StarSpell 3 Spelling Guide - Further notes

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

Further notes

Reassembly and segmentation

Reassembly is also known as synthesis, and segmentation as analysis. The terms "synthetic phonics" and "analytic phonics" refer to whichever skill each approach prioritises. Synthetic phonics teaches letter-sound matches in isolation from words, as separate building-blocks, then emphasises the skill of putting them together to build words. Analytic phonics guides learners to recognise letter-sound matches within words, and focuses on learning from analysing, or breaking-down, words. England adopts the synthetic phonics approach, mirrored in StarSpell's Phonics Lists.

Syllabification: open and closed syllables

Young learners usually cope with syllabification without the knowledge of open and closed syllables, helped by activities such as those in Syllabification. However, some older learners with specific learning difficulties are more than capable of understanding the concepts, and not only find them fascinating, but also of great help.

The incremental phonic sequence in StarSpell

StarSpell's phonic sequence ensures that each word-list introduces only the one new match belonging to that list. For example, church can't be in the ur list, because, with the ur list coming before the list introducing ch, the learner hasn't yet met ch.

StarSpell has a stage not age approach

Learners need to develop the spelling skills and knowledge relevant to their existing stage of competence, regardless of age. Learners needing extra support offers suggestions for working with older learners needing to develop the foundation skills. See also Spelling support for older learners below.

Beginning to read

Learners need a huge area of experience in reading and books. They need help to discover what books hold; to cultivate their motivation to read; to build their comprehension; to appreciate and grow a sheer love of books. All this lies outside this Guide's remit, but see detailed suggestions under "BookBinding" in The Development of Independent Reading, Guppy and Hughes (1999) McGraw Hill, or On Cue: helping pupils to read, Hughes and Guppy (2003) David Fulton.

The StarSpell Yr2 to KS3 Support route

For primary schools, the route reflects 2009 Edition of the DfE "Support for Spelling, from Year 2 Term 1 to Year 6 Term 3, including high-frequency words.

For Secondary schools we provide practice in the Key Stage 3 Subject lists as well as list which give practice in spelling potentially tricky words.

Some mnemonics to help spelling

Some of these are deliberately cringe-worthy to encourage DIY attempts.


Are Rhinos Elegant?


Elephants Are Ugly;


Boys Eat Apples Under Trees In France Until Lunch


Baby Eats Cake And Uncle Sells Eggs


Big Elephants Can Always Upset Smaller Elephants


Never beLIEve a LIE


U and I bUIld a house


a BUS is BUSy


Come On My Elephant


a co-MM-i-TT-EE is double trouble


Could Old Uncle Lie Down?


Does Oliver Eat Sausages?


O and U are dOUble trOUble.


I will be your frI-END to the END


It's grEAT to EAT


TELL the GENT to come IN


An is-land IS LAND




one MAN too MANy


MOTHer has a MOTH


One Collar and two Socks are neCeSSary to be dressed well


Don't be an ASS on occasion (one 's')


Open Umbrellas Guard Hair


parallel has three lines (lll)


I AM in Parl-I AM-ent


eat a PIEce of PIE PRESENT, she SENT a present


the princiPAL is my PAL


Said Annie I'm Dizzy


explain as say + ed, obeying the "drop the y" rule, changing 'y' to 'i'


sePARate into PARts


Should Old Uncle Lie Down?


Some Of My Elephants are fun


a speCIAl agent from the CIA


a cAR is stationARy


Tom Is On Nights


U Eat Sweets day


We Do Not Eat Sweets day


Chant "There is, there are, there was, there were: T-H-E-R-E"


This is U R Sick day


I wonder wHEtHER HE will marry HER.


Would Old Uncle Lie Down?

Thinking through letter behaviour

It's really quite empowering to take hold of this system of letter behaviour and make it your own, and very productive to spend some time thinking through 'letter-behaviour' for yourself. (And a useful exercise for a school staff workshop, when working on literacy policy.) This way you truly gain ownership of the code. Just play around to see if you can list all the consonant clusters that can begin words. You'll come up with the fact that 'r', 'l' and 'w' will follow b, c, d, f, g, p, s and t, while 's' has the followers c, k, l, m, n, p, t, w. Then you will have all the initial consonant blends (also known as adjacent consonants), but you will have grasped the whole list for yourself. Do the same with final consonant blends, quite a small group, in fact. Then think through the digraphs for yourself: of the five vowels, which can double up? Which vowels pair together? Which vowels will pair with 'r', with 'w', with 'y'? How many silent letters can you list? Etc. And of course, if it works for you, how about the learners you're working with?

