The Science

7spell is scientifically designed, and utilizes principles based on decades of research in learning, retention, and psychology. Here is a summary of the theory and research behind 7spell's effectiveness.

Craik, F., and Tulving, E. "Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 104(3) (1975): 268-294. Print and PDF.

In this seminal study performed at the University of Toronto, Canada, the authors performed a series of tests in which they gave the study participants a sequence of words to learn, with information related to each word as it appeared in order. They discovered that when the information provided stimulated the participant's brain to process the word on a more involved level (referred to as "deep encoding" or "degree of elaboration" in the study), that word was more effectively learned and remembered. With 7spell, the user is given a wide range of additional information about each spelling word, including the word's definition - one of the key factors in enhanced memory, according to this study - as well as usage examples, synonyms, and antonyms.

Gelman, B.D., Gruber, M.J., and Ranganath, C. "States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit." Neuron, 22 October 2014, 84(2): 486-496. Web.

Students who are eager to learn are more likely to remember what they have learned, something that the authors of this study demonstrate. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show real-time connections between a person's curiosity about a specific topic, and the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and the brain's reward system. The authors also concluded that a higher level of interest and curiosity in a topic or question leads to better memory and enhanced learning. Including exercises that stimulate curiosity, and providing reward mechanisms as part of the study process, also increases a person's ability to absorb and retain information, as the researchers found. 7spell has a text import feature that allows each user to include and incorporate practice material that matches their interests, while learning the spelling of words in those texts. The system also uses several different reward systems to encourage users to continue working towards their defined goals.

Garcia, S.M., Tor, A., and Schiff, T.M. "The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective." Perspectives on Psychological Science, November 2013, 8(6):634-650. Print and web.

Each person is influenced by a unique set of factors related to their own status and progress towards goals, but is also affected to a greater or lesser degree by the achievements and perceived standards of the people around them. This analysis of past and current studies looks at the way people view and are motivated by individual goals as well as societal achievement (competition). The authors conclude that effective use of motivational strategies must take both into account. This is something that 7spell accomplishes by providing each user with the ability to set personal goals, earn reward points, and view their own progress tracking reports, and also to publish all of those results on public social media platforms.

Kivetz, R., Urminsky, O., and Zheng, Y. "The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention." Journal of Marketing Research, February 2006, 43(1):39-58. Web.

In a study focusing on the influence of reward-scheme programs on behavior, the authors found that when people see visible progress towards their goals they are more likely to increase the activity required to reach those goals. The study also confirms that most people are also motivated by receiving rewards for completing specific activities, even if those rewards are not immediately transferable to actual material or monetary benefits. Status points, rewards, and real-time progress tracking are all methods used in 7spell to encourage frequent spelling practice by awarding points for the completion of exercises and activities. Because the user can access their progress charts at any time, they will always be able to see how close they are to achieving their personal spelling goals.

Buton, M., Winterbauer, N., and Todd, T. "Relapse processes after the extinction of instrumental learning: Renewal, resurgence, and reacquisition." Behavioural Processes, May 2012, 90(1): 130–141. Print and web.

Instrumental learning, also called "operant conditioning," is a method by which behaviors are learned in connection with a stimulus, a reward, or both. In this research done at the University of Vermont, the authors studied the ways in which the information connected to a specific behavior is retained when the stimulus is removed, and how subsequent repetition or reward reinforces information recall and a resumption of previously learned behaviors. They conclude that there are two primary methods of reinforcing active memory and behavior: by creating a different way to test the subject's memory, and by providing the opportunity for intensive focused repetition of that stimulus-behavior response. These two methods are widely used in the 7spell activities and games to create the link between instruction and memory that is so crucial in effective spelling learning on the student's part.

Xue, G., Mei, L., Chen, C., Lu, Z-L., Poldrack, R., Dong, Q. "Spaced Learning Enhances Subsequent Recognition Memory by Reducing Neural Repetition Suppression." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011;23(7):1624-1633. Print and web. http://doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21532

In this study comparing long-term and short-term memory, the study authors tested the neural activity of participants as they memorized a set of images. Half of the study participants used massed learning techniques, in which each new image was presented multiple times in a row; the other half were given the images in a spaced repetition mode, where the images were shown in alternating order. Although each participant saw each image the same number of times, the people in the spaced-repetition exercise were able to accurately remember more images, and for a longer period of time. Repetition is a key technique in learning spelling, and 7spell incorporates spaced repetition in two ways. First, the system uses randomized selection of spelling words from the user's current list to populate the activities and exercises, ensuring an interval between word reviews. Second, the system's Word Discover feature provides pop-up instant review of the words on that list, again in random order. By providing users with multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and review their words, 7spell provides all of the benefits of the spaced repetition methodology in its spelling instruction.

