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Research on what methods work best for teaching spelling dictates the methods used in this spelling series for grades 1 through 6. Three strategies used for spelling instruction reflect that research: sound-letter relationships, visual memory, and meanings.

Sound-letter relationships (phonics) are taught first. Then work on visual memory helps students to identify which of the various phonetic possibilities is correct. "Meanings" refers to the fact that many words are related (derived from the same base words), and by studying bases, prefixes, and suffixes, you can identify words of related meaning, thus making connections that also help with spelling. While all three strategies are used throughout the program, sound-letter relationships are emphasized in the first two grade levels.

Word lists are purposely not presented as word families but instead are designed to teach most-frequently-used words as well as spelling rules. Room for the addition of what are called "Home Base" words—extra words that are added to the list by the teacher—is allowed within each lesson along with space to practice writing using those words.

Writing/composition activities are a major part of each spelling lesson at all levels, and a number of these incorporate Bible topics. In fact, strong Christian content is apparent throughout the series.

Teacher's editions are useful for understanding the philosophy behind the program and for understanding such things as the use of the "First Look" test process and "Home Base" words. This "front" information is the same for all levels. Activities, sample sentences, related devotional suggestions, and reduced copies of student pages with answers are also found in the teacher's editions. If sample sentences and an answer key are not important to you, I still suggest purchasing one teacher's edition (even if you are teaching more than one student level) because of the "front" information.

Grade One

In the first grade book, there are no spelling lists for the first twelve weeks' worth of lessons. Instead, attention is first devoted to phonetic foundations. This feature makes this one of the better spelling programs for beginners. Children also work on visual memory and writing activities, where they are encouraged to use invented spellings for words they do not know--a feature that will certainly alienate or attract some parents! Large print and colorful format following a circus theme make the book appealing and easy-to-use. Activities stretch beyond spelling to include practice with alphabetizing, synonyms, sentences, punctuation, capitalization, contractions, and other skills.

Grade Two

At second grade level "The Neighborhood" is the theme. Students work on rhyming words, context clues, definitions, antonyms, poetry, creative writing, and letter writing, in addition to skills introduced at first grade level. Word lists appear in both manuscript and typeset formats but not in cursive. Students are encouraged to begin work on a Dialogue Journal (described in the teacher's edition).

Grade Three

"Transportation" is the theme for this level, and the emphasis shifts from phonics to visual memory although phonics is not ignored. Word lists appear in manuscript, cursive, and typeset formats. There is more work with words in context, use of the dictionary, and definitions than in earlier levels.

Grade Four

Phonetic principles are reviewed, and visual memory skills are developed. Word lists appear in cursive and typeset formats. New skills are syllabication, accented syllable, the use of the schwa, and higher level thinking skills. This level's teacher edition adds suggestions for small group or partner activities (usually not useful for home educators), and strategies for meeting needs of children with different learning styles.

Grade Five

The emphasis changes to word meaning for fifth and sixth grade levels. In addition to spelling word lists, most lessons also include charts of words related to the spelling words. All basic phonics principles and spelling rules are reviewed through the fifth and sixth grade levels. Exceptions are also studied. Skills incorporated include vocabulary development, use of words in context, word origins, prefixes and suffixes, expanding forms of words, parts of speech, proofreading, dictionary work, and research. The fifth grade book uses the theme "The Word Power Team" with characters such as Captain Consonant and Sam Synonym.

Grade Six

The theme for this level is "Sports." Many writing activities involve Bible-related topics or verses.

The Spelling by Sound and Structure series for grades 2 through 8 is one of the most inexpensive options you will find. It uses a formal academic approach, and the early grades have a strong phonetic emphasis that shifts more toward the study of word structure in upper grades. Students do extensive work with dictionary type phonetic spellings throughout the series.

The level of difficulty of the spelling words is about average. Both word lists and activity content in all Rod and Staff books reflect both Christian beliefs and their view of a kinder, gentler society.

Although student workbook pages use the fill-in-the-blank approach, the teacher's editions offer a number of activities for oral or expanded written work. Consider adding or substituting some of these when appropriate. Student books are consumable up through fifth-grade level.

