How Spelling Supports Reading

By Louisa Moats, American Educator Last updated 2024/05/27
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This is a thorough, comprehensive article for all educators that clarifies how English spelling is much more regular and predictable than we may think! Dr. Louisa Moats outlines several key principles for making sense of the English spelling system, including the many factors that influence how words are spelled: the historical layers of English, parts of speech, position-based tendencies, and morphology.

Curriculum Connection

B2. Language Foundations for Reading and Writing
Across the Foundations of Language strand (and the Language Foundations Continuum), students apply their knowledge and understanding of phonics, orthography, and morphology to support word-level reading and spelling. For example, students use “the position of the grapheme or phoneme and their knowledge of position-based tendencies, as necessary, to support spelling and determine accurate pronunciation when reading.” This resource supports educators in 1) understanding why words are spelled the way they are, and 2) understanding how to provide evidence-based systematic and explicit instruction to support spelling. 
Grade(s): K 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Topic(s): Applying MorphologyApplying OrthographyApplying PhonicsWord-Level Reading and SpellingWords with irregularities


  1. As a Special Education Teacher, this article reinforces many of the concerns observed while working with the students. Now that we have access to a structured, systematic phonics program students are using the ‘tools’ they need for spelling because it’s being orthographically mapped in their brains. This boosts confidence in many of the learners!

  2. Moats explains how spelling and reading are closely connected processes that are intricately related. Moats shows that English spelling isn’t as random as it seems. Understanding these rules can help us become better readers. She outlines how to use Elkonin boxes in the early grades to support mapping. She also outlines a basic sequence of how to reveal English orthography over the grades.

  3. Ehri’s highlights the importance of orthography, and a great next step from this article would be the importance of assistive technologies and typing for students- who benefits, and HOW. How educators decide when it is appropriate, and how to explicitly teach those skills when they are needed to free up valuable cognitive resources.

  4. This helped me understand why some great decoders in Grade 7, lack comprehension and fluency. Morphology is important in all grades. Initially I thought explicit morphology instruction started much later than Kindergarten. That is simply not true. Great article!

  5. I appreciate that this article shares the importance of this work involving etymology and morphology up to grade 7. It is essential to explicitly spend time understanding the meanings of all of the parts of content words associated with science and math. I think that this behooves us to carefully consider the best ways to use word walls in classrooms to support knowledge of words and spelling.

    1. I love using a morpheme wall rather than a word wall. Similarly using a lexicon or a morpheme grabber, instead of spelling lists. It’s easy to let go of something if you can replace it with something more effective.

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