Saturday, 16 November 2013

"What Teachers Should Know About Spelling" article

I am grateful to Megan, an Australian follower of The Spelling Blog, for pointing me to this summary of what seems like a very interesting talk by Dr Misty Adoniou about teaching spelling. Her ideas are similar to mine in many ways but have some really interesting variations. To summarise the summary(!):

  • Phonics and visual skills are not the most important indicators of being a good speller
  • English is morpho-phonemic (based on meaning as well as sound) and etymology (word origin) plays a large part, so these two aspects should be explicitly taught across the curriculum (if taught in English, of course)
  • We need to teach 6 types of knowledge about words to spell them well: meaning, sound, acceptable and typical letter patterns, origins, parts of words and remembering what words look like.
  • We should teach spelling strategies through words that learners meet in context  in real books rather than having lists of words to learn that illustrate a strategy.
All sounds very sensible to me. Read the whole article here: 

Thank you, Misty, Megan and Tina Williamson, the summary author. More about Misty Adoniou


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Winner of the International Literacy Day competition

And we have a winner! 

September 8th was International Literacy Day. To raise awareness of this I ran a competition to win a copy of my book, Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners. The winner is .... Fitta Astriyani from Indonesia. Fitta says she and her colleagues have not been able to find up-to-date books about teaching English spelling in Indonesia and her students certainly need help in this area. Fitta has a great blog herself - take a look at all the fun and creativity at So congratulations Fitta - your book will be with you soon!

Everyone else who entered will soon get a voucher for discount on the book. 

But let's get back to the reason for the competition - raising awareness of literacy around the world. Here are some facts:

There are about 775 million illiterate adults in the world (nearly 16% of the global population) and nearly three quarters of them are in just ten countries. By far the largest number come from India, but it does not have the highest percentage of illiterate adults. According to the CIA Factbook, the country with the lowest number of literate adults is Burkino Faso with only 21.8%. 

In Afghanistan, the rate is slightly higher (28%) but it has the lowest rate of female adult literacy: only an unbelievable 12.6% (in 2000). We know that female literacy is crucial to the development of future generations.

But it's not all bad news. Literacy rates are increasing now. According to Unesco, between 1990 and 2011, the adult literacy rate in the Arab States rose from 55% to 77% and the youth literacy rate from 74% to 90%. South and West Asia also saw very welcome improvements.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

International Literacy Day 2013 - Win a free book!

It's the UNESCO International Literacy Day on Sunday 8th September 2013.

To celebrate I am offering a free copy of Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners to the person who convinces me they deserve it most! And a discount voucher to everyone else who enters the competition following the rules below.

All you have to do is email me at johanna(dot)
  • before midnight (GMT+1) Sunday 8th September -  not after please
  • say why you deserve a copy of Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners more than anyone else
  • The Subject of your email must be "ILD13 Competition"
The winner will get a free copy of the book (Recommended Retail Price £18.50) posted to them free of charge, wherever they are in the world. 

Remember you can't lose! Even if you don't win the book, you get the discount voucher just for bothering to enter. But it must be no later than Sunday 8th September 2013.

Global literacy - did you know?

Thankfully literacy rates worldwide are improving all the time but there are still millions of children who don't go to school or who are leaving primary school unable to read or write. Two thirds of the illiterate people in the world are female.

Literacy infographic here

Monday, 1 July 2013

Aspire, Inspire and Expire - related meanings?

I saw this on my Facebook feed:

A neat little quote for teachers I thought. Then I couldn't help looking at those three spire words and wondering what they had in common in terms of meaning. So off to some of my favourite etymological websites ( and and here's what I found and worked out. 

The root here is spire meaning breathe or breath life into  from the Latin spirare

  • aspire - to breathe life upon something- to have hope
  • inspire - to breathe or blow into another - in other words, "influence or animate with an idea or purpose" 
  • expire - breathe out, especially for the last time (so meaning die or finish) - spelling note: ex means out of but we can't put that before the whole word spire (exspire) because x is never followed by s except across a compound word such as flaxseed)

And here are some more spire words

  • conspire - literally breathe together, but means to plot something together
  • perspire - to breathe through. The sweat meaning came later but I suppose is about a kind of breathing through the skin.
  • respire - this literally means breathe again but I really don't know why it's again. I guess just one breath isn't enough to keep you alive!
The there are all the spirit words that are also related: spirited, spiritual, etc

But, by the way, the word spire itself, meaning a tall pointed tower, comes from a completely different root. It's related to an Old Norse word meaning a slender stalk

Love this etymology stuff! Feel free to add your own etymological 'noticings' in the comments.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

ELTons nomination for Teaching Spelling

Fantastic news! My book Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners has been nominated for an ELTon for Innovation in Teacher Resources.

