103 Top Pick for homeschool curriculum by cathy duffyIndicates that the item was selected as one of Cathy’s 103 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

A Beka's spelling books use a "...straightforward teach/practice/test approach...." rather than the expanded workbook approaches found in Spelling Workout, Spelling for Christian Schools, and most others. Lessons are intended to be taught rather than given to students as independent work. There is not enough direction or activity prescribed in student books for them to be suitable for independent study. Nevertheless, there are a few seatwork activities with each lesson in student workbooks.

The teacher editions, available for grades 2 through 6, include reduced copies of student text pages, teaching information, answers, sample sentences for all words, and study helps. There are no teaching instructions in the student books, so unless you already know how to teach spelling, you will probably want to get the teacher editions even though A Beka marks them as "optional" in their catalog.

Words are arranged phonetically and are coordinated with other A Beka language, reading, and writing lessons at each grade level. Word lists reflect an above average level of difficulty, so you might choose to abandon the coordination with other A Beka materials and choose whichever book seems to be most appropriate for each student's ability. Spelling and Poetry books can be used apart from other A Beka materials with no problem.

Poems are included at the back of each book for memorization. Grades four through six have separate, optional Poetry CDs available for $15 per level.

Some vocabulary work is included beginning with the second book. A Beka's Spelling series adds a vocabulary strand at the upper elementary grades, changing the book titles to reflect this.

In addition to spelling, poetry, and vocabulary, level 5 spends some time on word usage, pronunciation, and word analysis skills. Level 6 focuses on Latin and Greek suffixes, prefixes, and roots, stressing vocabulary, spelling, and word origins.

Vocabulary/Spelling/Poetry I-III (for grades 7-9)

These colorful books have exercises and practice for both spelling and vocabulary built into the student books. Vocabulary is the major emphasis at these levels. Spelling rules are reviewed throughout the lessons, with some commonly misspelled words keyed to applicable spelling rules.

Word lists in all levels are quite challenging. Excellent poetry from authors such as Longfellow, Scott, and Tennyson is included for appreciation. The teacher edition has answers, lesson presentation information, and other helps. A quiz booklet and a teacher key to the quiz booklet are also available.

All three levels are correlated with other A Beka language arts curricula for each level, but they also work very well used on their own.

Vocabulary, Spelling, and Poetry IV-VI (for grades 10-12)

These books follow the format of books I-III. Content in these three levels shifts to an emphasis on vocabulary from great literature and general reading. Word analysis exercises teach students to utilize knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. Spelling rules are reinforced. Verbal analogies develop logic skills. The level of difficulty is very advanced. Teacher editions provide necessary information for lesson presentation as well as answer keys

A Reason for Spelling is designed for those who want lots of activities in their spelling lessons. Each level consists of a teacher guidebook and student workbook. Both are hefty books: the three student books I reviewed ranged from 206 to 254 pages and the teacher guidebook was 350+ pages. Levels A through F are appropriate for grades 1 through 6. Lessons are very dependent upon the teacher guidebook and presentation by a parent/teacher.

Student workbooks are very colorful, featuring super cartoon illustrations. Lessons begin with a Scripture verse and lengthy "themed story." The stories convey spiritual lessons and might even be considered part of your Bible or religion class. They are well told but do not seem to have a crucial connection to any other parts of the lesson. (For around $30, you can purchase a set of four-audio CDs of the stories for each grade level.) Discussion activities following each story help you evaluate your child's comprehension as well as expand upon the theme.

Next, students are given a pre-test on the week's words, a combination of words with common phonetic elements plus some sight words in the earlier levels, moving toward most-commonly-used words at upper levels.

Because of the classroom-driven design of the program, there's no suggestion that you might skip lessons if students already can spell all the words. If you do choose to skip some lessons for this reason, note that some of the themed stories are continued over a number of weeks, and you might need to read stories from skipped lessons to maintain continuity.

The first workbook activity is fitting spelling words into word-shape boxes then marking common elements as directed. Following this, chalkboard activity helps students build visual memory. Activities for different learning styles (e.g., shaping spelling words out of Play-Doh) are presented. Next are more typical workbook activities such as filling in missing letters, putting words in dictionary order, and identifying rhyming words. Naturally, these activities increase in complexity and difficulty for higher grade levels.

Dictation exercises require students to write dictated words to fill in blanks within sentences. Proofreading exercises offer students multiple-choice options in standardized test format to recognize which word is misspelled. (I suggest skipping such proofreading exercises with students who have poor visual memory. They only become more confused when they get reinforcement with incorrect images.)

Optional games are probably only marginally useful if you are homeschooling only one or two children close in ability level. But these might be useful if you have older students who can join in. Students are also supposed to write weekly journal entries.

