The role of analogy in spelling in English primary school children - a partial intervention study

  • S.H.M. Kirkbride

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The English writing system is notoriously irregular in its orthography at the phonemic level. It was therefore proposed that focusing beginner-spellers’ attention on sound-letter relations at the sub-syllabic level might improve spelling performance. This hypothesis was tested in Experiments 1 and 2 using a ‘clue word’ paradigm to investigate the effect of analogy teaching intervention / non-intervention on the spelling performance of an experimental group and controls. The results overall showed the intervention to be effective in improving spelling, and this effect to be enduring. Experiment 3 demonstrated a greater application of analogy in spelling, when clue words, which participants used in analogy to spell test words, remained in view during testing. A series of regression analyses, with spelling entered as the criterion variable and age, analogy and phonological plausibility (PP) as predictors, showed both analogy and PP to be highly predictive of spelling. Experiment 4 showed that children could use analogy to improve their spelling, even without intervention, by comparing their performance in spelling words presented in analogous categories or in random lists.
Consideration of children’s patterns of analogy use at different points of development showed three age groups to use similar patterns of analogy, but contrasting analogy patterns for spelling different words. This challenges stage theories of analogy use in literacy. Overall the most salient units used in analogy were the rime and, to a slightly lesser degree, the onset-vowel and vowel. Finally, Experiment 5 showed analogy and phonology to be fairly equally influential in spelling, but analogy to be more influential than phonology in reading. Five separate experiments therefore found analogy to be highly influential in spelling. Experiment 5 also considered the role of memory and attention in literacy attainment. The important implications of this research are that analogy, rather than purely phonics-based strategy, is instrumental in correct spelling in English.
Date of AwardNov 2003
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorB. Wright (Supervisor)


  • analogy
  • phonology
  • spelling
  • literacy development
  • teaching intervention

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