StarSpell 3 Spelling Guide - Glossary

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


adjacent consonants

Sometimes referred to as blends: consonants side-by-side in a word, with no vowel sound between them


A morpheme attached to a base word; prefixes and suffixes are affixes

aide memoire

An easy-to-learn, easy-to-remember reminder


Use of the same consonants to begin a series of words e.g. "Two toads totally tired tried to trot to Tilbury"

alphabet knowledge

Knowledge of letter-names, and of alphabetical order


In reading and spelling, the same string of letters appearing in different words


In spelling, the segmentation (1) of words into their component sounds. See analytic phonics

analytic phonics

An approach to phonics which guides learners to recognise letter-sound matches within whole words, and focuses on learning from the analysis of words. Compare synthetic phonics


Speaking a word out loud


In spelling, putting sounds together to make a word; see also re-assembly


To do with the sense of hearing


To do with the sense of hearing

auditory discrimination

In spelling, the ability to hear the separate sounds in a word, and to be aware of having heard them

auditory memorisation

In spelling, committing to memory a string of sounds in a word, in their correct order

base word

A word to which affixes are attached


Consonants side-by-side in a word, with no vowel sound between them


The running together of adjacent consonants in reading


The assembly of a whole word from its component sounds, and the letters that represent those sounds

CVC, CCVC words etc.

Abbreviations such as CVC refer to the make-up of a word, in this case: a three-letter word comprising consonant-vowel-consonant

closed syllable

A syllable in which the vowel sound has a consonant before and after it


A speech sound that is made with some part of the mouth blocked, as opposed to a vowel, which is made with the mouth open; also, a letter that represents such a speech sound


Words that surround a word and pictures that accompany a word, which help to explain its meaning


In learning to spell, a term to describe the on-going development of knowledge and skills in spelling, progressing through various stages; however, these stages tend to blend into each other so gradually they overlap. See Warning: the stages have fuzzy boundaries


A grapheme made up of two letters


Writing the versions of a piece of writing that precede the finished version (see proof reading)


Making changes to a piece of writing, usually after proof reading


The study of the origins of words, and the history of how they have arrived at their meaning; See Work within Words

glue ear

This is a notorious obstacle to learning letter-sound matches. This common childhood condition arises when the middle ear fills with glue-like fluid instead of air. This causes dulled hearing. In most cases it clears without any treatment. An operation to clear the fluid and to insert grommets may be advised if glue ear persists. Many a struggling speller has caught up quite rapidly once this condition has been identified and put right


Grapheme-phoneme correspondence: a match between a speech sound and the a letter, or combination of letters, which represents that speech sound


A letter or combination of letters (can be two, three and occasionally four) which represents one speech sound or phoneme

grapheme-phoneme correspondence

A match between a speech sound and the one or more letters which represent that speech sound; abbreviated as GPC; See also letter-sound match


A word that has more than one meaning e.g. bear: The bare branch could not bear the bear

incremental principle

A policy governing the choice of words in Main StarSpell Lists and Yr2 to KS3 Support: each word list introduces only one new letter-sound match; so, the lists never include new letter-sound matches additional to that which is the focus of the list. For instance, in the ur list, the word church is not included because the ch match has not yet been introduced


A word that is pronounced in the same way as another word (or words), but has a different meaning e.g. bare/bear: The bare branch could not bear him


In spelling, the point in a word at which an affix attaches to the stem. E.g. jump/ing; danc/ed ir/relevant

Key Stages

A description used by the UK National Curriculum for blocks of years within a pupil's overall schooling. Key Stage 1 covers pupils aged 5-7, which are Years 1 and 2 in primary school; Key Stage 2 covers years 7-11, Years 3-6 in primary school; Key Stage 3 is the years aged 11-14, Years 7-9 in secondary school; Key Stage 4 covers the ages 14-16, Years 10 and 11 in secondary school


