No-Nonsense Spelling Curriculum -The Phonetic Zoo (Review)

One of the more tedious subject in our house has been spelling. It was often accompanied by much unhappiness. Spelling was a drudgery! We decided this school year to give the Institute for Excellence in Writings (IEW) spelling program, The Phonetic Zoo (Level A), a trial run.

What’s included in the program?

When you purchase the starter set of The Phonetic Zoo you will get a number of different components. The program comes with:

  • 5 audio CDs,
  • zoo cards with the lesson’s jingle,
  • lesson cards which include the spelling words, jingle, and teachers notes,
  • and a video seminar titled Spelling & the Brain.

Each of the zoo cards and lesson cards feature pictures of animals that correlate with the lesson’s spelling rule, hence the name “Phonetic Zoo.”

Phonetic Zoo Program with Lap-book

There are three levels of The Phonetic Zoo, levels A, B, and C. They each go over the same spelling rules with each level, but with increasingly difficult spelling words. You only need to purchase the starter set once, because the lesson cards have the words for all three levels on them. When you’re ready to move on to level B you only need to purchase level B audio CD’s to accompany the zoo cards and lesson cards that you already have.

How does the program work?

I spent time last summer watching Spelling & the Brain video seminar. It was a very informative DVD which outlines the research and premise’s of this spelling curriculum. One of the main underlying suppositions is that because spelling is sequential, when learning to spell a word, the order of the letters is best learned via auditory input. When we look at a word, we see it as a whole and it can be easy to miss the sequence of the letters. Hence, the reason when students misspell words all of the correct letters may be recorded, but in the wrong order.

  1. As the teacher, I introduce each new card and accompanying spelling words, often using ideas from the teacher notes. Usually I have Bradley spell each of the 15 words on our large white board while I dictate the letters to him.
  2. In the days following the introduction of new words, Bradley listens to the audio CD. On the CD each word is dictated, and Bradley attempts to spell the word correctly. He then listens to the next track on the CD where the correct spelling of each of the words is dictated to him.  At this time he copies the word as it is dictated to him. (I designed a spelling sheet for Bradley with spaces for him to record his spelling words both times through. You can download it here.)
  3. The final step is for Bradley to check his work and see how many spelling words he completed correctly. When he gets 100% twice in a row, he moves on to the next lesson.

Every fifth lesson is a Personal Spelling Lesson. In the weeks leading up to this lesson I jot down words I’ve noticed Bradley has misspelled on other assignments and these become his spelling words for this lesson. The Personal Spelling Lessons take a bit more time on my part, as I have to take the place of the audio CD by dictating the words and their correct spelling, but I’ve found it’s quite easy to do. Often, it’s a subject I do while nursing babies.

Our Experience

I wasn’t sure if Bradley would be quite ready for this program this year. As I stated before, he has always disliked spelling. Though Veritas Press recommends this program starting in 2nd grade, IEW recommends the program for students 9 and up. We decided to give it a try, knowing I could always throw it on the shelf and use it in a year or two if he wasn’t ready for it.

Some lessons Bradley has accomplished 100% the first two times through right off the bat. Trickier lessons have taken him a couple of weeks. But the vast majority of lessons take approximately a week to complete. I try not to put any pressure on him, because finishing the program isn’t a race. I just want him to learn to be a good speller. I typically give him 2 school days off of spelling after successfully completing one of the lessons. This is a nice incentive for him to study the words and complete the lesson.

Inside our Lapbook

There was a learning curve the first couple of weeks for Bradley. He sometimes got frustrated with not being able to keep up the pace with the words that were being dictated. He had to learn to coordinate writing and pausing the CD. Now, he rarely pauses the CD, but flies through the spelling words. His writing speed has definitely increased this year.

We also used a lap-book I made at the beginning of the year to store zoo cards and also to review words. I downloaded the directions Phonetic Zoo lap-book on the IEW Yahoo group loop. The lap-book print-outs are available in the teacher note’s which come with the program. It’s been a fun way to keep all of the zoo cards in one place and a good way to review past spelling words.

As of right now, we have completed 23 lessons this school year. There are 47 lessons in each level of the program, so we definitely won’t finish level A this year. In fact, I expect it will take most, if not all of next school year to complete level A. That’s just fine with me. We’ll simply pick up next school year where we left off this school year.

What I like about the program

The focus is on mastery. We don’t move on to new words until Bradley has mastered the set he is working on.

It’s a (mostly) independent program. Other than introducing new words to Bradley, periodically checking his work, and helping him with his personal spelling list, Bradley is responsible for his own spelling program. Curriculum that frees up this busy mommy while not sacrificing quality education is always appreciated!

There’s no busy work. Alphabetizing, copying words, spelling crossword puzzles, word finds, and a countless number of activities found in most spelling programs are no where to be found here. This is a good thing for my no-nonsense boy who got frustrated with all of these types of activities in years past.

Bradley doesn’t mind spelling! To say he enjoys spelling would be a bit far fetched, but I don’t hear any complaints about spelling anymore. He happily and quickly completes this subject.

Great customer service and support. I was missing one of the lesson cards, so I emailed IEW and they sent one out in the mail and I had it in just a couple of days. They also, as I mentioned before, have a yahoo group with IEW representatives who are always available to offer suggestions, support, and answer questions.

Money back guarantee. IEW has a fantastic money back guarantee! If you purchase any curriculum from them and decide you don’t like or it simply doesn’t work well for your family, you can return it for a full refund. The refund has no time limit, and they’ll even provide you with a postage paid envelope.


5 thoughts on “No-Nonsense Spelling Curriculum -The Phonetic Zoo (Review)

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  3. I “found” the Phonetic Zoo last spring, I agree with everything you said about the program. I have two no-nonsense boys who struggled with all the past spelling program busy work. This program worked great for both of them. I only bought the Level A cd’s at first, but after just a couple of weeks added the Level B cd’s for my older son.
    Just an fyi, there is a daily spelling sheet on the teacher’s cd.

    • I don’t think I have a teachers cd that came with my program. I think I must have purchased mine right before they came out with the version with teachers notes. It is nice that IEW offers the teachers notes free online for those of us who didn’t get them. Maybe the daily spelling sheet is in that download. I’ll have to go check! Thanks for the heads up and for stopping by!

  4. My daughter just entered 7th grade, and we’re on our third year (level C) of Phonetic Zoo. We went cheap and didn’t by the CD’s, so that makes for more work on my part. But my daughter enjoys the special time we have memorizing together. Her spelling has greatly improved (almost average based on standardized tests). BTW, challenges that include poor spelling, difficulty with the physical aspect of writing (tired hand), flipping letters while writing, and poor penmanship may suggest dysgraphia. FYI.

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