We examined whether the overlapping waves model, originally developed to account for strategy choices in arithmetic, could also account for strategy choices in spelling. The contrast was of particular interest because arithmetic is an algorithmic domain (a domain that includes strategies that always yield correct answers if executed properly), whereas spelling is not. Thirty first-grade students spelled words under 2 conditions, and 23 of these students were retested in second grade. Trial-by-trial analysis of strategy use was used to identify which strategies first and second graders used, how adaptively they chose among them, how effective the strategies were, and what changes occurred from first to second grade along each dimension. The model proved useful for understanding the development of spelling, despite the fact that explicit use of backup strategies had a minimal impact on accuracy. Implications for understanding adaptive strategy choices in algorithmic and nonalgorithmic domains are discussed.