Spelling! For my youngest boy (14) it is his nemesis. Math is no problem, even the upper level stuff. And while he does not enjoy reading, he’s good at it. But spelling (along with writing, grammar, and other language arts related subjects) has always been a struggle. So, when I saw a chance to review the Phonetic Zoo Level B [Starter Set] from Institute for Excellence in Writing, I figured we would give it a shot. We have tried writing programs from IEW before and we enjoyed those, so I wanted to see what their spelling program was like.
This program is designed for grades 3 and up, and is vastly different from any spelling program we have used before. It consists of several parts, 5 audio CDs, lesson cards, personal spelling cards, and Zoo cards. You also get a downloadable teacher’s guide and a link to a streaming video that is a copy of the Spelling and the Brain video seminar featuring Mr. Pudewa.
As with other programs from IEW that we have used in the past, Phonetic Zoo seems a little complicated at first, but it really is pretty simple once you get started. You do need to have a CD player and a set of headphones, but other than that, you are good to go from day one. I would definitely recommend giving the teacher’s guide a read before you start, and listening to the seminar at your leisure. It takes a little while, so I broke that into two parts, and I would say it is not absolutely necessary for you to listen to the whole thing before you get started on the program.
Basically, the routine is the same every day. You and your child go over the lesson card together. Lesson cards are the big yellowish cards that contain the jingle, and all three word lists for that lesson. On the front of the card are images of animals whose names represent the spelling rule in some way (like a “caiman” for the “ai” rule) The jingle is the important part that introduces the phonetic concept for that lesson. Now, rather than follow a typical “learn the rule-practice the rule over and over method”, in Phonetic Zoo, kids learn the jingle and go over the word list with you (or by themselves if your child is older). Then they put on their headphones and listen to the correct track on the CD (each lesson has its own track and all of them are numbered, making them super easy to find, which is awesome!)
On each track, students are given a spelling test for the words from that lesson. They follow along with the test, writing each word down. While they take the test, the jingle is repeated to remind them of the word, and they get to keep the Zoo Card with them while they complete the test. The Zoo card is a small white card that has the jingle for the lesson on the back and an image on the front of the animal that is tied to the jingle which should serve as a visual reminder for the spelling rule. The test itself is given at a steady rate of speed, with a sentence for each word. Narration alters between Mr. Pudewa’s voice and another person. The rate of the words is important for a child like my son, because he gets frustrated if things move too fast, and often will give up if he gets behind.
After completing the test, the next track offers letter-by-letter corrections for each word. Students are supposed to follow along and make their own corrections to their test. Parents can choose to allow students to do this however they want. My son chose to put a check next to each correct word. Then, after he finished, I went back and looked at his test, and wrote the correct spellings next to the words he missed and we went over them together.
When a child gets the words 100 percent correct two times in a row, they move onto the next lesson. On their personal spelling list they keep track of words they frequently misspell on their own to use for individual study every five lessons. All in all, level B contains 47 lessons and a final exam. Students will progress through the program at their own rate, with some lessons taking longer than others.
I really like this program for several reasons, one of which is the fact that it is built on phonetic principals and it utilizes the auditory and visual senses to learn. For my son, this combination seems to work really well. We have tried the traditional approach to spelling where my son wrote his words day after day, and while he might have done well on a test at the end of the week, I never saw any real transfer to his writing. It seemed like once the test was over, he just forgot what he learned, which was frustrating for both of us! So far, Phonetic Zoo seems to really be helping him internalize the actual rules, and remember the combination of the sounds and the letters.
We are currently on about lesson 8 (like I said, spelling is a struggle and he got hung up on a couple of lessons) but it’s going well because the way the program is set up keeps my boy from getting frustrated while he works. The daily work itself takes less than 10 minutes, which is great for a boy who doesn’t enjoy this subject, and minimizes arguing. So, I give Phonetic Zoo two thumbs up! The starter set costs $99.00 and you can learn more on IEW’s social media here:
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