Spelling milestones 11-12 years

When your child reaches the age of 11-12 they may be finishing or have finished primary school and begun high school. At this age they will also reach their final spelling milestones moving from a transitional stage of development to reach independence or the Competent Stage.

The focus of these milestones is on developing an understanding of the four forms of spelling.

An 11-12 year old has a phonological understanding of spelling

Phonological means how words sound. At this age your child will understand that sounds can be represented in various ways and will be familiar with complex combinations of vowels. An example is the letter combination –ough which has many different sounds such as bought, tough, though and thought.

An 11-12 year old has a visual knowledge of spelling

Your child will know how words look and use this knowledge to spell with a high degree of accuracy. Children who have achieved this milestone are able to use spelling generalisations such as ‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’. Children will also learn about homonyms which are words that sound the same and are spelled differently such as through, threw and thru.

An 11-12 year old has a morphemic knowledge of spelling

Morphemic means how a word changes form. An example of this is the Greek word tele and students being able to apply this understanding to spell words such as television, telescope, telegraph and telecast. A child who has reached this milestone can also use meaning and context to spell unfamiliar words.

An 11-12 year old uses prefixes and suffixes

Children use known word parts when spelling new words, applying their understanding of suffixes, prefixes and compound words.

An 11-12 year old has an etymological knowledge of spelling

Etymological means where a word comes from and a student who has reached this milestone uses their knowledge of word origins when spelling. An example is that a child knows the final ‘t’ in French is silent in words such as ballet, valet and Monet.

An 11-12 year old uses apostrophes

Children at this age are learning to use apostrophes to indicate possession as well as contractions for words.

An 11-12 year old takes risks with their spelling

An independent speller is a child who will take risks with their spelling. Increasingly children of this age will be faced with reading technical language which is difficult to spell and understand. A confident speller takes risks and will use unfamiliar letter patterns such as Czech and psychiatrist.


Children in this age group are increasingly communicating online or via SMS. There is a level of parental concern that SMS spelling and abbreviations are signs of poor spelling. On the contrary just as pre-kindergarten children invent spelling, it is a confident speller who knows the rules of the English language, and that is able to manipulate their spelling to achieve a social purpose. As long as SMS spelling does not occur in formal writing situations there is no need for parental alarm.



This article was written by Michelle Barrington for Kidspot, New Zealand’s leading education resource for parents. Michelle is a teacher and mother blogs at Gee, You’re Brave.

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