What spelling errors can tell us about the development of processes involved in children's spelling

Georgia Z. Niolaki*, Alexandra Negoita, Janet I. Vousden, Aris R. Terzopoulos, Laura Taylor, Jackie Masterson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (SciVal)


    Introduction: Spelling is an essential foundation for reading and writing. However, many children leave school with spelling difficulties. By understanding the processes children use when they spell, we can intervene with appropriate instruction tailored to their needs. Methods: Our study aimed to identify key processes (lexical-semantic and phonological) by using a spelling assessment that distinguishes different printed letter strings/word types (regular and irregular words, and pseudowords). Misspellings in the test from 641 pupils in Reception Year to Year 6 were scored using alternatives to binary correct versus incorrect scoring systems. The measures looked at phonological plausibility, phoneme representations and letter distance. These have been used successfully in the past but not with a spelling test that distinguishes irregularly spelled words from regular words and pseudowords. Results: The findings suggest that children in primary school rely on both lexical-semantic and phonological processes to spell all types of letter string, but this varies depending on the level of spelling experience (younger Foundation/Key stage 1 and older Key stage 2). Although children in younger year groups seemed to rely more on phonics, based on the strongest correlation coefficients for all word types, with further spelling experience, lexical processes seemed to be more evident, depending on the type of word examined. Discussion: The findings have implications for the way we teach and assess spelling and could prove to be valuable for educators.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1178427
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 11 May 2023


    This article was supported by Research England HEQR seed funding from Bath Spa University and British Academy (BA)/Leverhulme Small Research Grant [SG170586] awarded to the GN and a British Psychological Society Grant awarded to the AN.

    FundersFunder number
    Bath Spa University
    Leverhulme TrustSG170586
    British Academy
    British Psychological Society


      • spelling
      • phonological plausibility
      • letter distance
      • automated measures of phonemes representations
      • primary age students


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