Mona Voelkel

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Designing Spelling Interventions



A student that struggles with spelling and you have been asked to work with them. What do you do?


Establish Rapport with Student, Teacher, and Family


  1. Connection is the heart of a successful teaching partnership. Talk to the student and find out who they are and what they like.

Use these prompts to guide the conversation or to create your own Student Interest Inventory:

       2.  If the caregiver grants permission, contact the teacher and ask for any insights that the teacher cares to share about the student’s strengths/needs/short and long-term goals/optimum learning conditions, as well as a description of the classroom spelling program, including word lists and/or assessments.

If you are the current teacher, contact former teachers for valuable insights, and read through the student file for information about language(s) spoken at home and results of standardized assessments. Establish that the student has had recent hearing and vision tests.

Also, inquire about the handwriting program. You can use handwriting practice to consolidate spelling/vocabulary understandings. Will you be teaching Chancery script or does the school teach a different handwriting style? 

It is also helpful to ask about upcoming content area units as that information provides a rich bank of vocabulary words that are ripe for orthographic inquiry.

3. Ask the caregivers to fill out a Parent/Caregiver Survey. This has been INVALUABLE to me in helping really meet student needs, especially the last question, “Is there anything else you would like me to know?” This gives families a chance to share background information, such as a family history of learning difficulties or anxiety about their child’s future learning opportunities, which can be helpful and sometimes quickly addressed. Also, find out how frequently families would like to receive feedback and their preferred mode of communication.

Spelling Assessment

I would recommend conducting a formal or informal reading assessment alongside the informal spelling assessments.

Some Options for Collecting Misspelled Words to Analyze:

  1. Look at some recent student writing (or ask the student to write on a self-selected or assigned topic for three minutes). 
  2. Dictate from a list of 25 pre-selected spelling words, STOPPING the assessment after the student spells three words incorrectly. I sometimes use the attached Words Their Way words for but you can create your own spelling lists based on what aspects of spelling you wish to assess.Spelling Inventory.pdf
  3. Dictate sentences that highlight a targeted morpheme and/or a range of orthographic understandings.

Patterns of Spelling Strengths and Weaknesses:

Create a T-chart and list your first understandings of student spelling strengths and weaknesses.


  Spelling Analysis:


Select 10 words that the student misspelled, with an eye to selecting words which would be most helpful for the student to master.


Analyze the student spelling using the assessments below: 

Directions for administering here.

Microsoft Word:

Updated Google Sheets:

Analyze Spelling Performance and Communicate Strengths, Needs, and Goals:

Generating Spelling Reports:

Goal-Setting and Designing a Spelling Intervention:

Use the analysis of assessments and upcoming content area learning to select 5 words for SWI investigation. Alternate those teacher-selected word investigation weeks with a week of student-selected word investigation. This is a really important aspect of true inquiry and the weekly alternation balances instructional goals with student agency, which is the MOST important and desired outcome of this instructional planning.

Sample Instructional Sequence based on a Teacher- or Student-Selected Word:

-Make students aware of their Spelling Rights (from Real Spelling Toolbox):

-Decide, in advance, what are the most teachable aspects of this word. Since time is, always, of the essence, consider whether exploring the etymology, etc. of this word will deepen student understanding. If not, consider skipping this question or just giving the student this information.

-Explore the word using the 4 questions of Structured Word Inquiry (Bowers & Kirby, 2010)

Meaning? Students should only be asked to spell words that they understand, demonstrated by their ability to offer a definition or use the word in a sentence.

Relatives? Research etymology. Identify and collect morphological relatives using brainstorming, word bags, Word Searcher, etc.


Analyze the structure of the target word. 

Set out or create a lexical matrix. Discuss base elements. Build words using word sums. Create    

Word Webs. Spell-out Loud/Write-Out Loud the target word or words in the  

morphological family. Practice handwriting targeted graphemes and feel the “dance of the pen.”


Have students feel the sounds as they say the word. Map graphemes to phonemes. Notice pronunciation shifts across the morphological family.

Create evidence charts for graphemes and phonemes. For example, collect words where <g> has a /g/ pronunciation and where <g> has a zero pronunciation. 

Spelling/Vocabulary Consolidation Activities:

-Write a sentence, story, article with the targeted word or explain a quote that contains  

the targeted word. 

-Use a word bank where students have to fill in a word from the morphological family to complete the sentence.

Daily Assessment: Start each class by dictating three words ( within in a sentence so the word is in a meaningful context but the student only needs to spell the targeted word) that have been previously taught and coach students on the spot to the correct spelling, using personal whiteboards. Keep careful notes about student needs and progress on a daily basis. 


After 3-10 week(s), repeat the informal assessment with the same or different words in the word family and note progress and next steps.


Selected Bibliography

Adoniou, Misty. (2019) “Literacy Leadership Brief: Teaching and Assessing Spelling.” International Literacy Association, a-teaching-and-assessing-spelling.pdf.

Bowers, P. N., & Kirby, J. R. (2010, April 30). Effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary acquisition. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from

Cooke, G.. (2018). LEX Grapheme Cards, Third Edition.

Real Spelling Online Toolbox – Home. Retrieved December 18, 2021, from



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