To do with being aware of one's muscular movements


Initial letters standing for Look-Cover-Write-Check, the basic routine for learning spellings via visual memorisation


Initial letters standing for Look-Say-Trace-Write-Cover-Check, an expanded LCWC routine for learning spellings via visual memorisation

language study

The study of wider factors affecting a word's spelling, including word origins and derivations, and how syntax affects spelling e.g. hophopping


The quality of being easily read

letter names

The names of letters as named in the alphabet

letter pattern colour

In StarSpell, the letter-pattern being practised can be emphasised in a different colour from the rest of the word

letter-sound match

The correspondence, or match, between a speech sound and the letter, or letters, that represent it in writing. Also known as a grapheme-phoneme correspondence

letter sounds

Names given to letters according to the sounds they represent e.g. b named as 'buh', c named as 'cuh', s named as 'sss', r as 'rrr' etc. The vowels are named according to their short sounds, a as in at, etc. This use of letter sounds for letter names has limited value, because so very many letters represent more than one sound. (see multiple mapping)

Letters & Sounds

The six-phase teaching programme: Principles and practice of high quality phonics (2007), developed by the UK DfES, or Department for Education and Skills (now the DfE Department for Education), as part of the UK National Primary Literacy Strategy

Listen & Build

The phonic approach to spelling

Literacy Hour

Name for the required part of the primary school day in the UK when introduced in 1998 as part of the National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching; it covered reading and writing, word and sentence study, and initially was structured into four specified sections. The 2006 Renewed Framework for Teaching allowed for greater flexibility in the structure of the Hour

long vowel

Any vowel sound other than the five short vowel sounds. (The short vowel sounds are a as in at, e as in egg, i as in in, o as in off, u as in up)

Look & Learn

An approach to spelling in which the look of a word is studied carefully, and visually memorised ("Take a photo in your mind"); also known as the visual memorisation approach; see also VAK


In spelling, a memory tag, or a piece of word play, that helps to memorise a spelling e.g. I AM in ParlIAMent


A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in the language. It can be as small as one letter: e.g. s as a plural, or a as a negative (atypical) A morpheme can be a complete word, e.g. cat. Morphemes can comprise more than one syllable e.g. basket, since it is a single unit of meaning. One morpheme will be the base word, or stem , to which other morphemes are added e.g. cat + ty=catty, basket + s=baskets

morphemic understanding

Understanding what morphemes are and the effect morphemes have on word-meanings and spellings

morphological knowledge

Knowledge of the structure of words in general, including knowledge of syllables and morphemes: it goes wider than morphemic understanding


In learning to spell, to do with the hand movements involved in writing, and using a keyboard; see also visuo-motor memorisation

multiple mapping

A term for the way in which some graphemes can stand for more than one phoneme (e.g. a in cat, acorn, was); and some phonemes can be represented by several different graphemes (e.g. lord, laud, caught)


In learning to spell, describing activities that use several of our five senses

new letter colour

When StarSpell reconstructs a misspelled word, any replacement letters can be emphasised in a different colour

normal letter colour

In StarSpell, the colour of the letters in a word to be spelled


Use of speech sounds in words to imitate the actual sound to which the word refers e.g. the buzz of bees


The initial consonant or consonants of a word e.g. t-ip, tr-ip; an onset comes before a rime

Onset & Rime

An approach to help learners develop phonological awareness through activities that focus on the onset and rime of words; StarSpell uses the term Tops & Tails for the same approach

open syllable

An open syllable has a consonant before the vowel, only, and this vowel will be a long vowel e.g. ('la-bel'). Another type of open syllable is that which occurs when a word begins with a vowel; these opening syllables actually comprise the vowel, pure and simple e.g. ('a-corn')


A single separate sound in a spoken word

phonemic awareness

Understanding what a phoneme is; being able to distinguish phonemes in hearing a word. See also phonological awareness


The adjective that describes phonics

phonic readiness

The stage of being ready for phonics, having acquired phonological awareness

phonic skills

The abilities involved in using knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences in reading and spelling


