102 Top Pick for homeschool curriculumIndicates that the item is a Top Pick. The full review is available in 102 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 - F are appropriate for grades 1 - 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 four-audio tape set or 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-tests. 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

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.

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.

All About Spelling (AAS) is an incremental spelling program based on the intensive phonics approach of the Orton-Gillingham methodology. It uses multi-sensory activities that should work well with most learners.

Each lesson focuses on a single concept, such as a particular phonogram or spelling rule, and includes a spelling word list that reinforces that concept. Although the program shares many features with reading programs, and students will learn to read and write words, it is specifically geared toward teaching spelling. You might want to use it alongside All About Reading (also one of my Top Picks) from the same publisher since the lessons will reinforce one another.

Because Level 1 teaches foundational spelling rules that apply to more advanced words in higher levels, most students should begin there regardless of what grade they are in. A placement test on the publisher’s website will help you determine the correct level for your child.

Each level of AAS requires three essential components: the teacher’s manual, the student packet, and either the Basic or Deluxe Interactive Kit.

The student packet for Level 1 contains four sets of color-coded flashcards: Phonogram Cards, Sound Cards (for dictation), Key Cards (spelling rules), and Word Cards (spelling words). It also includes tokens for segmenting words, a progress chart, and a certificate of completion. Flashcards are printed on perforated cardstock, so you’ll need to separate them and store them in your own 3” x 5” index card box or the Spelling Review Box offered by the publisher. With the exception of the Word Cards, the Level 1 flashcards are all used again in Levels 2 through 7. Student packets for subsequent levels include additional flashcards, level-specific materials, a progress chart, and a certificate of completion.

The Basic Interactive Kit includes the Phonogram Sounds app that will run on computers and mobile devices, a set of letter tiles, magnets for the letter tiles, and spelling divider cards for your index card box. (As the child moves through the program, flashcards are sorted behind dividers labeled “Review” and “Mastered.”) The Deluxe Interactive Kit adds the Spelling Review Box, sparkling bee stickers for use on the progress chart, and a custom tote bag for storing all of the components.

The Phonogram Sounds app gives students practice in seeing, hearing, and identifying the phonograms. The letter tiles are one-inch square laminated tiles of all the letters and phonograms. The adhesive magnets go on the back of the letter tiles so you can use them on a magnetic white board. Author Marie Rippel recommends using a 2’ x 3’ magnetic, erasable white board that you can also use for storing the tiles....Some children may not need or enjoy the hands-on work with letter tiles, and for those students Rippel suggests that you write out words on paper or a white board instead.

AAS lessons are presented as “Steps.” The Steps are fully customizable and designed to be completed at the student’s pace, so depending on the needs of the student, each one might take a couple of days or weeks to complete.

Level 1

Step 1 in the Level 1 book teaches the sounds of the individual letters—including such variations as the two sounds of the letter "g"—using phonogram flashcards. Parents who aren’t familiar with the sounds of the phonograms, can learn them from the Phonogram Sounds app.

After introducing the letters and their sounds, Level 1 teaches students how to “segment” words by identifying the individual sounds within them. Color-coded letter tiles are introduced, first for learning how to alphabetize the letters, then for constructing words.

Dictation begins early in the program in Step 4 when students are asked to listen to the sound of a phonogram and then point to the letter tile that makes the sound. In later lessons, students write the phonogram on lined paper then listen to and spell words with letter tiles.

By the end of Step 11, students are writing spelling words and several phrases such as “big dog.” Step 12 introduces consonant digraphs "th, sh," and "ch," with subsequent Steps continuing to add more challenging phonograms and concepts like compound words and syllabication.

Level 2

Level 2 quickly reviews Level 1 content then adds 11 more phonograms. The program emphasizes rules and generalizations for spelling, and syllabication plays an increasingly important role. For example, students learn rules such as those on Key Card 5, which teaches that the vowel in a closed syllable is usually short and the vowel in an open syllable is usually long. The student packet includes “syllable tags” that students use in conjunction with the letter tiles to identify types of syllables.

“Rule breaker” words like of and was are taught at this level, but there are very few sight words. The amount of dictation expands to several phrases and sentences per day. Vocabulary introduced in Level 2 ranges from simple words like cake, late, and car to more challenging words like compost, humid, and prevent.

Level 3

Level 3 adds suffix tiles and more syllable tags to the letter tile collection. In addition to work on suffixes and syllables, silent-e words receive more attention as students complete the Silent E Book that comes in the student packet. More challenging phonograms like the sounds of "oo" and ways to spell /k/ are taught along with contractions and homophones. Spelling words taught in Level 3 are generally longer and more complex, with words like childhood, graceful, we’ll, and giggle being representative.

Level 4

Level 4 adds prefix tiles to the tile set, then continues to advance with more challenging phonograms like "eigh" and the four sounds of the letter "y." Syllable types, syllable division rules, and spelling strategies are also taught at this level.

An example of a dictation sentence from the page 20 of this level is, “None of the students took the test today.” Examples of some of the more difficult words taught are chimney, eighteen, and unhinged.

Level 5

Level 5 adds phonograms such as "si" and "ough," while continuing work on other phonograms such as those that make the /er/ sound. Students also work on plurals, including irregular plurals. One sample from the dictation on page 62 is, “What flavor is the cake you’re baking for us tonight?” Some more-challenging spelling words from Level 5 are encouraged, equipment, gnome, perfection, and volcanoes.

Level 6

Level 6 teaches phonograms like "mb, gu," and "augh;" exceptions to the i-before-e rule; suffixes such as "able" and "ible;" some “rule breakers”; and other advanced facets of spelling. Examples of the more-challenging words are agreeably, collectible, encouragement, sheik, and sheriff. Many of the words are familiar words with suffixes that are often misspelled.

Level 7

Level 7 provides coverage through high school. The program covers advanced sounds, Latin roots, Greek word elements, French endings and silent letters, and some Spanish and Italian words. Examples of some of the words are extinguish, convenient, solemn, bankruptcy, transformation, and psychology. Students work on word analysis and learn to identify prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Letter tiles are frequently used for word analysis and word building.


Although All About Spelling is a rules-oriented program, the multi-sensory approach helps students to be successful. AAS addresses the three learning modalities in these ways:

Visual: spelling rules are demonstrated with color-coded letter tiles. Flashcards for phonograms, rules, and spelling words also provide visual cues.

Auditory: lessons are taught aloud and flashcards are reviewed orally. When learning new words, students hear themselves say the sounds as they write the corresponding phonograms.

Kinesthetic: children build new words with letter tiles; write phonograms, words, phrases, and sentences from dictation; and handle flashcards.

While AAS is not as multi-sensory as a program that includes songs and games, it should meet the needs of most children. And it uniquely incorporates multi-sensory learning all the way through high school.

AAS does not teach handwriting or letter formation. If you are teaching a young child who has not yet learned to write, you might choose a handwriting program to use in conjunction with AAS.

With the exception of the stickers and progress chart, all items are non-consumable, so you could use them with another student. However, if you are teaching two or more students simultaneously, each student will need his or her own student packet so you can customize the review portion of the lesson.

One of the most impressive features of this program is the instruction for teachers. Lessons are explained thoroughly and include teaching tips and cautions about common problems at pertinent points in each lesson. Because you learn as you go, the layout eliminates the need for you to first read through a separate manual whenever you need information. If you should need additional help, the publisher offers free phone and email support.

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