D. W. Cummings, a site for spellers, teachers of spelling and reading, and students of English words

D. W. Cummings

A site for spellers, teachers of spelling and reading, and students of English words


We hope to answer your questions about the spelling and reading of English—especially, questions about why English written words are put together the way they are. The paragraphs below direct you to the site's various branches.

Anagrams Plus One (New)

Anagrams Plus One consists of 34 short, but challenging, anagram puzzles with a twist.

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Compendium of English Orthography (Updated 04/28/2021)

This compendium is meant as a cross between a dictionary and an encyclopedia of topics and concepts that should be of interest and use to teachers and students of English spelling.

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Spelling for Learning

A spelling reference book (with exercises) for language arts and English teachers and other people with a more than passing interest in why English words are spelled as they are.

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Word Builds

While watching my pre-school great-grandson build a startlingly complicated rocket ship out of little Lego parts, I was struck by the approach: Lots of small pieces, together with very detailed instructions – in this case in the form of step-by-step pictures. Word Builds consists of 45 word exercises based on a variation of that Lego approach: the construction of long, complicated words out of many small parts and several kinds of clues. Word Builds are meant to help in the teaching of spelling and vocabulary and thus of reading and writing and to replace, or at least supplement, what has become – especially in the teaching of spelling and vocabulary – little more than rote memorization of short weekly word lists. (June, 2019)

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Lineages from Indo-European Roots

Upgraded in November, 2019

Interactive maps of the lines of descent, or lineages, from 52 Indo-European roots. The maps show modern English bases, affixes, and words that descend from each root. The bases and affixes are drawn from the explications in the Lexis database. The words are drawn from the Lexis and the CommonWords databases. The venue also presents a map of the Indo-European family of languages, the short essay "Why Study Indo-European Roots?", and a datatable that allows users to search for (i) all of the words in Lexis that descend from a given root, and (ii) the root from which a given word descends.

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Word Maps

Word Maps extend the Lego Principle introduced in Word Builds. Here is a sample from the Student's Version of the Word Map for words that contain the bases aster, astr, astra, and astro "Star":
Students' Version

The students' job is to follow the clues and instructions in the green, yellow, and pink topics to construct the words that fit into the light blue topics. Thus they have a chance to think their way to the word, gradually and systematically.

The maps — and the class discussion of them — encourage learning that emphasizes the synthesis of parts and procedures into words as the students work their way out along a map's branches. And the class discussion encourages the synthesis of the bits of knowledge individual students bring to the discussion with the bits brought by their classmates, their teacher, and the map. The maps also encourage an emphasis on pattern and predictability in a subject that can seem to be filled with disorder and arbitrariness, two lethal enemies of deep and lasting learning.

As they work with the maps, students are encouraged to see patterns in meanings, in structure, in history. They are encouraged to see their language as something alive and changing. As they think and talk about the earlier meaning of the words and by adding up the meanings of the words' parts, they are also pondering the changes in meaning that got the words where they are today, which can — and should — encourage some sleuthing with a good dictionary.

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The Basic Speller

An inductive spelling program for elementary and middle school students, consisting of eight books of 48 short lessons each.

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Short Articles

Free access to short articles dealing with various aspects of English word study.

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Lexis Database

A free resource for teachers, interested spellers, and scholars of English words in which 129,042 words are analyzed into their prefixes, bases, suffixes, and procedures. (Updated 2016)

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American English Spelling

My study of English spelling, published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 1988.

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CommonWords Database

Intended to help Language Arts and English teachers compile specialized word lists for classes in spelling, reading, vocabulary, and grammar.

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Questions and Answers

A listing of the spelling questions and answers compiled over the years.

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