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Does Your Child’s Spelling List Make Sense?

Spelling lists are the foundation of many spelling programs. But when you take a closer look, you’ll see that most spelling lists don’t make sense to the student. In fact, most lists have major flaws that actually keep kids from learning to spell.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some common types of ineffective spelling lists. After you know what to look for, you’ll be able to spot the ineffective lists and prevent frustration for your student. And you’ll save yourself a lot of grief, too!

Common Types of Ineffective Spelling Lists

  1. Words taken from a book the student is reading

    The words on these lists are usually unrelated both in terms of content and phonetic structure. For example, this 3rd-grade spelling list from Trumpet of the Swan includes words such as catastrophe, reveille, and plumage.

  2. Spelling List 1 - words take from a book
  3. Words showing all the different ways that a single sound can be spelled

    These lists can contain words with as many as six or seven different ways to spell the same sound. For example, the following list features the long I sound and includes words such as item, timed, pie, cry, light, and kindness.

  4. Spelling List 2 - different ways to spell the same sound
  5. Words taken from the Dolch or Fry lists (in frequency order)

    The words on this type of spelling list are completely unrelated to each other. Seemingly random words such as hot, because, far, live, and draw, are grouped together only because they are frequently used words.

  6. Words centered around a theme

    One week the spelling list might be geography-themed and include the words longitude, Britain, and region. The next week the word list might focus on math and feature words like quotient, addition, and prime. These are all good words, but unfortunately kids are expected to memorize the spellings by rote instead of learning why the words are spelled the way they are.

Spelling List 1 - words taken from a book a child is reading

Here’s the Main Problem with These Lists

All these lists make spelling much harder than it needs to be. The related phonograms and spelling rules generally aren’t explicitly or systematically taught, leaving students to figure out the code on their own or resort to guessing. Rote memorization of the words on the list is difficult (and boring). And the words are easily forgotten because there is nothing for the learner’s mind to “attach” the words to.

For many students, learning to spell with ineffective lists leads to a lifetime of poor spelling. But there’s a better way!

Spelling Lists that Do Make Sense

Here’s the good news! There is a fifth type of list that actually does make sense.

  1. Word lists centered on a single, well-organized spelling concept

    This is the type of list we use in the All About Spelling program.

    Our lists are different. We don’t just hand the student a list on Monday and expect him to have it memorized for a test on Friday. In fact, we don’t even have tests! Instead, we teach students why words are spelled the way they are and demonstrate how all the words on the list are related to each other.

    Phonogram card 'IGH'

    For example, when we teach the IGH phonogram (which says /ī/ as in high), we teach multiple words that contain IGH, such as:

    Words that contain the phonogram 'IGH'

    Can you see how the words on this list reinforce the phonogram the child has learned and provides the opportunity to practice it?

    Unlike the Long I list shown in list type #2, our list has reason and logic behind it and will therefore be easy for a student to remember and use for encoding new words later on.

An Emphasis on Review

After the student learns the words that contain the IGH phonogram, we review that newly learned concept in many ways.

In all, we incorporate four major spelling strategies (phonetic, rule-based, visual, and morphemic), as well as five minor strategies. Check out this article on effective spelling strategies to learn more.

We do whatever it takes to make learning stick, which is the exact opposite of what happens with the “list on Monday, test on Friday” approach. When you use spelling lists that make sense, it’s a win-win. Your child gets the type of teaching he deserves, and you get the satisfaction of watching him become a happy, successful speller.

Has your child ever been given a spelling list that didn’t make sense? Please share in the comments below.

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

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Sue

says:

One of my children is a struggling speller and my youngest is currently learning all the rules and he’s frustrated for sure. He asked why we don’t just spell using the symbols that tell how they sound. He has a point. haha. How do I know what level to start with? They are going in 2nd and 5th grade. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Sue.

Please see our Spelling Placement Test to help you decide which level would be best for your students. Most students need to start in Level 1 of All About Spelling, but older students will go quickly through the first level or two.

All About Spelling is a building block program with each level building upon the previous one. The rules and concepts learned in Level 1 are applied in Level 2, and then those are applied in Level 3, and so on. Placement for spelling is based on the student’s knowledge of spelling rules and concepts rather than grade level, reading level, or the words a student has memorized.

For example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like “cat” and “kid” but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher-level words such as “concentrate.” Other students switch letters or leave out letters entirely. This usually occurs because they don’t know how to hear each sound in the word. Level 1 has specific techniques to solve these problems.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we don’t recommend starting higher than Level 2.

