Spelling at the emerging level is about learning what kids know and don’t know about reading, writing and spelling. Many kindergarten and 1st grade teachers are reluctant to ask children to write knowing that these skills are just emerging but, in fact, examining student writing is one of the best assessments of what the child knows. It is about uncovering what students know rather than what they don’t know.

For example, examine this student writing sample below and make some observations about what this student DOES know about spelling. After you make your list, compare it with the list below.


In case you needed assistance with these, the answers this student wrote are as follows:

  1. Food – meatballs
  2. Color – my favorite color is blue (on the back)
  3. Fruit – orange
  4. Vegetables – carrot
  5. Game – Clue
  6. Something I’m good at – helping
  7. What I want to be when I grow up. A police officer.

How close were you to “reading” the student responses? If you were stumped, you can always conduct a one-on-one student conference with the student and have him tell you what his responses were. However, after teaching at the lower grade levels, most teachers can read just about anything students write.

So what does this student KNOW? Quite a lot, actually. This student:

  1. Associates phoneme with letters
  2. Understands Beginning sounds in words
  3. Understands Ending sounds in words
  4. Can spell short, high frequency words (my, is, a)
  5. Can spell/use blends
  6. Uses vowels and various patterns of words
  7. Can write a simple sentence – Color (My favorite color is blue.)
    The student also has confidence (I am good at helping.)
    He also recognizes the role of community helpers. (Police officer)
    Plays organized, interactive board games.

Analyzing a student’s spelling and writing is assessment for instruction. Once you know what the student already knows you can build on those early skills to develop strong readers and writers.

Request a sample of Words Their Way for grades K-5 – our phonics, vocabulary, and spelling program

Request a sample of Words Their Way – grades 6-12 – our vocabulary development program

If you are interested in research-based assessment on the various stages of spelling, which correlate closely to the child’s reading level, I recommend checking out the Words their Way materials developed by Donald Bear, Shane Templeton, Marcia Invernezi and Francine Johnston. They have created an assessment and an analysis of student work along with other materials that support reading instruction.


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Pamela Musick

Pamela Musick

Teacher, Administrator, Consultant

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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