Can Phonics Help Spelling?

Written by Dan

Phonics, a method of teaching reading and writing by developing learners’ phonemic awareness, has long been a cornerstone in the education system. But can this approach also help improve spelling skills? The answer might surprise you.

In this post, we’ll delve into the intricate world of phonics, exploring its potential impact on spelling proficiency.

We will examine how the sound-letter relationships taught in phonics can provide a roadmap for spelling, how it can foster an understanding of word structure, and why it could be a game-changer for struggling spellers.

Whether you’re an educator, parent, or student yourself, join us as we unravel the connection between phonics and spelling. Let’s decode the mysteries together!

Understanding Phonics

Phonics is a method employed in teaching reading and writing of the English language. At its core, phonics is all about the relationship between sounds and their spellings.

The aim is to teach learners the phonemes (distinct units of sound) and the graphemes (the letters that represent these sounds) that form the basis of language.

This method breaks down words into their smallest units of sound, known as phonemes. For instance, the word ‘cat’ is broken down into three phonemes: /c/, /a/, /t/.

Each of these phonemes corresponds to a letter or combination of letters, also known as a grapheme.

In the education system, phonics is taught in a systematic and structured way. It begins with teaching children to recognize the sounds that each letter makes.

Once the single letter sounds are mastered, children are then introduced to two-letter sounds, such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’, and ‘th’. Following this, they learn how to blend these sounds to read whole words.

Phonics instruction also involves teaching children spelling rules. These rules help them understand why words are spelt the way they are and how to spell new words they encounter.

For example, they might learn the rule that English words don’t end in ‘i’, so if a word ends with the /ee/ sound, it’s usually spelt with a ‘y’.

Phonics is used widely in education, particularly in early years and primary settings. It forms the foundation for teaching children to become proficient readers and writers by giving them a decoding tool for sounding out and spelling words.


Phonics and Spelling: The Connection

Phonics plays a pivotal role in spelling by providing a clear understanding of the relationships between sounds (phonemes) and their corresponding written symbols (graphemes).

It equips learners with the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the phonemes in words.

This skill is crucial for spelling as it allows learners to break down words into their constituent sounds and then write those sounds using the correct letters or combinations of letters.

For instance, if a child wants to spell the word ‘fish’, phonics instruction helps them understand that this word is made up of three sounds: /f/, /i/, and /sh/.

They can then link these sounds to the respective letters or letter combinations (in this case ‘f’, ‘i’, and ‘sh’) to correctly spell the word.

Furthermore, phonics instruction also includes teaching common spelling patterns and rules which greatly aid in spelling.

For example, one of the most basic spelling rules taught is the “silent e” rule, which states that an ‘e’ at the end of a word usually makes the vowel before it say its name (long sound), as in ‘like’, ‘home’, and ‘time.

Similarly, phonics teaches patterns like the ‘ai’ in ‘rain’ making the /ay/ sound, or the ‘oa’ in ‘boat’ making the /o/ sound. By learning these patterns, students are better equipped to spell a multitude of words correctly.

In essence, phonics provides a roadmap for spelling, giving learners the tools they need to spell words correctly by sounding them out and applying learned spelling rules and patterns.

The Impact of Phonics on Word Structure Understanding

Phonics plays an integral role in enhancing a learner’s understanding of word structures. It provides learners with a straightforward, systematic approach to decoding words by breaking them down into their sound components.

By teaching children to segment words into their constituent phonemes, phonics helps them understand that words are not just whole units but are made up of parts.

This knowledge is beneficial when encountering new or complex words. For instance, a child who understands the word ‘play’ can use that knowledge to help spell related words like ‘player’ or ‘playing.’

Furthermore, phonics instruction often includes teaching about prefixes and suffixes, which are key components of many English words.

This allows learners to recognize common word roots and modify them with prefixes or suffixes to form new words, such as ‘happy’ becoming ‘unhappy’ or ‘happiness.’

This understanding of word structure is invaluable for spelling. It allows learners to break down complex words into manageable parts, making the task of spelling less daunting.

Instead of trying to remember the spelling of a whole word, they can focus on spelling individual sounds or syllables and then combine them to form the complete word.

For example, in the word ‘transportation,’ a student who has been taught phonics will see not just one long word but several smaller, manageable parts: ‘trans,’ ‘port,’ and ‘action.’

They can then focus on spelling each part correctly, which is typically more manageable than trying to spell the whole word at once.

Overall, by enhancing understanding of word structures, phonics instruction significantly improves spelling skills by helping learners understand how words are built and how they can be broken down for easier spelling.

Phonics: A Game Changer for Struggling Spellers

Numerous research studies have underscored the positive impact of phonics instruction on struggling spellers.

For instance, a study by the National Reading Panel in 2000 concluded that systematic phonics instruction significantly improves children’s spelling abilities, particularly in the early grades when spelling instruction begins.

In another study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (Wanzek et al., 2006), struggling first-grade spellers who received explicit, systematic phonics instruction made substantial gains in their spelling abilities compared to students who received less systematic instruction.

Phonics proves to be a game changer for struggling spellers because it provides them with a transparent, straightforward approach to spelling.

Instead of having to rely on memory alone, which can be incredibly challenging for students with learning difficulties, phonics gives them a practical tool they can use to sound out and spell words.

Phonics instruction reduces the cognitive load for these students. By breaking down words into smaller parts, phonics makes the task of spelling less overwhelming.

Students can focus on one sound or syllable at a time rather than trying to remember the spelling of an entire word all at once.

Phonics instruction frequently encompasses teaching prevalent spelling patterns and rules, offering valuable assistance to individuals facing challenges in spelling.

For instance, being aware that ‘ck’ is utilized following a short vowel sound can aid students in accurately spelling words like ‘duck’ or ‘back’.


Phonics is indeed foundational in teaching spelling, serving a crucial role in structured literacy approaches.

It equips learners with an understanding of the relationships between letters and sounds, a concept central to both reading and spelling.

Through phonics, children learn to segment words into their most minor parts of spoken language – phonemes – and understand how to form words by combining these phonemes with their corresponding written symbols.

This knowledge is invaluable when it comes to spelling, as it allows learners to break down complex words into manageable parts, making the task of spelling less daunting.

Moreover, phonics instruction also includes teaching common spelling patterns and rules, which greatly aid in spelling.

For example, knowing that ‘ck’ is used after a short vowel sound can help a student spell words like ‘duck’ or ‘back’ correctly.

Several studies have shown that phonics can be a game changer for struggling spellers, providing them with a transparent, straightforward approach to spelling and reducing the cognitive load by breaking down words into smaller parts.

In conclusion, the potential of phonics as a tool for improving spelling skills is immense.

By enhancing understanding of word structures, phonics instruction significantly improves spelling skills, making it more manageable and less daunting for learners.



  • National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.
  • Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J., Swanson, E. A., Edmonds, M., & Kim, A. (2006). A synthesis of spelling and reading interventions and their effects on the spelling outcomes of students with LD. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(6), 528-543.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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