Phonetic Spelling: The Representational Stage

Phonetic spelling refers to the ability to identify the sound associated with individual letters or letter combinations. Using knowledge of spelling rules to guess at the spelling of a word is typical of what is sometimes called the representational stage in the development of literacy.

To work on this skill, I give the child a set of cards or tiles with letters on them. Scrabble tiles work nicely; you can also use alphabet refrigerator magnets. If you want to use something edible, you can use Alpha-Bits cereal or make a bowl of alphabet soup and let your child fish for the desired letters with a spoon.

At the most basic level of the representational stage, you will make a sound and have the child pick out the letter or letter combination that represents that single sound. From there, you'll move to one-syllable nonsense words consisting of two sounds (consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant), then three sounds (CVC), then four (CVCC or CCVC), and so on.

Use my nonsense words page on this site to save yourself the work and time involved in thinking up a list of nonsense words. Remember that there are often different ways to spell the same sound (think toe and tow), so accept any spelling that accurately reflects the sound sequence you've presented.

Also, be aware of your own pronunciation as you present each item. In some varieties of English, pin and pen are pronounced alike; If you are a speaker of one of these varieties and you present the word ven, your child may spell it V-I-N. In other varieties, dawn and Don are pronounced alike. Whatever variety you speak, be prepared for your child's representational spelling to reflect your pronunciation.

When your child is comfortable with single syllables, you can introduce two-syllable words (VCV, CVCV, VCVC, VCCV, etc.)

Children working on phonetic spelling skills tend to be older than children working at the more basic levels of phonemic awareness, so they may or may not be interested in the speech therapy activities I've described on those pages (Sound Train, Feed the Puppet, etc.). It is certainly possible to adapt those activities to this level, but it may work just as well, or better, to use a table game like Battleship, Trouble, or Yahtzee as a reinforcer (spell a word, then take a turn).

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