We encourage parents and teachers to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that he already knows and slow down on the parts that he needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure he understands the concept being taught and can demonstrate it back to you with the tiles or app, and then move on. This blog article on Using All About Spelling with Older Students has a good example of how you might fast track.

If you have any questions, please let me know; I’d be happy to help!

Shannon

says:

EVERY WEEK! When I asked the teacher how he was supposed to know what “E” to use to make the long E, I was told they know based off their phonics lesson! Sorry, but ea, ee and eCe all make the same sound! I am excited to use this spelling program over the summer to hopefully make some sense on how to spell so he can have a much better year in school next year!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Shannon,
The sound of long E can be the most difficult, as there are 9 ways to spell it and very few rules for when to use which phonogram or pattern. All About Spelling teaches just one way at a time, allowing students to master one way and become very familiar with the words before the next spelling is introduced. Since there are so many ways to spell long E, it takes through Level 5 of All About Spelling before all are taught, but this approach allows for a much more solid mastery.

If you have questions about using All About Spelling, please let me know.

Jo' van Tonder

says:

Thank you!

Karen O.

says:

I use your program for my daughter. Her friend comes to our house several afternoons after school. Her 2nd grade word lists are ridiculous. There are multiple spelling rules in one lesson. My dear dyslexic daughter would have never made it. That is why we homeschool with your program.

Jen

says:

This makes so much sense! Wish I could have learned spelling this way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand that feeling, Jen. I became a better speller myself as I taught All About Spelling to my children!

Monet

says:

We’ve definitely tried the word list method and it’s just boring no matter how I try to jazz it up. We’ve tried read it, write it, build it, rainbow writing, write each word X number of times, using magnetic tiles, and on and on. The kids still find it boring and I’m not convinced it’s really helping them to learn vs just memorize the words.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks for sharing, Monet. Yes, the weekly list approach just doesn’t work for many students.

Olivia

says:

Because All About Spelling teaches spelling concepts explicitly in a logical sequence, my students have proceeded through the 7-level program without undue struggle or frustration and have become strong spellers!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful to hear, Olivia! It’s a great feeling as your student finishes that last level of All About Spelling and you know they are set up for a lifetime of spelling success, isn’t it?

Kaeli

says:

I have so enjoyed teaching my son to spell with All About Spelling! I love that you teach the reason behind how words are spelled with the spelling rules. I’m often like, “That makes so much sense now why that word is spelled that way!”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great to hear that you are enjoying teaching your son with All About Spelling, Kaeli!

Allison

says:

My daughter’s spelling lists have been a challenge this year. She isn’t taught any rules to go along with the lists. I’m looking forward to using AAS with her next year.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Allison,
Yes, many approaches to spelling give weekly lists to be memorized, with little to no teaching on how to spell the words beyond rote memorization. This approach does work for some students, but all students can benefit from explicit teaching of how to spell.

Anna T

says:

I have a few levels of All About Spelling, and I hope to use it. I llike the idea of teaching them to spell this way!

Samantha

says:

Mine were given lists that sometimes went with whatever they were studying in other subjects (such as math terms). Some of the words seemed a little above their grade level at times, though. My oldest likes knowing the “why” behind things so this would be great for her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Samantha,
Yes! All About Spelling is a great program for students that like to understand the why behind things.

DaLynn McCoy

says:

I haven’t used AAS or AAR but one question I have about spelling lists is based on teaching based on phonograms. Doesn’t the child usually realize that all the words are spelled the same way and “check out” mentally? I’m not sure this would be beneficial for my child, because if all the words this week are spelled in the same way, then they’re all spelled in the same way and no effort is put into differentiating these words from those with the same sound but a different phonogram. I’m not sure I’m communicating my concern effectively, so I hope this makes sense!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is an excellent question, DaLynn!

This blog post highlights one aspect of All About Spelling, on teaching one concept at a time and learning a bunch of words that use that concept all at once. This helps students Make Connections with words, which improves memory.

However, another aspect of All About Spelling is that we don’t teach a list, test students on it, and then move on. For example, each step of All About Spelling includes 12 dictation sentences (shorter 2- to 3-word phrases in the first level). These dictation sentences include words and concepts from the current step and everything previous. The teacher reads a sentence aloud once, the student repeats it and then writes it. This provides ongoing review of everything taught up to that point to help Make Spelling “Stick”. It also helps teachers to pinpoint concepts that the student may need additional work on for mastery.

