StarSpell 3 Spelling Guide - Beyond Phonics - Stage 5 of the Spelling Route

This Guide aims to demystify how spelling is learned. It shows smart ways to help learners, both using StarSpell and with activities away from the computer. All the practice in the Guide is based on actual classroom experience

Beyond Phonics - Stage 5 of the Spelling Route

What is Beyond Phonics?

As the name of this stage indicates, the groundwork of phonics is now complete. Listen & Build has become a bedded-in strategy, needing no further direct tuition, and we are now firmly in the territory of Work within Words. (Remember that we're talking "Stage not Age", here. If learners of whatever age do still need tuition in phonic facts and Listen & Build, they're still in a preceding stage, not in Beyond Phonics.)

Learners in Beyond Phonics have secured the knowledge and skills of Early and Further Phonics. This means they have a good solid foundation of all the basic letter-sound matches. And they've gone beyond that, to gain knowledge of alternative pronunciations and alternative spellings. Of course, now and then they'll be surprised by rarities such as dachshund or ion. However, when such surprises do crop up, they've learned how to cope: they have phonic skills such as syllabification and morpheme knowledge, and know how to use a dictionary and a thesaurus. Moreover, they've learned to harness Look & Learn techniques to commit key vocabulary to memory. Also, they've become used to editing their writings, and are beginning to have a sense of "what looks right". A glance at the Spelling Route reveals that work at this stage largely involves delving deeper into certain areas of learning upon which they've already embarked.

Look & Learn in Beyond Phonics

Look & Learn is nearly always, by definition, directed at words which are currently evading the speller's Listen & Build strategies. At the Beyond Phonics stage, the tricky words largely fall into two categories: personally tricky words and tricky words caused by the schwa.

Types of tricky words in this stage

Personally tricky words

Almost everyone has their own personal collection of words which remain stubbornly "tricky". (Accommodation comes near the top of my list.) At this stage of spelling development, the larger a learner's vocabulary, the larger the number of words that appear at first to be "tricky", until worked upon. It is important to help learners note their own tricky words as they are met, find a memorisation technique that is personally helpful, and save the words in their own personal "dictionary" until fully assimilated into their own spelling-vocabulary (apart from that stubborn little handful that cling on forever!).

Tricky words caused by the schwa

Also, watch out for a particular pitfall in our spelling sound-system, and advise your learners, too, to be on their guard. It's the frequently muffled pronunciation of vowels, producing a nondescript sound known as a schwa. A schwa is a vowel sound, very common in English, which is spoken so quickly, or so indistinctly, as to be impossible to recognise precisely. An example is the letter a in the spoken word orange, or the letter o in the word adolescent. This schwa sound makes some words very tricky to approach via pure phonics, and of course for such words a Look & Learn approach is invaluable. Knowledge of the word's meaning is another great help.

Look & Learn for the tricky words of this stage

The previous section, Reasons for Look & Learn in Further Phonics, described a useful approach that continues to help in this stage too: Look-Cover-Write-Check strategies, fined down to focus on the letter-string that forms the particular tricky bit, the hard spot (or "hot spot") within the word. It works because spelling at times over-rides the letter-sound match and focuses on the visual appearance of the word. Furthermore, given the insight that "spelling is in the finger-tips", a Look-Cover-Write-Check routine can capitalise on the strength of the movement-memory that builds up through the repeated writing of words.


See mnemonics to help spelling for a list of mnemonics that points to a way of memorising which helps many spellers. Also, see ideas for off-computer work. On computer, each of StarSpell's five modes provides Look & Learn practice. We present ideas for StarSpell sessions using interactive whiteboard, with Sessions 22 -24 demonstrating Look & Learn strategies.

Individual learning styles

But just as there are tricky words particular to each individual, so also there are individual strengths in learning styles. So, whether working one-to-one or with a group of learners, you will need to take them through a range of options for various ways of committing their words to memory. This is demonstrated in Session 23 A Tricky Word.

Work within Words in Beyond Phonics

Words imported from other languages[**]

The word dachshund was mentioned in the introduction to Beyond Phonics and this German-sourced word usefully takes us into the territory of word origins. Many relatively recent imports are used unchanged in their spelling (although we probably no longer pronounce them as in their original tongue). So they rank as potentially 'tricky' words: yacht, buoy, spaghetti, bazaar, karaoke. The list goes on, and it's very long. Then there is the mass of older imports, deeply embedded in the language as roots and affixes, as the next section Prefixes, suffixes, roots discusses.

Beyond Phonics learners are ready to study this feature of our language. They can become fascinated by the story of the English language. So, if you can, build time into the curriculum to tell that story. Tell how Anglo-Saxon pushed Celtic out to the fringes of our island. Explain that the Romans and the Vikings left behind many of our place names. As for the effect of Norman Conquest on our language, explore word pairs such as cow and beef, sheep and mutton: English peasants tended cows and sheep, French overlords ate boeuf and mouton. Then explain the influence of Latin as the scholarly language in Renaissance times, along with the need to plunder Greek for technical terms in so many areas of knowledge. Introduce words that joined our language later still, as British colonialism flourished. Finally, tell of the overall impact of globalism.


Session 28 "Wait for It" indicates the potential of the StarSpell Lists resource bank. See StarSpell Lists: Further exploration > Words from other tongues and StarSpell Lists: Prefixes, suffixes, roots.

Prefixes, suffixes, roots

The previous section, Words imported from other languages, mentions relatively recent additions to English, and introduces the significance, for spelling, of the story of English. As was hinted, the older, more embedded sources of words have immense significance. Latin origins feature large, because not only did Norman-French itself embrace Latin origins, but also much more Latin-based vocabulary was added later by scholars. Greek sources, also brought in for scholarly reasons, present another large swathe of tricky spellings.

