Invented Spelling: The GOOD, the bad, and the ugly

Invented Spelling- the GOOD, the bad, and the ugly | This Reading Mama

Invented Spelling: What is it?

Have you ever noticed that your child makes up or invents the spelling of a word? Maybe she spells princess like PRNS or he spells motorcycle like MTSKL. This is called invented spelling and it is directly related to the level of understanding that your child has about how words and word patterns work.

If we give children the chance to write independently, we can expect to see invented spelling in their writing because they are still developing an ear for sounds and do not fully understand all the patterns and meaning units of words. But as spellers grow in their knowledge of phonics patterns and sight words and are given systematic and developmentally appropriate spelling instruction, the amount of invented spelling should decrease, especially if we hold them accountable to what we have taught them.

Note that spellers do not completely outgrow invented spelling. Yes, their invented spellings will decrease, but even adults use it at times. Don’t believe me? Why don’t you take a spelling test right now! :)


Invented Spelling: The GOOD

1) It allows children to write down the all the creative thoughts in his head.  Being overly concerned about spelling can prevent kids from being creative in their writing because they are forced to stick to writing only words they already know how to spell.

2) It helps the child to write independently.  I don’t have to sit right beside him and spell every word on the page for him—an added bonus for a busy mama of four!

3) It makes it easier, in general, for a young writer to re-read his/her own work.

4) It gives me a “window” into which I see what my child does or does not understand about how words (and sounds in words) work.

5) It is an authentic way for young children to develop and practice phonemic awareness.


Invented Spelling: The Bad and The Ugly

I’ve heard moms and teachers alike say to me, “My child won’t learn how to spell words correctly if I let her invent her own spellings.” And this most certainly can happen if invented spelling is abused.

Invented Spellings can be UGLY if,

  • you use invented spelling in place of teaching phonics and sight words.
  • you continually allow your child to use invented spellings as his only spelling strategy (in lieu of teaching other spelling strategies).
  • you allow him to use invented spelling with words he already knows.  For example, if you have studied the –an family (can, pan, ran, etc.), and he spells FEN for fan in a story, it is important that you hold him accountable to that spelling pattern. FEN needs to be corrected to fan. (I will say that on the other hand, if he has not studied the silent e on the end of words and spells PLAT for plate, he needs to be given praise for writing down all the sounds he heard in the word.  If it really bugs you, simply tell him there’s a silent e on the end of the word and ask him add it.)


One last word on invented spelling: Invented spelling does not replace solid spelling instruction. But if used as a diagnostic tool, invented spelling can help you place your solid spelling instruction at the right level for your speller.

More Spelling Resources:

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