If you are an English language teacher you may know (or may not) what that means. The ELTons are awards from the British Council and well ...  this is what the British Council say ...

"The ELTons, sponsored by Cambridge ESOL, are the only international awards that recognise and celebrate innovation in English language teaching (ELT). They reward educational resources that help English language learners and teachers to achieve their goals."

I'm so happy, proud and honoured that my self-published work is up there with the big guys. Full list of nominees here.
Really tough competition! The winners will be announced at the Oscars, sorry, I mean ELTons, ceremony in London on 22 May 2013. 

Special offer - 40% (or more if you hurry) discount
To celebrate, I'm reducing the price of Teaching Spelling until 22 April 2013. Only £11.10 (+ p and p) per book. Save £8.50 on RRP. But if you buy it before the end of 31 March you get an extra 20% off with the coupon code VERNUM. Only available when you buy from Spread the word - bankrupt me!


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Win a free copy of *Teaching Spelling* for World Spelling Day

British Council Award
for ELT Writing -
Special Commendation 2012

(RRP £18.50,
but available for
£12.99 here)
 It's World Spelling Day! 
(Wednesday 6th March 2013)

To celebrate I'm giving away three FREE copies of my award-winning book Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners. To win one, email me and persuade me why I should send you one. I'll be giving away a book each (including postage to anywhere in the world) to the three people who send the most persuasive answers. But hurry - entries must be received by email before midnight!

A few rules:
  • Emails to be sent to with 'WSD' in subject line.
  • Emails must be received by 23.59 GMT on Wednesday 6th March 2013
  • Emails must say in 25 words or less why you need / deserve / want the book. Also give your name and street address (sorry, books can't be sent to PO Boxes)
  • Only one entry per person or organisation
  • The author's decision is final.
  • List of winners and their entries may be published on The Spelling Blog.
Please pass the word around ...

Good luck!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Change y to i ... or change i to y?

Sometimes I find it's useful to turn things upside down. Looking at something in this different way prevents me from just accepting it the way I've always looked at it and makes me consider it more carefully, perhaps noticing things I hadn't seen before.

I like doing this with language 'rules' too. I want to check out for myself whether they are really reliable enough to be useful. I've certainly found some that weren't.

y to i
In English spelling, we often hear, "If a word ends with y, change it to i before adding a suffix". This is generally true but there are, of course, exceptions. If there is a vowel before the y, it doesn't usually change. And there are irregular instances such as say and said.

One of my posts was about letters not found at the end of native English words. It contained a PowerPoint presentation in it called Never-Ending Letters in which I identified i as one of those letters (except of course for the pronoun I). While I was writing it I noticed that it might be a good idea to turn this so-called 'rule' about y changing to i on its head - turn it upside down in other words.

i to y?
What if we said: "Don't write i at the end of a word - change it to y? In other words we're changing i to y (at the end of a word) instead of changing y to i (in the middle of a word). In a compound word we also keep the 'rule' about no i at the end of each part. As well as this, we need to change i to y before a suffix beginning with i, to avoid a double i like we get in the (non-native) word skiing.

So we write tries, tried and trial, but we can't write tri for the first form of the verb (because native English words don't end in i) so we spell it try. And we can't write triing, because we don't have double i, so trying.

Let's look at more examples, to test it out:
We write babies, but baby (end of word), babysit (compound word) and babyish (avoiding double i).
We write happier, happiest, happiness and happily, but happy (end of word), and happyish (avoiding double i).
We write reliable, reliance, and relied, but rely (end of word) and relying (avoiding double i).
We write beautiful, beautify and beautician, but beauty (end of word).
We write said, but say (end of word) and saying (avoiding double i).

OK, it works ... but I'm trying to decide if this is a better way to look at it or not. There are pros and cons.

There are fewer (if any) exceptions. As long as we are talking about native English words, they don't finish in i (except the pronoun I).
The fact that a vowel before a y stops it changing to i becomes irrelevant. If there's already a y, we don't need to change anything.

The base forms that end with y aren't usually the problem when it comes to spelling. It's the longer forms that are usually more tricky. These usually contain i.
When we teach, we usually start with base forms and later deal with inflections and suffixes.

My conclusion
Turning this rule on its head is probably more accurate and easier to understand but would involve teaching words in an unnatural order. So I probably wouldn't use it with low level students, but at a higher level, if students were having difficulty, I might well point it out.

So has this little experiment been a waste of time? No, I don't think so, because it's always useful to question what's generally accepted as true. Another perspective is always useful.

What do you think?
I would love to hear your comments on this.