[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Autumn 1985 p5. Later designated Journal J1]

Steps Towards More Efficient Learning.

David V. Moseley.

(Dr Moseley is Reader in Applied Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and has been working on computer programs for learning spelling and on an aurally coded spelling dictionary.)


The aim of the first study was to establish an order of spelling difficulty for English graphemes, to be used in a variety of learning programmes, the one to be demonstrated being a microcomputer program, 'The Compleat Speller'. To this end a list of 453 words was drawn up from a master list of some 7,000 words, using constraints of word length and frequency. These were then administered to 99 pupils in low ability bands in three schools. A marking scheme was then applied which treated each grapheme separately.

The resulting grapheme order is presented, together with findings concerning word length and frequency effects. For example, a given grapheme in a three-syllable word is considerably harder to spell than in a one syllable word, frequency being held constant and the presence of three or more consonant graphemes in a syllable was found to double the chances of a spelling error in the vowel grapheme.

The learning theory principles applied in the microcomputer spelling programme are explained and the programme demonstrated on a BBC 'B' machine. Its use is considered in the context of a language-experience approach and in relation to resource-based learning in a variety of subject areas. Progress data of pupils working in two school settings are also presented.

The second part of the presentation is concerned with the construction and trial of a spelling dictionary, shortly to be published by Learning Development Aids. The linguistic principles underlying the grouping of words and the search strategies needed in order to use it are explained as are the results of field trials throughout the country. The dictionary has proved to be of value from infant level through to university and its availability should serve to minimize the frustration experienced by so many children who find spelling difficult.

Vowel Graphemes and Consonant Digraphs in Order of Spelling Difficulty

OrderGraphemeSound(s)Examples OrderGraphemeSound(s)Examples
1aa/arant, bath 37ewaestew
2eefed 38eeeebreed
3iiink 39a(neutral)final
4oohot 40oioicoin
5uu/ooplum/pull 41lelmangle
6ooecold 42aowas
7chchchin 43c/cescity, dance
8aaeapron 44erurmercy
9iiekind 45u-eue/uutune, flute
10owoubrown 46eaeeeat
11er(neutral)river 47=a/aloralso, walker
12yiglossy 47=our(neutral)glamour
13thth (voiced,the 49o(neutral)demon
 unvoiced)thug 50qukwquick
14ngngsinger 51ioneutral)function
15eeeshe 52=aiaetrain
16oooostood 52=u(neutral)cactus
17shshdash 54arorquartet
18ououround 55lllwell
19eievent 56tttattic
20ararfarm 57pppapple
21=airaerlair 58eyialley
21=ckkblack 59whwwhen
23oouespoon 60ou(neutral)serious
24sezvase 61sesdense
25a-eaerake 62irurfirst
26uuestupid 63dgejwedge
27oyoitoy 64areaershare
28sssmess 65awordrawing
29i-eiebike 66yietype
30owoeyellow 68vevcurve
31ururburn 69nnntunnel
32ororform 70ar(neutral)collar
33gejlounge 71eiaeeighteen
34o-eoemole 72ieeefield
35oaoefloat 73aeraeraerial

This order of difficulty derives from analysis of errors by 99 10-15 year-olds in the North-East of England in a data-set of some 48,000 words. Graphemes of very low frequency are not included.