Blocki, J., Cranor, L., Datta, A., and Komanduri, S. "Spaced Repetition and Mnemonics Enable Recall of Multiple Strong Passwords." Cornell University Library, January 3, 2015. PDF.

Spaced repetition is a memory training tool that relies on frequent and consistent review of information; mnemonics is a memory technique that involves multiple ways of looking at that information, such as the incorporation of images or story lines. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University focused on the combination of spaced repetition and mnemonics in evaluating how best to train people to remember specific pieces of information: computer passwords. They found that by combining the two methodologies, the results in both ease of learning and retention were increased. 7spell uses each method separately and together to help users learn and remember new spelling words by using the same words in multiple exercises, presenting spelling words in a variety of formats, and encouraging users to add information related to each word to make a personal connection that helps them to remember that word and its correct spelling.


Expert Spelling Advice From Joanne Rudling At

Categories: About Spelling, Spelling Resources, Tips and Tricks, Words That Are Hard to Spell |

The best teacher is one who loves her subject, and Joanne Rudling brings her love of spelling to everything she does in her books, videos, and blog posts at After having improved her own spelling and writing skills, she started teaching others to do the same. Whether you have questions about spelling, or are looking for ways to study spelling and other English skills, or are just curious about spelling topics, this website is the place to start. We asked Joanne about her top spelling strategies, and how anyone can learn to love spelling.

US: Like many skills we’re supposed to learn as children, spelling is something that adults sometimes don’t think about – they say, “oh, it’s too late for me, and anyway I didn’t do well in school.” You’ve proved that anyone can learn good spelling skills, at any age. But do adults need to take a different approach than young students do?

JR: The one approach that adults may need to do differently is to change their state of mind about spelling and learning. They may have a lot of negative baggage from their school experience and have various barriers to learning. Also some adults get discouraged easily, hate making mistakes, and think they can’t learn or remember things.

Adults, especially ones with low self-esteem and confidence in spelling, need to be gentle with themselves, and not give themselves a ‘hard time’ for not being able to spell! And to know that mistakes are good and to learn from them. They need to understand they’re not alone and that there are a lot of people with the same feelings and experience. It’s important they seek advice and help from well-trained literacy teachers who understand their needs, can empathize with them, and know the strategies that will help them.

Adults also need to learn about memory. They get anxious when they can’t remember spellings they’ve just learnt and end up blaming themselves. It’s important for them to learn all about short-term and long-term memory, how it’s natural to forget things, and the ways in which they can get spellings into their long-term memory.

Adults might also need more constant reassurance. My online courses all have email reminders and words of encouragement! Adult learners usually start off with good intentions about their learning but then the pressures of life, work and other responsibilities start impacting on their time to do even a few minutes a day, and then their initial enthusiasm wanes.

Adults must also take responsibility for their learning. Spelling can be learned and improved if they understand that it takes a bit of effort, time and thought. Just reading a lesson, or watching a video won’t improve their spelling but doing exercises, games, tests and writing will make a difference.

Words they are learning must be relevant to their work and lives. I try and only use words that are in common usage, and put them in context. If I’m working 1:1 with a student or group of students then we work on words that are important for them. There’s no point learning words that are obsolete or not in common usage. I see spelling books with the most obscure words – pointless.

Adults also need more sophisticated words to be able to express themselves so learning spelling strategies to help remember these words is important.

This brings us to the most important part of spelling – spelling strategies to learn and remember spellings.

The approach I take with all learners, young and adults, is to teach them all about spelling strategies and how these can help them remember spellings, stop them getting stressed about spelling and to learn to love spelling.

The top spelling strategies that really help all learners are:

1. Using memory tricks (mnemonics). I use them and love them and so do the adults I teach.

Explaining to learners that they can use all sorts of tricks to help them remember difficult spellings is such an eye-opener for them. The best mnemonics are those that learners invent for themselves. The effort of making up the mnemonic makes the spelling memorable, but it’s useful for them to see other people’s ‘tricks’ too.

It seems to be the individual letters that confuse most people in these classic difficult spellings:

· necessary – it’s necessary to have one collar and two sleeves – 1 C and 2 S’s

· accommodation – the accommodation has 2 cots with 2 mattress 2 C’s and 2 m’s

· stationery or stationary – stationery has an e for envelopes, paper, pens. Stationary with a has stopped at the station

The word-within-a-word strategy is very good too – here or hear? hear with your ear

Knowing the history of English spelling and taking an interest in where words come from are two very important strategies. Understanding the reasons why English is so weird and wonderful (and the title of my ebook!) is a vital part of learning and improving spelling. It stops people getting annoyed with spelling, and great for adults when their children ask them why spelling is the way it is.