Teacher's editions are student pages with answers overprinted. There are also sections with additional teaching suggestions and sentences you might use for giving spelling tests.

Grade 2

This workbook divides each lesson into two parts: Part A works on synonyms, antonyms, definitions, picture clues, context clues, and categories of words; Part B works on phonetic patterns and word structure (syllables, plurals, verb forms, etc.). There are 34 weekly lessons with some of those being review lessons. Twelve new words are introduced per lesson.

Grade 3

New word lists are presented in both printed and cursive forms. Words are grouped by phonetic or structural similarities so children can learn the pertinent rules. There are 34, two-page lessons with 13 words per lesson except in review lessons. Each lesson has three parts: A develops familiarity with word meanings, B teaches the phonetic and structural principles, and C works on dictionary skills.

Grade 4

This worktext is more detail-oriented than most other spelling programs at this level. Lessons are divided into four parts: A "...introduces one or two speech sounds and teaches the most common spellings of these sounds....", B helps familiarize children with word meanings, C teaches dictionary skills, and D works on a variety of other skills such as syllabication. Because the amount of material covered increases at this level, the print is smaller and more crowded. Although the student workbook is consumable, some students might find it easier to do their written work in a separate notebook. A spelling word dictionary at the back is handy for reference. (A revised edition has been introduced since this review was written.)

Grade 5

The fifth-grade level book in this series is very similar in format to that of the fourth-grade book. Although there is a great deal of detail and drill, the word lists reflect an average level of difficulty. (A revised edition has been introduced since this review was written.)

Grade 6

At sixth grade level, the student text switches from soft cover to hardbound textbook. There are 34 lessons with 20 words per lesson except for review lessons. Spelling, pronunciation, meanings, structural patterns, abbreviations, contractions, syllabication, and other concepts are taught and reviewed. Challenge activities are included for advanced students. A Speller Dictionary at the back is handy for reference. The teacher's edition provides teaching tips and answer keys.

Grade 7

The seventh-grade student book is hardbound as is the teacher's edition. The teacher's edition has the student pages printed on the left-hand pages and teaching information/answers on the right-hand pages. It might be possible to work only from the teacher's edition, but since the books are so inexpensive, I suggest getting both books. Although the title at this level is still Spelling by Sound and Structure, the emphasis switches from sound and structure to Latin word elements—roots, prefixes, and suffixes. The content is challenging, but the lessons are quite interesting and thought-provoking. "Old English Dialects," "Abstract and Concrete Meanings," "First Bible Accounts in English," and "Old English Place Names" are typical of the side studies we find in various lessons. Consider using this text with students beyond seventh-grade level because of the quality content.

Grade 8

Latin and Greek roots, etymology, and words from other languages are added at this level.

You might want to check out the premade lesson plans from Homeschool Planet that are available for Spelling by Sound and Structure.

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According to Wanda Sanseri, author of Spell to Write and Read, the two essential tools for learning the logic of English spelling are the phonogram cards and the spelling rules. These cards provide a visual memory jogger of the rules for easy review and reinforcement. For example, on the front of one card are the letters "XS" covered by the international symbol for no (a circle with a slash through it). The back of the card has the rule being illustrated which is: "X is never followed by S." While based on the 28 rules taught in Spell to Write and Read and The Writing Road to Reading, these cards can stand alone as a beneficial aid for anyone teaching spelling. Cards are available in two sizes: small - 4.25" x 5.5" or large - 8.5" x 5.5".

With Spelling Plus, one perfect-bound, 168-page reproducible book can serve as your spelling book for kindergarten through sixth grade. The entire program focuses on 1000 most commonly used and misspelled words, teaching ten in kindergarten and 165 at each of the remaining six grade levels. Children are pretested to determine the appropriate beginning level. At the front of the book are background information concerning spelling, teaching tips, and techniques.

Words for each level are broken down into eleven lists. Many of the words are associated by phonetic characteristics, prefixes, etc. Homophones are included in each lesson. Notes to the Teacher provide valuable information pertinent to each list. A unique feature is the use of dictation for review and reinforcement.