In time other ways to spell the same sound are also taught, although students are given lots and lots of time to master each way before adding the next. For example, there are 9 ways to spell the sound of long E. The first way is introduced at the end of Level 1, but the final way isn’t introduced until Level 5. Along the way and after all the ways to spell a sound are taught, there are “Word Sort” lessons. In these, the ways to spell a sound are listed in columns and the student is asked to spell words and then place them into the correct column.

But, since each way to spell the sound is taught separately and mastered fully before the next is introduced, there is much less confusion.

Anyway, I hope this helps you understand how All About Spelling works a bit more completely. However, if you have additional questions, I’m always happy to answer!

Sarah

says:

Hahaha! “They were” merged into there🤣. *They were supposed to.

Sarah

says:

I’ve told my kids to ignore the spelling part of their curriculum before because there supposed to learn words related to history that we don’t even use anymore, and other ridiculous words for their grade level😔

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sarah,
The idea of bringing spelling into other studies sounds good, but it does make spelling more difficult than it needs to be for many students.

Nina

says:

The curriculum I’m using at the school where I teach currently has a list of pronouns as spelling words. (me, my, she, her, he, his, you, your, we, our, they, their) After using All About Reading and All About Spelling to homeschool my daughter last year, I find this list very frustrating to teach.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I can understand your frustration, Nina. There are so many different phonograms, rules, and concepts going on in a list of pronouns!

Torieann Woodstock

says:

Am loving this app very informative

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Torieann.

Gina McGrew

says:

Amen!! This was my frustration with every other spelling curriculum I have used- even teaching in public school. I’m so thankful we found AAS and AAR!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear that All About Spelling and All About Reading are working out so well for you, Gina!

Jill

says:

I pulled my son out of school because his spelling list was insanely senseless and he started to dislike school.
It’s like the school wants the kids to feel defeated.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry spelling led to your son disliking school, Jill.

Mary

says:

Thank you Robin E. Sorry

Mary

says:

oh my goodness I’m so sorry for that feedback I did not mean to do that I’m going to text somebody else and I’m so so sorry please forgive me??????????

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

No worries, Mary. I removed that comment.

Amber

says:

Thanks for explaining the word list reasoning. My 6yo just finished level 1 and it was wonderful to see how proud she is that she finished it. We are going to review the words that she learned in level 1 the next week or 2 before we start level 2. I hope that it will be ok since I am sure the words will be mushed from all of the lessons

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amber,
Reviewing all the word cards from the previous level before starting the next one is a great way to ensure mastery! I do it myself with my own children. Here is a blog post with 10 Great Ways to Review Spelling Word Cards that can help make it more game-like and fun.

Sydney

says:

I absolutely think Dolch sight words should be apart of a spelling list. I am an Orton Gillingham specialist and I use whatever concept we are learning in our OG groups that week for most of my spelling words, but I also add two Dolch sight words because they need to know how to read and write those words. That’s a very important part of reading.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sydney,
All About Spelling does teach the Dolch list, as well as other lists like the Ayers and the Fry.

90% of the Dolch list words are decodable and phonetically regular. They do not need to be learned as sight words, leaving only 10%, just 20 words, that need to be studied as rule-breakers. And All About Reading and All About Spelling do teach these 20 rule-breakers, as well as the other 200 words on the Dolch list.

Here is a video that discusses the phonics patterns of the Dolch list.

Sydney

says:

I respectfully disagree. I believe many more of the sight words than 20 break the rules but we can of course agree to disagree. I don’t think spelling lists need to be as strict as you state in this article as there is room to learn more than just one thing in a spelling list each week. I understand your perspective however and I respect what you are teaching!

Heather

says:

I am using the information in this post to help me create spelling lists that are more meaningful using the books he is currently reading! Thanks.

Matilde

says:

Hi!
Could a person with ESL and a strong ascent be successful teaching with your program? Any advise?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Matilde,
Yes, I think so. We have been told by parents that are not native English speakers that All About Reading and All About Spelling make teaching reading and spelling easier for them because it is laid out to be easy to teach.

A strong accent could make an occasional word more challenging, especially when the teacher is reading a word for the student to spell. However, one easy workaround for this is for the teacher to go to an online dictionary entry of the word and click on the speaker icon next to this. This will pronounce the word with the most common American (or British, depends on the online dictionary) accent.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have additional questions. You can also check out our lesson samples and see what you think.

