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Using All About Spelling with Older Students

All About Spelling is frequently used with teens and adults. But sometimes parents and teachers aren’t sure how to get started with older students who need remedial work.

Here are four of my favorite strategies:

  1. Adjust the First Few Levels to Your Child’s Needs

    Most older children should begin All About Spelling with Level 1. The words in Level 1 are easy to spell, but many students have not learned the concepts behind them, and these concepts are crucial for success throughout the program. For example, most struggling students will know how to spell cat, but they don’t know why cat is spelled with a C instead of a K. They obviously don’t need to practice spelling the word cat, but they may need to learn the concept so they can apply it to words like emergency and concentrate. The beginning levels fill in important gaps like this.

    Smiling teenage girl writing on paper

    Here are some other Level 1 concepts that older learners may not be familiar with, but that will be a huge help when they get to higher level words:

    If you think your older student may be able to skip Level 1, take a look at our All About Spelling Placement Test for help in determining the best placement.

  2. Consider How You Present the Program

    To help older kids understand why it’s important to start with Level 1, try comparing learning to spell to something they can relate to, like video games or swimming lessons. Your child may understand that even though the first level of a game (or of swimming lessons) may seem easy, that doesn’t mean he should jump ahead to the fifth level. But it does mean that he can go quickly through the earlier levels, learning what he needs to know so that when he does get to the higher levels, he isn’t overwhelmed by having to learn too much at once.

    Anna Gillingham, co-founder of the Orton-Gillingham approach, put it this way: “Go as fast as you can, but as slow as you must.”

    With older learners, you will probably go much faster than you would with a younger child, but be prepared to slow down if you reach a concept that your child doesn’t understand. Your goal is to achieve mastery.

  3. Have Your Child Teach a Concept Back to You Using Letter Tiles

    When your child can teach a spelling concept back to you, it’s a good sign that he or she has mastered a concept or group of words and is ready to move on. But if your child has to stop and think it through or seems challenged, spend more time on that particular lesson.

    Teenage boy using letter tiles on board
  4. Customize the Lessons for Your Child

    Older children will need to have the program customized to meet their needs, with specific customizations determined by a child’s prior spelling knowledge. Merry Marinello, one of our customer service reps, encountered this situation with her own children. When Merry started using All About Spelling Level 1, her children were in sixth and fourth grades, well past the “typical” age for Level 1.

    The PDF below explains how Merry customized the first sixteen lessons of AAS Level 1 for her children. Of course, you may need to use different customizations for your children, but this may give you some ideas as you start out.

    download customizing for older students

Do you have questions about using All About Spelling with an older student? Post in the comments below, and we’ll be happy to help brainstorm solutions!

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Hallie Lavulo

says:

We had no difficulty now. Thank you! ck and k words are easy!

Debbie

says:

This was very helpful! I appreciate all of the support I’ve gotten from online articles, tips and games, to personal emails and even phone calls! Thank you so much for a great program and personal support!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so happy to hear that we have met your expectations with support, Debbie! 😊

Donald Errol Knight

says:

Thanks…useful!

Rebecca Scott

says:

Love the explanation as to why to start on level 1 for older children.

Jodi Barb

says:

I teach 7th grade reading and would like to concentrate on “fixing” the gap I see in vocabulary and spelling. I don’t know that my school would allow me to purchase much (if anything), but what would you most suggest and how to begin.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jodi,
Thank you for the work you do with students!

For vocabulary, check out How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary blog post. Research suggests that the most successful way to build vocabulary in children and students is in the context of literature and conversations. I would recommend spending a portion of your time each day, even if you can only spare 10 minutes, reading aloud to your student from a book that is just a little above their own abilities. When you come across a word that you feel they won’t know, discuss it. Talk about what it means and other words that have similar meanings. Over the next few days, bring the word up again. Maybe keep a running list of words and encourage students to use it in class either spoken or written.

For spelling, if you can purchase anything, we recommend beginning with level 1. Yes, the words will be easy for most 7th grade students, but the phonograms and rules covered in that level form the foundation of all spelling. If your students know why we use C for cat and K for kit (and haven’t just memorized those words), they will know why we use C for concentrate and K for kidney.