An approach to reading and spelling that focuses on the grapheme-phoneme correspondences (also known as letter-sound matches) from which words are constructed. Phonics involves phonic facts and phonic skills. Also known as Listen & Build

phonic facts

The grapheme-phoneme correspondences

phonic skills

The blending together of phonemes to read words, and the building together of phonemes to spell words; both skills using learned grapheme-phoneme correspondences

phonological awareness

Also known as phonological understanding: the ability to recognise the individual sounds heard in a spoken word, mentally separate them, and mentally shift them around. E.g. recognise that pot is made up of /p/ /o/ /t/ while also understanding that the same sounds in a different order would make top. Phonological awareness does not require any knowledge of graphemes

phonological understanding

Also known as phonological awareness: the ability to recognise the individual sounds heard in a spoken word, mentally separate them, and mentally shift them around. E.g. recognise that pot is made up of /p/ /o/ /t/, while also understanding that the same sounds in a different order would make top. Phonological understanding does not require any knowledge of graphemes


A morpheme added to the beginning of a base word e.g. un-happy; dis-comfort. Like a suffix, a prefix is an affix


The stage of learning during which phonological awareness develops; a necessary foundation for learning phonics

proof reading

Reading through a piece of writing to check for factual mistakes, and mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar


A grapheme made up of four letters e.g. augh, ough


The re-creation of a word from its component sounds, following its segmentation (1)


In spelling, an alternative way to describe rules, recognising that most so-called rules have exceptions


Words rhyme when they share the same final vowel sound e.g. play, grey, or when they share the same final vowel and consonant sounds e.g. maid, stayed. A rhyme depends on the sound of words, regardless of spelling


The segment of a word that comes after the onset: e.g. t-ip; tr-ip. It's useful to realise that a rime differs from a rhyme. Wait, bait and grate all rhyme, but only wait and bait share the same rime


In spelling, the basic part of a word that retains some of the original word, perhaps from another language, from which it has developed over time, e.g. cred-ible, in-cred-ulous, cred-it, from credere, to believe (Latin)


A vowel sound, very common in English, which is spoken so quickly, or indistinctly, as to be impossible to recognise. An example is the letter 'a' in the spoken word 'orange'. The schwa sound makes some words very tricky to spell using a purely phonic approach. For such words a Look & Learn approach may prove useful

segmentation (1)

In spelling, distinguishing a word's individual sounds; in the first place it is a listening task, and then includes physically splitting up the written letters of a word (perhaps using plastic letters, for example, or in some way 'chopping up' a written word using pencil strokes, scissors and so on)

segmentation (2)

In relation to syllabification, distinguishing the separate syllables of a word, in speech and in their written forms

short vowel

The short vowel sounds are a as in at, e as in egg, i as in in, o as in off, u as in up


One of two Spelling Games, the other being StarPick. The StarGuess Spelling Game is the more challenging: in essence a hangman-type game for the words in the list. It is, however, open to varied activities. See The StarGuess Spelling Game


One of two Spelling Games, the other being StarGuess. Less challenging than StarGuess, The StarPick Spelling Game presents the word's letters in a random scatter on the screen, for putting into place in the correct order to spell the word. See The StarPick Spelling Game

The StarSpell Lists

The StarSpell program that provides activities to support the learning of spelling, with progressively graded lists that also adhere to an incremental principle. Main StarSpell Lists overall provide a balanced approach to learning to spell; its lists and activities variously support the three approaches Listen & Build, Look & Learn and Work within Words


A word to which affixes are attached after which it becomes part of a new word; e.g. unfitness: fit is the stem, un- is a prefix, -ness is a suffix


A morpheme added to the end of a base word e.g. goodNESS; motherHOOD. Like a prefix, a suffix is an affix.


