Review of Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A from Institute of Excellence in Writing (IEW)

Spelling is something I value so much. As a writer, and a former child spelling bee enthusiast, I also want my kids to value it, too!  Working with my 6th grader, I knew that he wasn't quite up to speed on common words that he should know, so I eagerly signed up for a review of the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] program from IEW (Institute of Excellence in Writing.)

This was our first time using an IEW product, and I was afraid that I would be overwhelmed. Up until this point, our spelling lessons had been part of a more comprehensive out-of-the-box language arts program or I had the boys study weekly lists (like I did growing up.) The Phonetic Zoo program was much different. There were lessons cards with 3 lists of words on them (one for each level: A, B, and C), as well as animal cards, and a big box of CD's for my son to listen to.

IEW Phonetic Zoo

I started out by listening to the recommended video from IEW on Spelling and the Brain. As it turns out, there was a reason my son wasn't getting spelling like I wanted him to, and it really wasn't his fault. It also confirmed that my spelling bee days of drilling word after word through audio playback and verbal repetition was the right way to learn, and probably why I'm comfortable with spelling to this day. (You can also watch the video, for free, here. It's a long one, but well worth the time investment.)

Before we started anything, I took the time to laminate all the cards. My son is notorious for ruining study aids. He tends to lay them about carelessly, drop them, bend them, get food on them, and lose them. I put a single hole punch in them and put them onto a ring for safe keeping. This took time, but helped us keep our cards together.

He has been using this program every day, Monday - Friday. He starts by reviewing the new word list and rule, then takes the test with the audio CD. He continues taking it every day until he gets 100% correct. If he's having particular trouble, I quiz him over meals verbally until he feels comfortable. With this method, he has not taken longer than a week to master a word list completely.

What I really like is that the word lists make sense. Each are grouped by a common "rule", such as "i before e except after c" -- with exceptions, of course. He was mastering words like "seize" in just a few days, even though they don't follow a rule. He was memorizing them and they were sticking in his brain for good. I could see his quality of writing improve dramatically within just a few weeks of doing the program, because he was gaining confidence, and he was learning word rules. So, even if he hadn't learned a particular word, he was using the word rules to made a very good educated guess (which was better than he previous uneducated guesses.)

The Phonetic Spelling Zoo program has a placement test on the website to help you know what level to start with. Keep in mind that age and grade should not be a factor. Either a student is at a particular level or they aren't. Don't feel bad if your older student needs to start at Level A. Take it as a blessing that you can get them the right tools to spell, even at a later age. Some people never get that opportunity, and it shows in their writing as adults.

At a cost of $99 for the program, it is an investment, but I want to assure you that you are getting a few things with this program:

1) All the materials are non-consumable. If you have several kids, they can all use this program over the years. (Just be sure to store the materials well, or laminate, as I did!) We are saving lots of money by using this program over a consumable spelling course with each kid.

2) Self-teaching is efficient. I'm a busy mom. My son takes complete ownership over this program, and I only help him with particularly difficult words by practicing with him throughout the week. Otherwise, he uses the computer and headphones, his notebook and pen, and a quiet corner of the house to do his spelling every day. And he needs nothing from me.

IEW Phonetic Zoo

You can check out this program on the IEW website. Based on our experience with this program, I would not hesitate to invest in another program or product from this company!

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