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.

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 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 are 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.

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.

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".

Spelling Power 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.

Spelling Power 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. Once you understand how the program works, it is relatively easy to use.

The newest (2006, fourth) edition of Spelling Power comes with the Quick Start DVD and the Teacher's Resource CD-ROM. The Quick Start DVD 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.

This very comprehensive spelling program uses a base list of about 5,000 frequently used words. A list of the 12,000 most-frequently-used and most-frequently-misspelled words is included on the Teacher's Resource CD-ROM. 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 Spelling Power.

The 5000 word list in the teacher's manual 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, Spelling Power 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 book itself has been rearranged for this latest edition to make it easier to use. I especially appreciate the pictures of student pages/worksheets placed in the instructions where they are discussed. 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.

Direct instruction will be required at first, but children will be able to work more independently as they learn how it 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 Spelling Power 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 Spelling Power 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.

The companion Teacher's Resource CD-ROM is installed directly onto your computer. The CD includes the Spelling Power Digital Tutor, a spelling tutorial program for independent study. Parents or teachers need to enter word lists for students, but then students can work with the words—listening, repeating, and typing them into the computer. The CD also features a huge library of printable resources that include student worksheets, record keeping pages, rules charts, and teaching aids, and printable “cards” with skill building activities. (Note that the activities 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 Spelling Power 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.

Note that the Teacher's Resource CD-ROM is not compatible with Mac systems. Those with Macs may contact Spelling Power for an alternate way to access skill-builders and printable forms, but they will not be able to run the Digital Tutor. Since the Digital Tutor is not essential to the program, this should not be a significant drawback. Also, the DVD and CD-ROM are sold separately and will work with older editions of Spelling Power.

The DVD and CD-ROM plus the improvements in the book itself make a great program even better. I think parents who were overwhelmed by the explanatory information in previous volumes will find the latest edition far more user friendly.

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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