Simultaneous oral spelling

The technique of spelling out the word using letter names rather than their phonetic equivalent. See Lynette Bradley, The Organisation of Motor Patterns for Spelling: an effective remedial strategy, in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, Vol. 23.1: pages 83-91 Feb 1981; published online Nov 2008.

A strategy for long words

In reading it's very often possible to get a long word by reading only the first syllable or syllables if you then read on to pick up the immediate context. E.g. "The maths teacher set them lots of hard mul… sums" (mul-tip-lication) See Guppy and Hughes The Development of Independent Reading (1999) McGraw Hill, and Hughes and Guppy Supporting Children's Reading (2010) Routledge.

Spelling support for older learners[****]

1. Characteristic features of support for older learners:

The "archaeological dig"

Secondary phase teachers are less likely than their primary counterparts to know their pupils' spelling histories. Exploring pupils' spelling knowledge at this stage is rather like an archaeological dig. There are only a few tell-tale signs on the surface to indicate the history beneath. Digging may unearth fragments from which a more complete picture needs to be built; hence the importance of diagnostic assessment. As a first approach, see Identifying a learner's spelling needs. Note also the importance of liaison with feeder primary schools.

"Picking up off the floor"

Pupils may well have acquired a rock-bottom estimation of their spelling ability and progress can only be made if they can be helped to pick themselves up from that lowly viewpoint. A start can be paramount, together with help to rebuild their self-esteem.

The need to "dress lamb as mutton"

Older learners often see learning to spell as being for young children. Teachers need to turn more childish material into something more age appropriate. See Sample activities to develop phonological awareness.

One hundred and one teachers...

For many pupils at secondary level, the sheer number of teachers may be overwhelming. For anyone charged with helping pupils to develop as spellers, this too is a problem: how to maintain consistency and continuity in the knowledge and strategies the pupils need. Without a doubt, schools must adopt a clear, whole-school spelling policy. (See sample, (Margaret Hughes) in Hunter-Carsch & Herrington p74.)

...and very few specialists

It's quite possible - and understandable - that many subject-area teachers who work with weak spellers do not themselves own specialist spelling expertise. Again, this is something which can be addressed through the circulation, as part of a school spelling policy, of straightforward guidelines, and clear practical lines of referral, for instance to the school SENCO.

2. Sample activities to develop older pupils' phonological awareness

(Adapted from Peter Guppy & Margaret Hughes, The Development of Independent Reading 1999)

Awareness of rhymes

· Re-writing familiar songs, supplying new rhymes.

· Finding examples of rhymes in radio jingles, adverts; inventing their own.

· Collecting photographs and drawings of rhymed objects.

· Rapping.

· Rhyming slang.

· Limericks.

Awareness of onsets

· Based on alliteration:

o I-Spy. You may need to collect appropriate objects, progressing from single initial to consonant blends.

o List games e.g. I went to Asda and I got a...

o Inventing tongue twisters: Six singing sisters sashay in sexy sixes.

o Odd ones out. Which few words in quite a long list begin with the same sound? box bed bin bad but sad bap lip bet.

· Based on Spoonerisms:

o Semi-spoonerisms: Say lip. Now say lip without the l. Now make a word by putting p in front of ip.

o Full Spoonerisms: Swap the onsets of paired words: pink jelly → jink pelly.

Awareness of syllables

· Clap each syllable.

· Put counter on desk for every syllable heard.

· Draw a box for every syllable heard, and write syllable in it.

· Also, see Syllabification.


· Oral communal stories using words containing specified sounds.

· Making jokes with puns.

· Knock-knock jokes.

· Transformations: e.g. change a man to a pig in five moves (man-map-lap-lip-pip-pig).

· Segmenting words in a variety of ways: Twitter might be T-witter, Tw-itter, Twit-ter.

Important Throughout each and every activity, help your students' metacognition (tell them that's what you're doing... they'll appreciate that). In other words: make sure they know why they are doing these activities and what skills they are developing by doing them.