Each week's lesson culminates with a post-test. Supplemental activity pages in the teacher guidebook can be photocopied for use with advanced students or those who need extra work.

While this program is probably great for classrooms, there is more here than most homeschoolers need. You might select the most useful activities, skipping others as long as you have the time to sort through all of your options.

Adams-Gordon's Spelling Power (fourth edition revised) is a single volume that can be used to teach spelling to all of your children, ages eight through adult. It serves as instruction manual for the parent or teacher with all of the word lists needed for all grade or ability levels making up the bulk of the book. Students complete work with their word lists each day on two forms: Daily Test Sheets and 10-Step Study Sheets. These are then compiled in a binder or record book.

Adams-Gordon's Spelling Power (AGSP) might seem overwhelming at first. There is a great deal of material for parents or teachers to read. However, the “Quick Start Steps” at the beginning of the book walk you through placement and instructions for using the program. The book also includes a Quick Start DVD that makes getting started easier than ever since it walks you through actual lessons with a student so that it is very understandable. Watching at least the first few segments on the DVD is the best way to start, and you should have your book in hand so you can follow along. Once you understand how the program works, it is relatively easy to use.

Purchasers of AGSP receive free access to a teacher's resource website where you will find essential components of the course. This very comprehensive spelling program uses a base list of about 5,000 frequently used words that is found in the book. Another list with the 12,000 most-frequently-used and most-frequently-misspelled words is included among the teacher's resources. This list is used to choose words for review as well as for supplementing the basic 5000 words already taught in the program. These 12,000 words are coded to show when each is taught by grade level and in correlation with AGSP lessons.

The 5000 word list in AGSP is broken down into eleven levels of frequency. Each level is further divided into 47 possible groups based on common elements such as phonetic principles or spelling rules

Diagnostic tests place each student at his or her proper beginning point in the list. From that point, rather than working on predetermined, weekly word lists as in other spelling programs, AGSP has children pretest words but then study only those with which they have trouble. This should be much more efficient and effective than typical classroom programs although it does require more parental direction. Each student progresses at his or her own rate. Frequently misspelled words are reviewed periodically to insure retention. There are six levels of built-in review in the program.

A ten-step study process is used to study each word to be learned. This ten-step process should help even poor spellers improve their skills.

The majority of the book is made up of the word lists, resources for teaching, and helpful suggestions for dealing with children with specific needs. This is not a student workbook. You still need to present each lesson's spelling pretest of the words and select the skill building activity designed to reinforce spelling words and skills. Images of student pages/worksheets are placed in the instructions where they are discussed so you know what these should look like.

Direct instruction will be required at first, but children will be able to work more independently as they learn how the program works. Even after students become familiar with the program, parents or teachers still need to spend five minutes per day in direct instruction. Students should spend about fifteen minutes total per day on their AGSP lessons. The interaction required between teacher and child in the early grades actually makes this program more ideal for homeschoolers than for the regular classroom.

Suggestions for games and activities are included in the book. In addition, optional Spelling Power Activity Task Cards provide drill activities, games, skill builders, writing prompts, dictionary skill work, and other types of activities. Within each category of activities, cards are color coded into four categories corresponding to age and skill level groupings covering all grade levels. Most activities can be completed by a student working alone, although a few require a partner. The Activity Task Cards come with a very helpful teacher's manual. The manual tells you how to use the cards, offers suggestions for making your own letter tiles, cross references to AGSP lessons, and includes answers for the appropriate cards. Activity Task Cards might also be used along with any other phonic-based spelling program. I highly recommend purchasing the Activity Task Cards since they help address the needs of various learning styles.

Other optional items that you might want to get are:

  • Magnetic Alphabet Tiles (in Montessori colors) with upper- and lower-case letters plus hyphen, apostrophe, period, and space tiles
  • Word Card Box - a plexiglas card box that comes with blank cards in four different colors plus dividers
  • Dry-Erase and Magnetic sturdy notebook page that fits in a three-ring binder and can be used with the Magnetic Alphabet Tiles or a dry-erase marker.

The online teacher's resources can be accessed from most devices with a connection to the Internet. There you will find a huge library of printable resources that include student worksheets, record keeping pages, rules charts, teaching aids, and printable “cards” with skill building activities. (Note that the activities on the cards are the same as those in the book but do not include all those on the separate set of task cards.) The printable forms make it easy to create your own student record books, but you still might want to purchase the pre-printed, bound versions from a AGSP distributor that are designed with lines appropriately spaced for different ability levels. When used properly, the student record books eliminate extra record keeping by the teacher.

The DVD and online teacher's resources make this time-proven program even easier to use.

