Part 5 – Main causes of writing problems

The analysis activity this time looks at how literate adults write new words. The attributes needed for writing are explained, as well as reasons being provided for why spelling is always harder than reading.

Part 5: Main causes of writing problems

A good memory and auditory ability are also needed for writing. Not only do the children need to recognise the letter sounds but also remember how to write them correctly.

For the auditory skill, children need to hear the sounds in words (which is called segmenting) so that they can write letters for the sounds. For example, if a child wants to write the word chips, he or she needs to hear that it has four sounds: /ch-i-p-s/. Then the word can be written, so long as the child knows how to write the letters for those sounds [demonstration]. Once a word has been segmented and written several times, it becomes known and then we only need to use segmenting for spelling the words we have not written before. Adults who are good at spelling listen for the sounds in words automatically, especially when writing unfamiliar or long words. For example, if you were asked to write the made-up place names Squellingford and Lythbury, you would probably identify the sounds from the beginning and write letters for those sounds – from left to right [demonstration]. In the word Squellingford, you would hopefully write ‹ll›, either because you know it will keep the short /e/ sound, or through analogy, working out that it might have a similar spelling to a word that you do know how to write, such as spelling. Lythbury, however, could be written in several ways, including Lithbury, Lythberry or Lithberry. This is one of the problems of spelling English words that have not been seen before, especially names of people and places.

The children who struggle usually find it hard to remember the letter sounds, as well as finding it difficult to hear the sounds in words. Sometimes, they also find it difficult remembering how the letters are formed and struggle to control the pencil. All these problems can be solved with good, initial whole-class teaching of synthetic phonics, plus extra small-group sessions for those who need help keeping up with the other children. Frequently, children in schools are expected to write their news or creative stories before they have learnt and mastered these basic skills. This makes writing extremely difficult and puts many children off writing.

Once children are confident about writing, the emphasis changes to improving the quality of how they express themselves in writing, using accurate spelling and neat handwriting. Accurate spelling is harder than reading because there are many ways of writing some letter sounds and the children have to learn which alternative letter sounds to use for those words.



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    If unfamiliar with the Korean language, try memorising these words. Whole-word learning is not easy!