The Importance of Spelling,
Writing, and Reading in
Orton-Gillingham Instruction

Through practicing the rules of spelling, students develop the ability to deepen their understanding of the English language.

Literacy development can not exist without spelling– one of the most important and forgotten pieces of learning to read. It is looked at as an afterthought in many classrooms, where instruction is limited to memorization and rote spelling drills. (Birsh, 2005).

What’s more, state assessments rarely include a direct measure of spelling competence. Consequently, educators do not know how many of their students are struggling with spelling, and to what extent. 

The fact of the matter is that learning to spell, write, and read all help reinforce each other. By young children in elementary school learning to spell, their reading, writing, and literacy skills are overall enhanced. 

Through practicing the rules of spelling, students develop the ability to deepen their understanding of the English language. They’re able to develop skills such as:

The English spelling system, while complex at times, is actually surprisingly predictable and logical. In actuality, of all English words, only about 4% are truly irregular. About 50 percent of all English words can be spelled out on the basis of letter-sound correspondence. Another 36 percent can be spelled via letter-sound except for one speech sound. 14 percent are spelled with two or more unexpected patterns and can typically be explained by looking at the word’s etymology or morphology. 

Spelling Drills

At the end of the day, if orthographic patterns have been mastered, approximately 87% of English words are reliable to spell and read. (Hanna et al., 1966)

However, it’s still highly possible students will develop important spelling skills by learning to read and write. Research indicates that learning to spell is a more complicated process than learning to read, meaning that, just like reading, it requires direct, explicit instruction. 

Many children will struggle to spell (and write), even if their reading is at or above grade-level, without that direct and explicit spelling instruction. (Brady & Moats, 1997).

Spelling and Reading

According to research, “spelling and reading build and rely on the same mental representation of a word. Knowing the spelling of a word makes the representation of it sturdy and accessible for fluent reading.” (Snow et al., 2005).

While memorization is one way to spell a few dozen words, struggling is inevitable if they do not understand the relationship between the letters (graphemes) and sounds (phonemes) in words. 

Learning to spell requires direct, explicit instruction as words are not visually distinctive (i.e. car, can, cane). The knowledge about speech sounds, meaning, and symbols actually supports the memory of whole words and helps with reading.

So, students begin to develop a deeper understanding of the English language, in addition to continuing to learn the rules of spelling and orthography. The instruction can include:

  • Meanings of roots, prefixes, and suffixes
  • Families of related words
  • Historical development of the English language
  • Language of origin

This sort of word study facilitates word recognition and reading comprehension and enhances vocabulary development. It enables students to look at any new word from the language of origin, angles of sound, meaning, and syntax.

Spelling and Writing

Emphasizing the importance of spelling further, just like reading, there is a strong relationship between writing and spelling. Specifically, poor spelling greatly affects the effectiveness and efficiency of a student’s ability to write.

Composition and comprehension are at risk when a student spends too much time and valuable cognitive resources thinking about how to spell.

How To Teach Spelling 

If you think about it, writing can be much more of a juggling act than reading as orthography, semantics, syntax, and discourse organization skills are essential to the process. 

The automatic deployment of those skills is inevitably the goal for students. By achieving that, writers can keep track of the word choice, audience needs, organization, and topic. 

Restricting writing to only known words is not uncommon when a writer who struggles with spelling is tackling an assignment. That results in the individual losing their train of thought attempting to spell words as well as a loss of verbal power.

Spelling and writing must be included systematically and explicitly in any literacy program as they are integral parts of literacy instruction. Even more so for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.

And for those who argue in favor of spell-check as a replacement for learning to spell, it really isn’t that simple. For those students that really struggle with spelling, producing an approximation of the intended word is not always possible, and spell-check won’t be able to come up with the correct suggestion. When it comes down to it, spell-check can not replace the importance of spelling. 

What Exactly Is the Importance of Spelling?

It’s important to remember that, when it comes to spelling instruction, it’s not about the age of the student, but the stage of their development. It’s not wise for students to be forced to memorize spelling patterns rather than being taught in a systematic, sequential format.

Spelling assessments should focus on concepts that were explicitly taught rather than those that focus on rote memorization and random words. Students should focus on spelling words that correlate with their skill level in morphology, orthography, phonics, and phonological awareness.

It’s also important to allow inventive spelling based on the student’s understanding of phonemes and graphemes rather than immediately correcting their spelling.