A Spelling Dictionary for Beginning Writers is a thin book you purchase for each child. It uses large, easy-to-read type with plenty of space between words. It lists most commonly used words to be used as spelling lists as well as special word banks for such things as home, sports, and weather. It also allows space at the back to add each child's own words. Especially handy is the word bank, a mini-thesaurus at the back, which will give children an easy way of finding "more colorful" words to spice up their writing. This ungraded book is good for elementary students in grades 2 through 6. The publisher has another edition for students in grades 6 through 8 titled A Spelling Dictionary for Writers.

Advanced Spelling & Vocabulary is an unusual approach to teaching both skills that should be especially useful to those pursuing a classical education. It is very similar in concept to IEW’s Phonetic Zoo (Excellence in Spelling) program for younger students.

The entire program is on either two CD-ROM discs or downloadable MP3 files. PDF files provide instructions and word lists with definitions. Instructions are written directly to the student so that they might work independently. Words are taught within the categories of art and architecture, Bible and theology, business and economics, government and law, Greek and Latin word roots, health and science, literature, music, and words drawn from the ACT and SAT exams. There are four lessons within each category with 24 words per lesson.

There are two audio files for each lesson with each file running about six to eight minutes. In the first audio file each word is pronounced by Andrew Pudewa or Cameron Covey. Following each pronunciation the speaker uses the word in a sentence. These sentences are not definitions, but they often make the meaning clear. For example, the sentence for personification is, “Welcoming refugees into New York Harbor, Liberty was a personification of freedom for the masses.”

Sentences are often drawn from literature or factual information relating to the topical area. After every eight words, Julie Walker presents a brief narrational interlude that might be topical information or might be drawn from literature or other sources; these are sometimes humorous.

Words are sometimes those that might be rarely encountered outside study of that area. For example, art and architecture words include Vitruvius, symmetira, dispostitio, peripteral, and iconostasis along with more common words such as parapet, embrasure, campanile, and petroglyph. In the Bible and theology section are words such as prodigal, cherubim, Belteshazzar, blaspheme, concupiscence, Monothelitism, presbyters, sepulchre, and soteriology. (Note that sepulchre is the British spelling, while the more common U.S. spelling is sepulcher. The word color is presented as either colour or color. While these were the only concessions to British or UK spellings I spotted, there might be others.) While biblical and religious words are included in the lists, no religious viewpoints are expressed.

Students begin by listening to the words and their sentences, then attempting to spell the words without having studied them. In the second audio file for each lesson, Pudewa and Covey pronounce and spell each word, then read the definition. Definitions are also printed in the PDF files, but students should keep a dictionary handy to check on alternate definitions or usages as well as to identify the part of speech or origin. (Origins are given in the section of Greek and Latin word roots.) The PDF definitions sometimes also include phonetic pronunciations. As students listen to the second file, they are to write the words next to their first attempt. After doing this, students compare their first attempt with the correct spelling, circling those words they spelled correctly the first time. Those misspelled are to be crossed out and rewritten correctly. Students should work on the same list until they get 100% two days in a row, most likely every day for five days. After every four lessons (an entire topical section), students should ask someone to quiz them on those words.

While it is possible to complete this course in one year, you might assign lessons in conjunction with other studies each year rather than having a student complete the entire course in a single year. For example, the health and science words would work well the year a student is studying Biology, and the music vocabulary might suit when a student is studying musical theory.

This is a challenging course that might even appeal to adults. I found many words with which I am not familiar or cannot spell, including the eternally-problematic word hors d'oeuvre. I would hesitate to give this course to a student who struggles with spelling since having to guess at the words the first time around could be too discouraging. For such students, you might have them listen to the spellings and definitions before attempting to write the words. Another possibility for struggling spellers is to consider having the student work through one or more levels of the Phonetic Zoo to strengthen general spelling skills before moving on to the Advanced Spelling and Vocabulary program.  Parents can give their student the spelling placement test for the Phonetic Zoo on the publisher's website (www.excellenceinwriting.com/spellplacetest) to determine whether Phonetic Zoo might be a better fit and, if so, at which level to start.

In my opinion, the ideal audience for Advanced Spelling & Vocabulary consists of students who already have a good vocabulary and who are competent spellers who need to be challenged. You might find this course particular suitable for strong auditory learners. Visual learners might need to have the PDFs to read along as they listen for better comprehension. It certainly is easy to adapt the course to fit your situation.

Regarding your purchase options, while I appreciate the convenience of having everything on the CD-ROM discs, I think I would generally recommend the downloadable version. Both versions include the printable/viewable PDF files, but the downloadable audio files may be played on a variety of devices while the CD-ROMs run only on your computer. This flexibility might be important so that students are not tied to the computer.

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