Understanding how to divide words up into syllables


A part of a word that consists of a vowel sound alone, or a vowel sound and the consonants around it; a word will have the same number of syllables as it has vowel sounds e.g. cross = 1 syllable; AcrOss = 2 syllables; AcrOstIc = 3 syllables. Read a fuller explanation


the study of sentence structure, and the role of each word within any sentence


In spelling, the assembly and re-assembly of words from their component sounds. See synthetic phonics

synthetic phonics

An approach to phonics which first teaches letter-sound matches in isolation, as separate building blocks, then focuses on the skill of putting these together to assemble words. Compare analytic phonics


To do with the sense of touch

Tops & Tails

A way of referring to onset & rime for younger learners, and used in StarSpell


A grapheme made up of three letters, e.g. igh, our


Visual-Auditory-Kinaesthetic An approach to learning the spelling of a word using the senses of sight, hearing and hand-movements (writing/typing). See also Look & Learn


To do with the sense of sight

visual discrimination

In spelling, the ability to distinguish the shapes of letters and the differences in letters within words

visual memorisation

In spelling, committing to memory the string of letters in a word, in their correct order; or an entire word

visuo-motor memorisation

Using both sight and hand-movements (writing/typing) to commit to memory the string of letters in a word, in their correct order; or an entire word


A speech sound that is made is made with the mouth open; as opposed to a consonant , which is made with some part of the mouth blocked; also, a grapheme that represents a vowel sound. A vowel is either a long vowel or a short vowel

word families

Groups of words related through a common root

Work within Words

An approach to learning spelling which focuses on the structure of words, including morphemes and their effect on spelling, word families, and the origins of words (etymology)

wrong letter colour

In StarSpell, a wrong letter in a spelling changes colour

wrong order colour

In StarSpell after spelling a word, letters which do belong in the word but are in the wrong order will be emphasised in this colour

[*] This sequence matches that developed in the 'Letters & Sounds' publication of the DfE (2007)

[†] That awkward-sounding query, "What is", immediately demands an explanation of its jarring syntax. Surely that should be "What are". Well, no. 'Phonics' is a singular noun (and 'phonic' is the adjective from it,) so it is correct to say "phonics is."

[‡]The sequence of these phonics matches that introduced by the English DfE Letters & Sounds programme (2007)

[§] the Children's Printed Word Database by Masterson, Stuart, Dixon & Lovejoy, (2003.)

[**] Useful sources of information include The English Language, Bill Bryson, (1990), Penguin; The Cambridge Encyclopædia of Language, David Crystal (1991) CUP; The Story of English R McCrum et al, (1992) Faber; Stories of English, David Crystal, (2004) Penguin, Robert Burchfield 'The English Language' [2006] OUP

[††] Inspired by the work of Margaret Peters in 'Spelling: Caught or Taught' [1985] Routledge

[‡‡] Some taken from The Development of Independent Reading, Guppy and Hughes (1999) McGraw Hill, which provides detailed advice on the teaching of phonics.

[§§] Adapted from The Development of Independent Reading, Guppy and Hughes (1999) McGraw Hill

[***] Candidate for Pullet Surprise, Jerrold H Zar, 1994, Journal of Irreproducible Results

[†††]Phonics mirrors the framework of Phases One to Five of the previous English DfE teaching programme Letters & Sounds (2007).

Phase One of the Letters & Sounds programme is supported by StarSpell's Tops & Tails mode.

Phase Six of the Letters & Sounds programme is expanded by the closely detailed guidance of Support for Spelling (DfE 2009). StarSpell provides relevant resources in Yr2 to KS3 Support, and in The StarSpell Lists.

[‡‡‡]These are based The National Primary Strategy: Support for Spelling, DfE, 2009

[§§§] Phonics, Tops & Tails, Spelling, StarPick and StarGuess

[****] Adapted from "Spelling Support in secondary education" Margaret Hughes and Morag Hunter-Carsch, in Dyslexia and Effective Learning in secondary and tertiary education, eds. Hunter-Carsch and Herrington, Whurr, 2001