Lori Palmatier

says:

In distance learning this past spring, our first grade teacher just stopped teaching spelling all together. Consequently, my daughter who is now starting second grade, is behind on her spelling. We decided to homeschool this year and are using your Spelling and Reading curricula. I love how each lesson is broken into small bites, easily taught and absorbed. AAR and AAS has been one of the best decisions we made and I’m confident that not only will we catch up and exceed grade level expectations, but we will find and address learning gaps that existed before. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and well-designed program. One question: do you recommend that the dictation take the place of weekly memorized spelling lists/tests?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lori,
It’s great to hear that All About Reading and All About Spelling are working out so well for you and your daughter!

As for whether the dictation should take the place of a weekly memorized spelling test, the answer is yes and no. Like a test, the purpose of the dictation is to assess that the student has learned the material well. However, unlike a test, if a child does not do well with the dictation you would not just assign a low grade and move on to the next thing. Rather, if a child is struggling with the dictation you would want to go back, review the phonograms, concepts, and rules she is struggling with, reteach, review, and then reassess.

All About Spelling is a mastery-based approach. This means the student should be mastering the material before moving on. In essence, this means every student in the program should be getting As, because otherwise they would not be moving on.

We have a blog post on How to Do Spelling Dictation that you may find helpful. Notice that it’s important for the student to proofread what she has written before you check it for errors. We all make mistakes when we write, so being able to find and correct them ourselves is a crucial skill.

Let me know if you have further questions or need anything else.

Gail Stomski

says:

I love and use both your reading and spelling curriculums. However, I DO wish that you would have some kind of preprinted word list for each spelling lesson. I have been typing up your word list for each lesson, but also include additional words that I have to search for on the internet with the same phonogram. It’s time consuming, but I use the list for my kids to write out the words during the week and then I like to give them the written test a few days later. I know you state in this blog that your program doesn’t give tests, but it assures me that my kids are learning. So, my main purpose in my comment is that I just wish you had the word lists already listed out and to have more challenge words, like the ones I find on the internet. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gail,
The dictation found at the end of each Step in All About Spelling is a much better “test” or assessment than using the word cards, the more words, and other words that use the same concept. This is because when testing on all the same pattern, the student can just apply the pattern to each word. This assesses if students have understood the pattern, but it is easy for them to then forget to use it later on when new spelling words are given.

The dictation is more difficult as it requires students to spell words that use a variety of concepts, rules, and patterns previously learned all mixed together. He or she has to know which to apply and when. This is much more challenging and a truer assessment of whether the student has mastered the concepts and allows you to determine which things need more review.

We don’t provide more challenging words as longer and more advanced words generally use multiple spelling concepts and methods that are taught later on in the program. The word lists given in All About Spelling are words that use only the concepts that have been introduced to that point. We don’t expect students to spell words that use concepts, rules, or patterns that have not yet been explicitly taught yet. If the words in AAS are easy for your students, make sure they can teach the concept back to you with the letter tiles to ensure mastery, and then move on. That way you will get to harder words more quickly.

All About Spelling is a research-based spelling program designed to take the struggle out of learning to spell. The methods, sequences, and procedures in the program are carefully designed to follow educational research and ensure students the best chance at spelling success.

Tosha Ruggles

says:

Throughout my son’s first grade year I struggled with his spelling lists. I didn’t understand why the words were grouped in a specific way – and they didn’t seem to align with any focus.
This summer, I started in AAS 1 just to be sure we hadn’t missed any rules. This program is EASY to implement, it is thorough, and my two young boys put up with it each day without complaints! I’m so excited to use this program to supplement his school program when he returns. I wish I had this sooner!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tosha,
I’m so pleased to hear that All About Spelling is working so well for your son! Thank you for sharing this.

Christy

says:

I have had such difficulty the past few years trying to teach my children to spell that I ended up not even doing any spelling last year. Now I understand why it was so frustrating. Most of the programs we used had lists like the examples you showed above. I hope I’m not too late jumping in with AAS, but I need to help my kids learn how to spell well. Thank you for this information.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased to hear that this was helpful for you, Christy. It is not too late to start All About Spelling; it has been used successfully with teens and even adults! We have a blog post on Using All About Spelling with Older Students that I think you will find helpful.

Please let me know if you have any questions about placement or anything else.

Charity

says:

It’s interesting to see how many spelling lists I had growing up were helpful in expanding spelling skills.