Invented Spelling: Yes or No?

› Invented Spelling

Invented spelling - what is the purpose of it and when should it be left behind? Here's why teachers must encourage the correct spelling of words.

Breaking bad habits caused by over-reliance on making up spelling is difficult and can cause remedial writing issues for the student.

This is a normal stage of development for children, however. Some students may move quickly past this stage with formal instruction, while others will retain aspects of it for a few years.

When a child is using invented spelling, it is that child's attempt to use previously held background knowledge about how to spell.

Most often, children will show specific phonetic characteristics in their "not-so-correct" spelling of words.

reasons it is difficult for some children to spell correctly

These can (and do) give teachers valuable insight as to where a student is developmentally.

However, if allowed to continue without formal instruction, inventive spelling soon becomes a handicap.  It is extremely difficult to undo, not just for spelling but reading and writing as well.

Where Does Invented Spelling Fit in the Continuum?

Inventive spelling is recognized mostly in the semiphonetic, phonetic, and transitional stages in varying degrees, but it is also useful in the correct stage. 

In the correct stages of spelling, a child will attempt a word using known rules and exceptions then move forward with other strategies for the correct spelling of words.

Does this mean that teachers should attempt to correct spelling or not? Yes to both.

Burns, Griffin, and Snow (1999) point out the value of invented spelling in allowing young children to express their thoughts in writing:

"When children use inventive 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 you that the child is thinking independently and quite analytically about the sounds of words and the logic of spelling."


There is no strong data that has been experimentally verified to support this. There is, however, verified evidence that shows a positive relationship between a child who has learned to spell correctly and the quality of written work and reading skills.

Doesn't Invented Spelling Help Students
with Hard Spelling Words?

Not really. If a teacher never teaches the correct spelling of words, then a child will be likely to never learn to spell correctly. He or she will always struggle with hard spelling words.

Teaching spelling - not just for hard spelling words - is a structured, phonetic process that must be taught at the developmental levels the children are currently in (this is why a whole class list is NEVER a good idea). If you have a student who is a poor speller, there are three main reasons why that may be occurring:

  • One is that there has not been enough exposure to literature and writing. There is a great correlation between reading and writing with spelling.

  • Another reason is weak visual memory. It is widely known that visual memory skills are critical to being able to spell, and requiring students to memorize words when they do not have strong visual skills is pointless. These students need instruction in strengthening their visual memory, how to use pattern recognition, and be taught how to use a personal dictionary.

  • Third, the child does not understand how letters and sounds work together. This is particularly true with how vowels work together. Essentially, the student is lacking in core phonics instruction.

Teaching students to use the 72 letter phonograms (combinations) and rules of spelling is much more fruitful and will reap benefits in both writing and reading abilities, whereas invented spelling does neither one.


Back to Top