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What's going on with CK?

Updated: Nov 10, 2023



CK looks like just another spelling for the /k/ sound — but as with the spelling QU there is a reason behind the spelling. It isn't just another spelling choice. Check out the QU post here.


We can't spell cat ckat, and blaq is not an alternative for black. If we teach students about spelling choices without the story of why they soon get in a tangle, asking the age-old question – what spelling do I need?


The /k/ sound has several spellings, but it isn't pot luck when thinking about which one to choose. Spelling instruction should start in the first year of school, and it should be a cumulative practice.


First, we can discuss that C comes before A, O and U and show examples


cat, cot, cut


K often comes before the vowels I or E.


kit, Ken


Later on, we can discuss that C before E, I and Y and is often pronounced /s/.


city, celery


According to the Carney spelling survey, C is the most popular spelling for the /k/ sound. When we pair decoding and spelling instruction, students benefit as they are spelling to read and reading to spell in each session. As students do this, a discussion about sounds, letters, and placement helps learning to stick.


Here's what we know about CK


The spelling CK is used in English words to show that the preceding vowel is the initial sound. As David Crytal states in his humorous story-filled book about spelling - Spell it out — CK is a form of doubling and the spelling that Norman scribes used after a short vowel.


This spelling is often at the end of words — never the beginning! The spelling moves to the middle in a compound word or if a suffix is added. Some words don't fit the spelling pattern because they have come to us from other languages. So, when we discuss spelling, we should be mindful of our language use to inspire curiosity about words.


Here are some exceptions that your students might encounter in the primary stage.


I love to throw in examples that don't fit the pattern when teaching a spelling, as this builds vocabulary and meaning. This helps my students see that there is always more to learn, building flexibility and curiosity along the way.


CK also comes before the word endings 'le' and 'et'. Technically, these are often old suffixes not used to create new words. But in the clinic, we just call these word endings. An explanation about all word parts that don't help the meaning of the modern words is not a useful discussion or time well-spent.


Discussing the pattern is valuable for spelling instruction.


LE has the silent vowel E and is said with a schwa sound — sounds a bit like /ul/ as in pickul or tickul . The words that end in ET have a similar problem, too — for many, the E sounds more like the initial sound /i/, as in pockit, jackit. Many words that end –et are of French origin. Teaching students how to use their spelling voice and linking sounds to letters helps students spell these endings correctly.


I have yet to meet a student who doesn't love word stories — but it is all down to how you tell them.


I have met many students who don't like dry and dull. So, let's make learning engaging and enjoyable, as becoming literate is a hill to climb. It is hard work, and we can make a difference if we lean into students' feelings. It is tiring, and it can be frustrating learning a new skill. Explicit instruction is crucial and non-negotiable, but it is a hard road travelled without an enthusiastic and encouraging adult. We should foster engagement and motivation in all students, so they thrive.


Learning to read and spell takes time. There is so much to learn in the first years of school.

It is a hill to climb, and some children need lots of instruction to get up the hill, some not so much. Many students will benefit from targeted games and activities that focus on the skills and knowledge previously taught. This offers all students repetition with variety.

Purposeful activities can act as a bridge between word and sentence levels so that students can repeat the skills and knowledge they have already been exposed to in a previous teaching session through playful learning opportunities.


Check out my new CK decoding and spelling resource. This bank of resources is perfect for after explicit instruction in the classroom, intervention, and sending home for repeated practice.



The pack is full of engaging activities and games to be used after explicit instruction and for repeated practice, intervention or home practice. Games can be a huge win in the home. And they don't even need printing — many can be used on an iPad! Check it out here.




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