Supporting learners in copying from the board

The problem

Learners with poor visual short-term memory will find it hard to copy a passage from the board, for two reasons:

  • They have difficulty in holding the visual memory of whole words - and even small sections of words - in the space of time it takes to look at the board then look down at paper to start to write what they've just seen.
  • And after each time they have looked away from the board to their paper, when they look back to the board they will have lost their place.

The support

Such learners need a balance between the amount of copying they are asked to do, and alternative provision.

On the one hand, they need opportunity to develop the skill (essential at secondary school). This entails:

  • Reasonable, manageable amounts to copy
  • Being seated face-on to the board
  • Being seated near to the board
  • Ensuring good light
  • Acceptance of a slow speed of copying

On the other hand, their need to work through the curriculum along with their classmates calls for sensible alternative provision. For instance, providing:

  • A copy of the information with key words or phrases omitted; these are listed alongside/below for the learner to insert into the gaps
  • The information on separate strips of paper, to assemble and glue into place
  • A print copy of what's to be copied on the learner's desk

Support staff may be available to help in various ways, such as completing unfinished efforts. And there's always the option to supply some or all of the passage ready for sticking into the pupil's book (because copying from the board is often required purely for administrative reasons).

Important: the technique for copying a single word: Try never to let these learners copy letter-by-letter. Train them to take-in significant chunks of words, or even the whole word where possible.

"Now, I want you to write about this in your own words"

The problem

Learners with Specific Learning Difficulties will usually have a good understanding of the subject, a fund of ideas, and good oral vocabulary.

But they cannot easily convert these into written form.

The support

Of course literacy development is a huge part of these pupils' curriculum. But there are times when we can, and must, separate literacy development from subject content.

We need to be clear about our main aim for any written assignment, and whenever it focuses on content, we can be clear about freeing these learners to deliver content without too much literacy baggage.

Ways in which we can do that include:

· Support staff scribing the pupil's ideas; there will often be opportunity for useful literacy work based on that at some other time

· Where workable, allowing the ideas to be presented in pictures, diagrams, charts, etc., with reduced verbal content (e.g. captions only)

· A purely oral response e.g. recording ideas on cassette

· "Magic line" or "exonerating techniques": the learner writes on regardless of being unable to spell many words. In place of the whole word, the writer writes only as much of the word as s/he can encode - maybe initial sound, maybe more - and simply draws a line or puts asterisks for the rest of it. A disadvantage for the busy class teacher is that such writing usually needs the pupil to read it back before it can be understood. But the teaching advantage is that, like scribing, it provides a wealth of material for subsequent one-to-one work. And of course, the motivational advantages for the learner are great.

Developing morphemic understanding

Knowledge of morphemes

Heading in Yr2 to KS3 Support

Group in StarSpell Lists: Prefixes, Suffixes, Roots

Morphemes as suffixes to show tenses

Y2 T1;

Y3 T1

Group 13 Suffixes for tenses

Common suffixes

Y2 T2;

Y3 T2

Group 7-9

The role of a prefix in transforming the meaning of a root word

Y3 T3

Group 1 Living word formation (invented words like 'unbreak', 'dismend')

Common prefixes

Y2 T3

Groups 2-4

The role of a suffix in transforming the meaning of a word...verb to noun, etc.

Y4 T2;

Y5 T2;

Y3 T2

Groups 7-12: converting adjectives to nouns (sadsadness), verbs to adjectives (forgetforgetful) and adjectives to adverbs (gladgladly). The comparatives in Highhigherhighest are relevant too

Links between meaning and spelling when using affixes

Y4 T3

All lists (243 in all) are named to provide an indication of the meaning of the affix. The prefix lists (Lists 2-6, and 16) define each prefix. Many of the suffix lists ( Lists 7-12) provide an example that illustrates a meaning.

Less common prefixes, and suffixes, including, for example, suffixes indicating occupations, such as -cian (e.g. musician)

Y5 T2

These are grouped as Old English, Latin or Greek, in that sequence, which reflects increasing spelling difficulty. Group 10, People/place suffixes, deals with words like musician, among others.

Roots as basis for word webs

Y5 T3

Group 17 (Latin roots) and Group 18 (Greek roots)

Revision of roots, and affixes

Y6 T3

All groups