic problem to be cracked using linguistic tools.

To understand how words work we must understand the following:

  • Morphology (the meaning of the words or parts of the words)
  • Phonology (the sounds of the words, units of speech that only have meaning when combined)
  • Orthography (the ways sounds are written)
  • Etymology (the origin of words)

We believe the effective teaching of spelling must include all these components. English is a morpho-phonemic language which means that words are spelt according to their meaning (morphemes) as well as their sounds (phonemes). By knowing the meanings of the fragments that make up words, our boys can understand new words they come across in their learning. Breaking words into meaningful parts not only helps improve spelling but vocabulary and reading skills as well. The boys then relate that words with spelling connections, have meaning connections and the opposite is applied.

Morphemes are base words, prefixes, and suffixes. For example, the morpheme -graph originates from the Greek language meaning “instrument for recording; that which writes, marks, or describes; something written”. Once we know this, we can begin to understand the meaning of many words such as graphemes (smallest unit of writing, a spelling choice), autograph (signature of your written name), digraph (2 letters written together that make one sound) photograph (a picture/mark produced from light), biography (a written account of an individual’s life) and the list goes on. By teaching our learners the meaning of the pieces that make up words, we give them the required skills to understand new and unfamiliar words they encounter. When our students know the building blocks of words, they also know the building blocks of spelling. When word roots are repeated, spelling patterns are repeated, too.

The best way to conquer is to understand. Learning about words is fascinating!

Feel free to pop in and immerse yourself in a Year 3 Word Study lesson. We guarantee you will learn something new, as we all do, every time!

Emily Rogers
Year 3 Coordinator