These origins often reveal themselves as morphemes, seen in words as prefixes and suffixes. So learners now need to extend their acquaintance with those meaning-bits. Alongside that, they need to find out about the roots of the word-stems to which the prefixes and suffixes are attached. In this, spelling and reading together reap a common benefit from building up knowledge of word-families, for instance, along the lines of the word web for "sign" described in Word webs.

· Knowledge of roots can help a reader to understand new vocabulary. Think of the connections between creed, credible, street-cred, credulous.

· Knowledge of what suffixes mean also aids understanding: credible, credulous.

· Knowledge of prefixes can help both comprehension and spelling: consider: anticlockwise, antenatal.


There are suggestions for off-computer work on word assembly and dis-assembly, supporting the study of affixes. On computer, the lists in the StarSpell Lists: Prefixes, Suffixes and Roots provide a resource bank. Each of StarSpell's five modes lends itself to this area. See in particular the development of morphemic understanding, while Sessions 26 and 27 deal with affixes.

Generalising spelling rules

Continuing the work begun in Further Phonics, to help learners realise they can generalise spelling rules for themselves, the consolidation of spelling rules should be happening now. This was discussed earlier as part of Further Phonics: More reasons why morphemic knowledge matters. Discovery of generalisations about how words behave will still be taking place, such as e-deletion, consonant doubling and y-replacement, along with certain other "rules", including certain groups of plurals.


Off-computer, activities to develop a sense of "rules" are suggested. On computer, StarSpell's lists in StarSpell Lists: Prefixes, Suffixes and Roots provide a resource bank. Relevant lists are detailed. The Spelling, StarPick and StarGuess modes each offer varied opportunities to rehearse these lists. Sessions 25 and 26 suggest approaches to "Hunting the rule".


Beyond Phonics is the time to encounter an enjoyable consequence of our language's mass of alternative spellings and pronunciations - homophones: the comedian's gift, the crossword compiler's boon, and the speller's potential problem! Homophones are pairs of words that sound the same, although spelled differently. You've heard them: puns like "I slept in the stable last night so today I'm a little hoarse".

First, rhyme provides a good entry to this topic, and is an interesting way for learners to apply their knowledge of alternative spellings. The rhyming-challenge activity (Crazy words) looks at pairs of words that share a rhyme spelled two different ways, although the word's opening sounds are different; bear and pair , for instance.

Homophones go a step further: the two words rhyme (although spelled differently) and share their word-openings (like pear and pair).

Of course, it's fine fun to make jokes using homophones, together with activities in the importance of the alternative mindset. But one trio of high frequency homophones just must be learned seriously: there, their and they're. Then there are many other very common words paired with less common homophones (e.g. hair, hare), for which the typical spelling error is to use the common version when the less common is needed (e.g. "A traditional country dish was jugged hair"). There are also the near-homophones such as are/our and accept/except. We can include here the important trio to, too and two.


StarSpell Lists provide a rich seam of examples of all these categories, including those 3-way homophones, in StarSpell Lists: Further explorations > Homophones and Words often misspelled. Once you've selected the appropriate list, StarSpell's modes, Spelling, StarPick and StarGuess offer varied opportunities to rehearse these words. Speed challenges in Sessions 28 and 29 could be used here, for instance.


Why spelling matters

Learners at this stage need to live and work in the understanding that the purpose of spelling is to benefit their writing. You need to know exactly how it does so, and it helps learners to know this, as well.

· Spelling plays a big part in conveying meaning:

o For the reader, a misspelled word can interrupt the flow of meaning

o The worst mistakes actually obscure meaning

o Knowledge of spelling can help the reader to understand new vocabulary.

· Being able to spell automatically frees the writer to give attention to what to say; and how to say it.

· There is a further, social, reason:

o Literacy has a high value in society. Writing that contains a large number of spelling mistakes casts a cloud of weak credibility over the writer. (A fact which, sadly, is a burden to many able people with specific learning difficulties.)

Drafting, proof-reading and editing

A working sequence of drafting, proof-reading and editing allows learners to live out those principles that explain why spelling matters.

Of course it may be that the demands of a crowded curriculum prevent such a sequence happening for every piece of written work, but there is no doubt as to its importance. On the one hand, it casts a glow over the other, detailed language work going on and informs word-study with a genuine purpose; on the other hand, it's the place where learners practise all they have learned. Plus, it lets writers write, in the way real writers write!

Even if not used as frequently as could be wished, regular room should be found for it.


The guidelines: Spelling for real: drafting, proof-reading and editing, continue to apply in this stage. Now learners should become completely used to the sequence of drafting, proof-reading and editing, and should be working to practise and improve on those skills.

Useful StarSpell lists for Beyond Phonics

Here are the StarSpell lists which, broadly speaking, apply to Beyond Phonics. As has been noted, StarSpell approaches learning from a "Stage not Age" perspective. No two learners are alike. Progress differs. These lists are given as guidelines only.

Work within Words

· StarSpell Lists: Prefixes, suffixes, roots

· StarSpell Lists: Further explorations > Homophones, Interesting derivations, Words from other tongues, Words often misspelled.

Look & Learn

The lists dedicated to High Frequency Words may well remain important:

· Phonics Lists: 100 high frequency words

· StarSpell Lists: Important 'sight' words

· Yr2 to KS3 Support: 100 and next 200 most common words

However, other StarSpell Lists are now the vital Look and Learn resources:

· Curriculum subject lists

· Making your own custom lists.