Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing: Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A Starter Set {Review}

First Thoughts
Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) sent us Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] to review. I have always struggled with spelling and it doesn't appear to be the most favorite subject for Ceesa either (Jo-Jo also got to review this, too), so I was glad to have the opportunity to review this program. IEW is such a great company that I knew we would be getting a very high quality product!

About Phonetic Zoo
Phonetic Zoo is a complete spelling program based on brain research that shows that children learn to spell by auditory processing (head phones are most important to using it). There are three levels with 30 lessons in each level and your child starts with a placement test for you to determine which level is appropriate to begin. No matter the level, if it is the first time that you have begun with Phonetic Zoo, the starter set is recommended.

The starter set contains: 

  • recordings of the list words and the corrections for your chosen level
  • lesson cards 
  • zoo cards and personal spelling cards
  • access to a pdf file that contains teacher notes
  • a link to a streaming video of Spelling and the Brain seminar 
You have the option to purchase a physical version with cds and materials or a digital version with downloads.

How it Works
To begin, start by watching Spelling and the Brain. Look over the teacher notes, so that you can model a lesson. This is a good time to emphasize the 100% for two consecutive day rule. Pointing out that it happens that one day all may be correct, but the next there may be some that are missed. (I'll explain why below.) Then get started.

The child is presented with a list of 15 words that are based on certain combinations. She is asked to spell the words and then she is provided with the correction for each word. No matter the level (A-C), the lesson stays the same; however, the difficulty of the words increases with the advancing levels.

Lessons include:
  • ai/ay
  • ie
  • first vowel talks
  • o-u-g-h
  • homophones 
  • o/ow
  • ight/ite
  • steely e's
  • babysitters
  • ow and exceptions
  • ow/ou
  • aw/au
  • ur/ir
  • voiced/whispered
  • ph
  • no job e
  • syllable e
  • sounds of y
  • magic e
  • decorative e
  • American-Canadian
  • oo/ui
  • tricky e's
  • ew
  • oi/oy
  • qu/gu
  • oo
  • cononant blends
  • plurals
  • poker e
  • el/em/ef/en/ex/es
  • rhino words
  • three shuns
  • talkative vowels
  • jail words
A spiral notebook and a pencil are needed. There is a recommended format for setting up your page. Every day, there is a new page for each attempt and one new attempt is made each day. Generally, each session takes about 10 minutes. Below is a sample from Ceesa's work.

Each page says "Lesson ___" and "Attempt ____" at the top. The lessons are numbered and the attempt refers to the number of times that the student works on the list. Next comes the numbers 1-15 written in a column and at the bottom of the page "# correct ____."  The words in the first column are the child's attempt and the words in the second column are the corrections provided by the audio recording. The child is to compare the words and cross out the words that are misspelled. Then at the bottom, the child writes the number correct. Before the child can move on to the next list, the words in the current list must be spelled correctly two consecutive days/attempts.

The zoo cards and personal spelling cards are the size of a playing cards. The zoo cards have the lesson pictures and the rule, jingle, or hint on the back. The personal spelling cards are blank on the back and designed for the child to create their own lists based on missed words. There is an opportunity for a personal spelling list every 5 lessons through lesson 40 and 1 from 41-46.

The personal spelling lists are based on misspelled words in personal writing lists and the tests are to be administered by a parent. In addition to the words, there is a spelling sentence for the child to spell as well.

You can create a phonetic zoo with these cards using a tri-fold board and handouts for the zoo. They are attached by making flaps. (You can see our attempt below).

Here is a close up of what one of our cages will look like when it is completed. It matches the bottom right of the picture above.

The lesson cards contain 3 example words on the front with a picture. The back contains a rule, jingle, or hint and the words of all three of the lists. These are great for reviewing the lessons daily. They come with a hole punched in the left hand corner, so that you can use a ring to keep them all together. The personal spelling lessons have lines for writing the child's list.

Our Experience
After I reviewed the teacher materials, the girls and I went over the rules for the program. I taught them how each page should look and explained how the attempts worked. We talked about the basics of using the head phones and we found the level that was appropriate for their ears. Each time they listen to the cds, they set the volume to what they needed.

The girls worked on this daily. We found the first lesson went smoothly, but the second lesson was slow going. It took both of the girls over a dozen attempts to get all 15 correct. And lesson 2 was where we had a bit of a melt down. Jo-Jo was so excited one day when she reported that she got all 15, but the next day there were tears when she missed 2 and as she put it, "Now I have to start all over." I asked her if she needed a break for a little while. "No, Momma. I can do it." And she worked until she got through it twice with 100%. Lesson 3 was easier and they are currently working on lesson 4.

After a couple of lessons, we started our phonetic zoo. I decided to hand write ours since our printer was acting strange. The lesson cards are attached on the left so that they can be lifted to reveal the 3 words given for each list. Cards are organized by certain rules or common characteristics and kept in cages.

Cages have several different animals in them. Wondering about the name zoo yet? It has to do with the fact that the English language is derived from so many different languages that rules aren't always correct and it can be chaotic, much like a zoo!

When Jo-Jo was working on one of the lessons, she decided to try to find out where she was making errors in the words. She found that all of the words she missed at an a. I was amazed. She found her pattern of error herself,

Our Thoughts
I like that the program is based on auditory processing. A lot of times hearing the spelling of words is often overlooked. The children write them over and over and do various activities with them, but actually hearing the letters that make up the words is not common in other programs that I've seen.

Ceesa says, "I like it because I like finding patterns in words that can help me spell new words."

Jo-Jo says, "I like that I got through lesson 2 and got through lesson 3 real fast."

I would like to see if there was some kind of evaluation to determine if the girls are able to spell the words correctly within their own writing. I suppose this would have to be very individualized, but maybe a section to show that 

We'd recommend this for those who have children that are auditory learners and need to build their spelling fluency.


We haven't made it to a personal spelling list yet, as both girls have just gotten to lesson 4, but I wonder how those will go. I will be interested to see if they know the words that they struggled with or if they only learned them for that particular list.

Wishing you homeschool blessings,


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