Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Teaching Kids to Write: The Standard Spelling Stage

This is a guest post by Rhonda McDonald, a Title 1 Reading Specialist in Botetourt County Public Schools, Virginia and author of two books in our  Kaleidoscope Collection Polar Bears   and   The White Whale .  

Developmental Writing Stage: 
Standard Spelling (9–12 years old)

For the past year, I have been writing these guest blog posts about the developmental stages of learning to write. Developing the skills to become a writer closely parallels the skills of learning to read. One stage builds upon the next in a predictable, sequential order. This is the final stage in this progression. When children reach the Standard Spelling stage, they have acquired a strong foundation for print. Words are recognizable with correct spelling in place. Students are developing an understanding of root words, compound words and contractions. This allows them to correctly spell similar words. If you would like to review the previous stages, you can   click here to see my earlier posts .

Students who have mastered early writing skills are beginning to view writing as a way to express their thoughts and ideas in a controlled manner. They are able to respond to a reading passage or text and share what they were thinking about the story. Sentence structure is evident with correct word usage. Correct punctuation with a variety of sentence types is also evident. The choice of vocabulary is descriptive and helps to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Let’s take a look at some examples from first- and second-grade students:


One of our motivating tools to encourage student writing is a portable, battery-powered, word-processing keyboard. This durable keyboard is powered by four AA batteries. It can be used in the classroom, outside, or on a field trip. They have files to store up to eight stories. Work is automatically saved as they type. When the story is completed, the keyboard is connected to a computer with a USB cord and the story is sent to a computer file. Saved stories are easy to revise and edit. When a story appears perfect, it is printed and displayed in the classroom. Here are some examples of stories created using this tool, written by third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders:

Silly Jilly (written by a third-grade student)

Last morning I accidently put jelly in my hair. Then I missed the bus. I ran with hard jelly spiked in my hair. When I finally got to school I walked into the classroom. Everybody was laughing. This was the worst day ever!

For dinner we had squash. I do not like squash! I had a big plate of it. I had an idea. I called my dog Princess. She ate my whole plate. I said, “Done!” Then, I had a big plate of cake. My dog had squash all over her mouth. Mom took the big plate of chocolate cake away. And you know what? I got grounded for four days! My brother was giggling. My brother is a hair ball.

The next day was school. When I woke up, my mom said we missed the bus again. I could not find my shoes. So I had to wear my brother’s shoes. My mom took me to school. I was so embarrassed I tried to hide them under my dress, but they showed under my pants. I missed the spelling test. I had to do it with the principal.

When I went home, I slipped off those stinky shoes. After that, I took a bath. When I put my PJs on they had marker all over my PJs. I was so mad! I wanted to spank my brother so hard.

The next day when I got home, it was my birthday. I opened my presents and I looked in the big box. My favorite pink pillow from Justice was in the box! There were pink and purple balloons on my cake. I had the best day of my life!

What I Am Thankful For (written by a fourth-grade student)

Look for opportunities to publish student work. Following is an assignment that we worked on in class and submitted to our local newspaper. Four of the students' stories were selected for publication in our Thanksgiving edition under the section titled “What I Am Thankful For.”

I am thankful for my life because if I was not born I would not be here right now. I am glad I have food, water shelter and clothes.

On Thanksgiving, my Elf on the Shelf comes. His name is Larry. Larry is a little elf. You can’t touch him or he will lose his magic. Only Mom or Dad can touch.

On Thanksgiving I am super lazy. All I want to do is ride my dirt bike. My dirt bike might be small but it is fast, and it can jump high.

I love my family. They are very funny. My cousin’s name is Conner. I love my cousin. He is funny. My cousins live far away. Only two of my cousins came. They are at my house right now. They both have a lot of freckles. I think I got my freckles from my cousin Kristin.

We start to cook the turkey when it is at home. My family loves turkey so much we just devour the turkey. I am thankful for my family because if I didn’t have my family I would be lonely.    

Army Knife   (written by a fifth-grade student)

This story was written as a follow up to a survival story we read in class. I asked the students to think of a tool that they might want to take with them if they were stranded somewhere and write about it.

It was Christmas. My dad said, “Ben you need to be careful with what I’m about to give you.” “Now,” he said, “Here it is.” He handed it to me. It was a Swiss army knife. This is what it had. There was a punch, knife, screw driver, flat head screw driver, and a saw. It was red, black and silver. It was amazing! He said, “Also, Ben, something else. I got you a ticket for a boat ride. Ben, use this for things necessary.”

It came to be spring. It was time for me to use that ticket he gave me for Christmas. I went to the boat dock. The driver said, “Sit up front. Now we are going to go around an island about five miles out.” I got on the boat. It was a Jet-Max that was a speed boat. We got closer to the island. Suddenly, the driver screamed! He said, “NO! Get off of me!” I looked over and saw a snake biting him but it was not poisonous. He passed out. I did not know what to do. I tried to wake him up but it did not work. We were heading for a rock. So I did what I did and jumped off the boat. The boat hit the rock and the driver hit the rock with his head. As I swam, I saw the island he spoke of before we started our journey. So I swam to the island.

I thought an island was not that bad because it will be warm at night to sleep. Also it is long so I can explore it all. The ocean was next to it, so I could fish. I’m glad it was spring because it is warm to stay alive.

“Now,” I wondered, “What are my dangers on an island? They are poisonous snakes, wolves, piranhas, bears, and tree frogs? What am I going to do to protect myself?” Maybe I could build something with the boat parts that washed up on shore. I found two rocks pressed together. I took the side of the boat to cover the entrance. The next day, I found a stick to sharpen to catch fish. Then I found a coconut. I took the punch on my knife. I hit it as hard as I could and it made a hole. I did it a couple more times. I took a drink. It was delicious!

Before I went to bed, I made a fire with my knife. I scratched my knife against the rock and sparks came down on the pile of dry leaves. It caught on fire after I blew on the leaves.

When I woke up, I was in the hospital. I looked next to me and saw my family. I asked, “What happened?” My dad said, ‘You were unconscious for three days because after you got in the wreck with the boat, you hit your head. We found your body alive.” I said to them, “I had the worst dream! Want to hear it?”

Learning to write can be an enjoyable experience. Encourage students to bring out their personalities as they write. Talk to them about selecting the right words to portray voice and emotions. Work on dictionary and thesaurus skills as their vocabulary grows. Teach the students how to be an attentive listener and offer constructive critique for their peers. Model writing practice by writing with the students. In my classroom, we like to turn on some background music when we are writing. If I forget, usually one of the students will ask to turn on the music. That’s when I realize that they look forward to the writing process as much as I do. It is a time for them to relax and let the creative ideas flow.

For more information on the   Kaleidoscope Collection  containing books written by this author, you can download an information sheets by clicking on the image below.