60% of English words have silent letters in them and knowing the history behind them is a great way to learn them.

Plumber has a silent b in there because it comes from the Latin word ‘plumbum’ meaning lead piping used by plumbers.

knock, knee, gnaw, gnat are all Viking (Old Norse) words, the ‘k’ and ‘g’ were pronounced but not now.

Fun facts about spelling helps to raise interest in words. Lots of words to do with the nose begin with the letter pattern ‘sn’ – snout, sniff, snub, snot, snore, snort, snuffle, snooty.

3. Learning all about building words with prefixes and suffixes is another great strategy and stops learners getting stressed when they see long words like uncomfortable, misrepresentation, dissatisfied…

4. Syllable breakdown is another approach to help with spelling long words. Say the word slowly and exaggerated – un/com/for/ta/ble. It helps with silent letters in words – Wed/nes/day. The way you break a word down is up to you, as long as it helps with the spelling.

5. Identifying and noticing letter patterns is also a key strategy. Knowing that it’s not about the sound but the pattern is important. Letter patterns are also known as letter strings, and spelling patterns. Most good spellers know common letter patterns, can see what looks right. Building a letter pattern dictionary is a great strategy.

Key patterns include: -ight, ough, -ai-, -au-, ate, ei/ie…

This also ties in with using word families, which are words that are related to each other through meaning and patterns. It’s useful to know that two is related to twice, twin, twelve, twenty, between, tweezers and all mean two in some way.

terr- from Latin terra for earth, land, ground: terrain, territory, subterranean, Mediterranean, extraterrestrial.

ped- from Latin for foot: pedicure, pedestrian, pedal, expedition.

These relationships in spelling help us to understand the meaning of words much more than the pronunciation does – Noam Chomsky

The purpose of English spelling isn’t about the sound but the visual links between words – Vivian Cook

US: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the spelling rules (and worse, all the exceptions to those rules!) that apply in English. What’s a good first step for people to start the learning process?

JR: The key is knowing that you can use memory tricks and other strategies to help remember and improve spellings. See the spelling strategies above.

Learning that spelling is fun, and knowing the reasons why it’s so ‘weird’ and ‘quirky’ are both important first steps. When you know why those tricky spellings, silent letters and homophones are there, and that they’re not there to mess with your brain is a great start.

US: You’ve put a lot of your spelling lessons into video format, where people can hear the words as well as see their spellings. How important is it to learn the pronunciation of words when working on how to spell them?

JR: Not as important as people think. We have so many great accents, dialects and ways of pronouncing the same word that relying on pronunciation just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, many people, native and English language learners, blame their accents for not being able to spell well and think that if they only pronounced words properly they’d be able to spell. This is not true and not how the English spelling system works. It is through familiarity with our language and developing our visual memory of letter patterns and the whole word that improves spelling.

But sound and pronunciation still lie at the heart of English spelling. When we don’t know a spelling we usually try and sound it out and can usually guess the right spelling, but only if we are familiar with the letter pattern that the sound relates to. But we still rely on our visual memory to see if the word is spelt right and also whether it ‘looks right’.

US: As well as online games and lessons, you provide printable materials like worksheets that people can take with them anywhere. What other ways can people practice spelling throughout the day?

1. They need to start noticing the features of words around them. Pay attention to how words are made up – the letter patterns, root words, prefixes, suffixes, spelling rules in adverts, newspaper headlines, magazines, packaging etc.

2. Spelling won’t happen because we read, but a word must be consciously and deliberately learnt and Look Say Cover Write Check is an excellent well-established method for improving this. (You can check out my video about this on my website).

All you need is a piece of paper and a pen and a few minutes a day.

1. Write the word you want to learn

2. Study the word, really look at it, notice the shape, feel of it.

3. Say it, quick then slow. Does it break down into syllables

4. Cover it.

5. Write it

6. Check it letter by letter. Underline the mistake, correct it. Why do you think you made the mistake? Are there any memory tricks you could use to remember the bit you got wrong?

7. Do the process again – Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check.

8. Do it again, then tomorrow, then the next day etc.

This technique covers all bases, engaging the visual memory, feel, sound, muscle memory.

US: You cover a lot of spelling tips and topics in your blog, so it’s a great place to find answers to all sorts of questions about English spelling. Can people write to you and ask specific questions for you to answer on your blog?

JR: Absolutely, I always reply to emails and answer questions. When people start questioning spelling that means they’re thinking about it which is fantastic. But it’s better if a student, rather than wanting quick answers, tries to figure it out themselves – then emails me.

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