So, the most effective way to teach spelling throughout the key stages is through phonics, job done! Well not quite!
As we developed this scheme it became increasingly obvious that an understanding of the history and origins of the English phonics code is fundamental to a child’s understanding, the two go together. An in depth study of etymology and the history and origins of words and language, not only engages children but brings to life patterns in the English language. In his book ‘Why don’t students like School?’, the cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explores a range of research to emphasise that for deep learning to take place and transfer into the long-term memory “factual knowledge must precede skill.”9 The stories, facts and anecdotes that come from a deep study of etymology provide children with background knowledge of the English language. Children learn the story and the reasons why words are written the way they are and lay strong foundations on which to base their spelling skill.
Furthermore, etymology is a way of enriching children’s vocabulary and teaching them more than the curriculum words. Once children understand the etymology of one word they can see the connection to other words, no matter how complex they initially might appear.
A great example is the word circle which comes from the Latin word circus, which means ‘ring’. Hence, we have a circus ring and a ringmaster. A circus in Ancient Rome was a racetrack for chariots which was in the shape of a ring, the most famous being the Circus Maximus. Words that start with cir are associated with anything circular such as circuit, circumference and circumstances, being events around you.