Fast five: Spelling errors

Analysing student spelling errors and recognising patterns can help you identify underlying issues and come up with teaching and learning strategies.

Experts at MESH, an independent education organisation, have synthesised 40 years of research into spelling to produce a guide for teachers.

The MESHGuide includes a list of the five main categories of spelling errors. The online guide also explores research on how children learn to spell, intervention programs and advice on developing a whole-school spelling policy.

And, it points to a list from Oxford Dictionaries of 100 common misspellings.

The five main categories of spelling errors are:

  • Omission: Omitting a single letter (e.g. 'occuring' for 'occurring');
  • Insertion: Inserting a single letter (e.g. 'off' for 'of');
  • Substitution: Replacing a single letter with another single letter (e.g. 'definate' for 'definite');
  • Transposition: Misordering two adjacent letters (e.g. 'lable' for 'label'), and where a single letter is misplaced by more than one position in a word (e.g. 'litgh' for 'light');
  • Grapheme substitution: A plausible but incorrect choice of grapheme (e.g. 'their' for 'there', 'thort' for 'thought'). Some grapheme substitutions involve wrong use of a split vowel digraph (e.g. 'gole' for 'goal').

'A first-level count of the errors in a text or on a test within these five categories will reveal the principal tendencies,' list author Greg Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield in the UK, notes.

MESH is operated by the charity Education Futures Collaboration. Its online guides summarise current knowledge, with the aim to help teachers translate this research into practice. Educators from schools, universities and colleges are involved in the creation and testing of the guides.

'MESH operates in a similar way to that used for the production of edited books or journals. But MESH Guides are regularly reviewed and improved as evidence builds,' the charity explains.

For more information: MESHGuides

Are you analysing spelling errors to look for categories and patterns?

Do you set aside time to discuss spelling errors with your students?