Invented Spelling: Good or Bad?

One of my favorite things about teaching kindergarten and first grade is reading students’ writing. Sometimes it takes pretty good detective work to decipher it, but you can get so much insight from their invented spelling. Plus, it’s super cute!

Obviously, when children are first learning to write, they won’t spell every word correctly. So, they need encouragement to try their best and room for inventive spelling.

At what point does it cause concern? Some people say invented spelling should never be allowed or modeled (WHAT?). I highly disagree with this opinion, but I do think there are times when kids should be corrected and guided to use accurate spelling.

What is invented spelling?

First, to clarify, conventional spelling is the correct spelling of a word. All of the words in this sentence are spelled conventionally.

Invented spelling (or inventive spelling- tomato, tomahto) is phonetic spelling, based on what sounds the child hears (and knows) as they sound out the words. Sum uv thu wurds in this sentens ar speld funetiklee.


Invented- pepl

Why is it important to encourage Invented Spelling?

Do you remember your first day of school as a new teacher? Could you imagine if you were expected to teach every lesson seamlessly, without a glitch? Or if you made a mistake that first year, someone corrected you each time? You’d probably be on edge all the time and maybe even hesitant to try new things.

Allowing kids to use invented spelling has many benefits:

  • It encourages kids to take risks (and not be afraid to make mistakes).
  • Having more confidence when writing will also improve their writing flow.
  • It enables independent writing, rather than having to constantly interrupt you when they’re unsure of spelling.
  • It gives YOU great insight into which phonics skills students know and which they need more instruction on.
  • It helps them with reading! Reading and writing go hand in hand and several studies have found a positive correlation between using invented spelling and developing reading abilities (Ouellette and Sénéchal, 2017, 2013, 2008).

Labeling pages are great for encouraging invented spelling while providing built-in differentiation. Some students will write initial sounds, while others will include medial and final sounds and some will be ready for sentences. The pages below are from my Labeling for Emergent Writers resource.

From my Labeling for Emergent Writers resource

When Not to encourage invented spelling

Allowing invented spelling sometimes brings up concerns that it reinforces incorrect spelling and kids will have a difficult time “re-learning” how to spell. This is why it’s important to help kids transition into conventional spelling and avoid the following:

  • Allowing children to misspell words and word patterns (phonics skills) that have been explicitly taught. Instead, remind students to look for these words on your word wall or displayed chart and fix the spelling.
  • Repeated misspelling of a word. I’m sure you’ve had kids who love to write about one topic A LOT. I had one little boy incorporate baseball (spelled basbol) into almost every piece of his writing! The entire class didn’t need the correct spelling of baseball at that time, but that boy sure did! To prevent him from engraving the misspelling into his brain, I added the word baseball to his personal word wall.
  • Careless misspelling. Once you learn how your students work, you can tell when they’re not really putting much effort into their work. Remind them of the importance of spelling accurately and have them correct their work.

Read my post on teaching spelling strategies here and download FREE spelling strategy anchor chart pieces.

Do You Teach Invented Spelling?

This is where some teachers may disagree. Some say that you must always spell everything correctly when writing in front of kids. Others believe you should model spelling phonetically so that kids learn to use their letter-sound knowledge to do the same.

I believe there is a place for both. When I am writing on the board or chart during most lessons, I spell everything correctly. However, I think lessons on invented spelling are important to teach and model. I model stretching out words and recording the sounds to my best ability, tapping out words and thinking aloud the phonics rules that we have covered.

After modeling the invented spelling of a word, I also write the correct spelling next to it to expose children to it but emphasize that while they are still learning, trying their best is the important thing.

Transitioning from Inventive to Conventional Spelling

Even before invented spelling, kids have transitioned through earlier stages of writing. They may have started with simple drawings, then squiggles to represent a message they wanted to convey.

Invented spelling is a bridge from emergent to fluent writing. Holding kids accountable for correct spelling once you have taught the phonics skill will help guide your students to make the transition from invented to conventional spelling.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe you need to correct all of your students’ spelling or is invented spelling acceptable in your kindergarten and first-grade classroom?

2 responses to “Invented Spelling: Good or Bad?”

  1. Eriauna Stratton Avatar
    Eriauna Stratton

    Hi Brenda! Where can I find the TPT link to the labeling sheets you attached in this post? Thanks!

    1. Brenda Avatar

      Hi, Eriauna! Sure, this is for the yearlong bundle, which includes the CVC phonics sets:

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