Each student also personalizes his list by choosing five personal words each week. This is important when you realize that there are only about five words per week provided within the program itself. Extra word lists at the back of the book feature words related to geography, geometry, and math. I recommend that you also purchase the companion volume, Dictation Resource Book, and consider the useful, but less crucial Homophones Resource Book. The program is quite easy to use, especially with the assistance of the resource books.

Dictation Resource Book

The Dictation Resource Book consists of short sentences and paragraphs to be dictated to students after each spelling list in Spelling Plus. It will save you the time and energy of dreaming them up yourself. The book also features reference tools such as letter formats, extensive capitalization rules, postal abbreviations, common abbreviations, punctuation rules, prefixes and suffixes, charts and definitions of parts of speech, bibliographic form information, lists of Latin and Greek roots, and a word history dictionary containing all the words used in Spelling Plus.

Homphones Resource Book

Homophones Resource Book features all homophones already in Spelling Plus along with quite a few more. Tips for teaching each pair of homophones are included. The bulk of the book is reproducible activity sheets where students complete sentences by filling in the blanks with correct homophones. Lessons are coordinated with spelling lessons or suggested for particular grade levels, making it easy to determine which ones to use. It would be possible to skip this volume if your children are not having any particular difficulty with homophones.

Fred and Sarah Cooper have been producing and distributing products that use music to teach various subject areas for more than 20 years. They sell products produced by others, but they have created some of their own to meet particular needs. Spelling is one of those areas where music is rarely employed to help students learn, yet it might prove helpful for those who learn better when information is set to music.

Spelling to Classical Music stretches the definition of classical music to include tunes from light opera by Sir Arthur Sullivan, John Phillip Sousa marches, and polkas alongside music by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and many others. In my opinion, this unusual mixture is a very positive feature.

Spelling to Classical Music consists of a 158-page soft cover book with two CDs featuring 35 songs in all. Songs were written by Fred Cooper and are beautifully sung by his daughter-in-law Amy Cooper. Lyrics for each song focus on a particular spelling rule while also addressing exceptions. In addition, there are songs on the rules for creating plurals, for adding prefixes and suffixes, for distinguishing homophones, and for syllabication. Charts of homophones and Greek and Latin roots (with their meanings and derivatives) are at the back of the book.

The book begins with a few pages for parents and teachers about basic methods for teaching spelling and some recommended resources. After that, each “lesson” begins with the lyrics for the song. Songs are complex, so students would do well to follow along in the book while listening to a song. Some of the songs are singable by students but not all; however, students are more likely to just listen rather than sing along. Given the often complex subject matter of the songs and the difficulty of fitting them to each musical setting, some songs flow well while a few are a little awkward and strained. If you don’t like a particular song, you can always just use the text and skip the recording. In each lesson, after the presentation of the complete song, lyrics are broken down into sections for more concentrated teaching. For example, “The Sounds of the Letter C” song first addresses the hard sound of c with the first two stanzas. This section of the song is reprinted with a brief explanation and a list of exemplary words. The next stanza teaches the soft sound of c, again followed by a brief explanation and list of exemplary words. The final stanza explains that c is often included with another consonant to create blends. The lesson then presents words with ch, cl, and cr blends. Students might work on only one section per day or even per week, possibly taking a spelling test based on each list. (Lists are often too lengthy to test on every word so you would probably select representative words for a test.) At the end of many, but not all, lessons there are randomized lists of words from the various sections of the lesson. These lists are divided into groups of 20 words each to make it easier to use them for spelling tests.

Songs cover the common phonograms for vowels and a few consonants as well as phonograms such as air, aw, ul, er, eer, oi, or, oo, and ow. There are over 5,000 words covered in the course.

Spelling to Classical Music might be best used as a review or reteaching resource with older students, perhaps sixth grade through adult levels. While you can use it with younger students, much of the vocabulary (e.g., “admission, aggression, commission, gherkin, rheumatic,”) is beyond the primary grades and might even be challenging for fourth and fifth graders. You could use it alongside another spelling program, selecting songs and lessons to use as supplements to your core program, even if some of the vocabulary is above a student’s level. You might use only the songs in such instances.

A teen could work with the course on his or her own, but younger students will need direction as to how and when to use it.

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