SMART Spelling and an introduction to spelling strategies and concepts

 Damian Marley



Why is spelling tricky? It's because we are speakers of a tricky language called English. Congratulations! Johanna Stirling summarises the trickiness with five reasons:

1. English spelling is 'deep'.
2. English is a mixing bowl.
3. English remembers its roots.
4. There are many Englishes.
5. Blame the printers.

It might be a problem to learn how to spell in English, but what a rich and beautiful language it is.

We wanted to implement a whole-school spelling approach that was balanced, giving our students opportunities to explore the whole word: How it looks, how it sounds, what it means and what you can do to change the word.


The THRASS Institute has done some very important work in developing spelling strategies for teachers, and it's worth watching Denyse Ritchie's introduction to phonemic awareness. Each of our classrooms has a set of THRASS charts, which we use to teach students the 44 sounds in Australian English, made up of 20 vowels (sounds made by air passing through the vocal chords) and 24 consonants (sounds made by the mouth with tongue and teeth). You can ask your child's teacher to lend you a chart if you want to take a closer look:

Our next step was to find a structure that would allow us to implement a balanced, whole school approach to teaching spelling in the classroom. We decided upon SMART Spelling, developed by Michelle Hutchison as a sensible way to teach spelling. The core of SMART Spelling in the classroom involves the use of the SMART sequence:


Using the word colour as an example, we work with our students to


Say the word 

Meaning: put it in context and discuss variations

Analyse it in terms of syllables, sounds and letters

Remember it by focusing on the parts of the word we need to remember, and then

Teach it by spelling the word aloud using letter names and clustering.

Each child is given their own set of words to learn, based on the assessment we have done using the Single Word Spelling test. We give them a variety of tasks to do to help them learn the words and the patterns of spelling. We regularly test each child in order to track their progress.

Theory time: An introduction to words, letters, syllables, phonemes, graphs . . .
Language is naturally acquired from birth, but written language needs to be taught. Here I will unpack some of the basic concepts. These might help you to support your child as a speller. 
Letters are the symbols of the alphabet. There are 26 letters: a, b, c, d, e . . .
There are 8 letters in the word dinosaur.
Syllables are the units of pronunciation, or the 'beats' of a word.
Dinosaur has three syllables: di / no / saur
Phonemes are the sounds of speech. In Australian English there are 44 sounds, made up of 20 vowels and 24 consonants.
Dinosaur has 6 phonemes.
Graphs are the ways that phonemes are represented in words. Graphs are made up of a combination of letters.
The phonemes in dinosaur can be represented as follows (let's sound them out):
d / i / n / o / s / aur
A graph is one letter that represents a sound.
A digraph is two letters that represent a sound.
A trigraph is three letters that represent a sound.
A quadgraph (that's right!) is four letters that represent a sound, e.g. / ough / in rough.

Things you can do at home to help your child practice spelling!
1. Help them identify words they have spelt incorrectly in their writing, or review the spelling words their teacher has given them.
2. When you find a word they need help with, don't cross it out and write it for them. They need to fix the word, not you! Instead, tick the individual letters that are correct, and underline the parts of the word they haven't got right yet. Then help them find the right way to spell the word using some of the strategies below.
3. Go through elements of the SMART sequence with them. For example, find the word's meaning and put it in a sentence. Discuss how you would use the word. Find out the number of syllables, letters and phonemes. Ask them to focus on the part of the word they find tricky. Watch Michelle's video in which she goes through the sequence.
4. Borrow a THRASS chart from school and use it to examine the 44 sounds with your child.
5. Ask your child to spell the word in a variety of ways. Younger children love making them out of Play-Doh. Test them to see if they can remember the word. Practice, practice, practice!
6. When reading a book together, pick out interesting words and talk about them.
7. When driving, play word games and set spelling challenges.
8. Use these templates and resources (Google sign-in required):
9. Read further information from THRASS Institute and Michelle Hutchison's SMART Spelling.
Any questions? See your child's teacher or make an appointment to see me. Have fun!