Primary Spelling Inventory

Thirteen or so years ago, I took a class about phonics.  The professor introduced me to Words Their Way which is a systematic way to teach phonics and spelling.

The program

Instead of the students having a set spelling list for the week, this program is a word study.  Each student is assessed using an inventory – primary or elementary.  After their assessment, they will then be identified as being in a certain spelling stage ranging from emergent where they are just learning about letters and the sounds they make to derivational relationships where they are learning and manipulating about Latin and Greek roots.

I rarely if never get students who are in the derivational relationships spelling stage.  Actually I can’t recall any of my students assessing in that stage.  The majority of my students are in the Letter-Name Alphabetic and Within Word Patterns stages.  The other stage is syllable and affix stage.

In order the stages are:

  1.  Emergent
  2. Letter-Name Alphabetic
  3. Within Word Patterns
  4. Syllables and Affixes
  5. Derivational Relationships

I’m not going to go into any real detail about the stages in this blog post.  Today I’m going to be talking about the spelling inventory.  I’m going to focus on the spelling inventory I typically assess my students with and that is the Primary Spelling Inventory.


So what are the features, you are looking at?

  • Beginning Consonants
  • Ending Consonants
  • Short Vowels
  • Consonant Digraphs
  • Consonant Blends
  • Long Vowel Patterns
  • Other Vowel Patterns (Diphthongs, R-Influenced Vowels)
  • Inflected Endings

So how do you administer this inventory?

  1. Read each word once without breaking the words into phonemes or individual sounds.  Give an example sentence.  Repeat the word.  (Do not repeat the words more than those 2 times.)
  2. Continue with the inventory.

Administer this inventory in the fall, winter, and spring.  It provides excellent data for their IEP’s.

Here is a breakdown by grade level of how many words you should administer of the inventory:

  • Kindergarten – First 5 to 8 words – Unless they have gotten 5 of the words correctly then you can continue on with the spelling inventory
  • First Grade – First 15 words – You can do more depending on the student.
  • Second Grade and Beyond – The whole list

Some websites suggest stopping after the student has missed 3 to 5 in a row.  It is up to you as the proctor of the test if you would like to stop.  I usually continue on so that I can truly see what my students can do.

Determining their spelling level

There is a feature guide/ breakdown of the spelling inventory.  The proctor analyzes the spelling inventory.  The student gets one point for each feature they corrected used.  Each feature earns up to 7 points.  If they get 6 or 7 of the points for the feature, they have mastered that feature.

If the student has missed 2 or more on a feature, that is their instructional level or their spelling stage.

My gift to you

I have created a document with a sheet where they can take the spelling inventory, the actual spelling inventory with example sentences you can use when administering the inventory, the feature guide/ breakdown of the words, and then a data sheet for the student so you can compare how they did at the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year.

On the page with the breakdown of the words, you could write fall, winter, or spring across the top or bottom to help remind you of when they took the season.


Words Their Way Primary#2


In future blog posts, I will explain how I use the data and how I’ve used the program in my resource room.

Until later,
Happy teaching,


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