I hope this helps some. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Becky Harrison

says:

Hello! I have a 5th and 3rd grader this year and am switching from Spell to Write and Read (what we’ve used since the beginning) to All About Spelling. The concepts are very similar, although there are a few differences. I’m reading through your website, trying to figure out where to begin. I’ve downloaded the pdf as well. Any suggestions would be welcome!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Becky,
As you noticed, there are a few differences to understand between Spell to Write and Read and All About Spelling. You have probably spotted them, but I’ll go over them as they will help with placement.

One of the biggest differences between our programs and SWR is that we separate the teaching of spelling and reading. Many students learn to read at a faster pace than they learn how to spell and separating these skills helps students progress at the right pace for them in each area. Here’s more information on Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately.

Also, the words in AAS are grouped according to spelling concepts and rules, not word frequency. For example, when the child learns the generalization about when to use K or CK at the end of a word, the spelling list contains words such as “black, clock, duck, ask.” This allows the child to see the patterns in the English language. After the child learns these words, they are mixed in with previously-learned words for mixed practice.

Letter tiles are used to demonstrate the spelling rules instead of a marking system. Letter tiles make abstract concepts concrete as children can see and touch what is being explained and can try out the rules for themselves.

In AAS, we systematically teach when each sound is used. So, for example, rather than writing a “2″ for the second sound of O in the word “open,” we teach them syllable rules and how they affect sounds. Open is divided o-pen, and the O is in an open syllable. Vowels in open syllables are usually long. Our blog post How to Teach Open and Closed Syllables explains these syllable types.

As the student progresses in All About Spelling, they will spend more time analyzing words for clues on how to spell the word. Is there a rule that applies? Does pronouncing for spelling help? Is this word a rule-breaker? Do we need to use visual strategies? Can we use morphemic strategies? What is the role of Silent E in this word (if it has one)? and so on. In this way, the student is taught to understand how the letters in a word are working and why, but they don’t have to memorize a marking system.

The lessons also have built in review, and the card system makes it easy to keep track of what needs review and what is mastered.

To get an idea of where to start, first take a look at our All About Spelling Placement Guide. Make sure they have mastered the content in Level 1, which I am fairly sure they have.

It is rare for a student to start higher than level 2, but occasionally someone who has used SWR previously will. Some people comment that AAS does more work with teaching syllable rules than SWR. If your students are very confident in syllable rules you may be able to start higher. If that’s an area of weakness, then you’ll probably want to start with 2 but fast-track through the easier steps. This blog article has a good example of how you might fast track through level 1 and the same strategy can be applied to other levels as well.

If you think they can start higher, look at the samples and scope and sequences for each level to see what they have mastered and which concepts need additional work.

For other differences, you might like to check out this article in our FAQ file.

Let me know if you have additional questions: I’m happy to help.

Kara Taliaferro

says:

Thank you for the advice and download. It’s very helpful.

Valerie Rodriguez

says:

Thank you… I am starting this program with my 15 year old dyslexic who is spelling at a 5th grade level and is very embarrassed by it. I will probably be picking your brain about customization and how to prevent causing his self esteem from plunging into the dumper! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m here for my brain to be picked, Valeria. 😉

I’d love to hear how things go and am happy to help you help your son succeed with spelling.

Anita

says:

Love encouraging older ones to help younger kids review.

Jill

says:

Thanks for the tips and the pdf for using with older kids. It can be tricky to approach such basic concepts with an older kid and not allow them to feel the task at hand is remedial or that they are inferior. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Jill. Let me know if you need more ideas or have questions.

Amanda

says:

Thank you for the tips and download!

Sarah

says:

I started using this with my daughter at an older age. She grew fast in her understanding of spelling. Don’t be afraid to use it at any age. I even improved my skills and confidence as an adult in my spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sarah!

Cathy Reilly

says:

Thank you for this. It helped me realized that, while I was inclined to skip AAS 1 because I’m working with an 11 y.o. who is currently in Level 3 of AAR, the AAS Placement Guide clearly indicates that there are still sounds she may not have down for each of the letters (like the four sounds of ‘y’). I also like your comparison of spelling with levels of video games, or a sport.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Cathy. I think you will find your 11-year-old goes through level 1 of All About Spelling quickly because of her background with All About Reading, but it will still be worthwhile in solidifying her foundation in spelling. Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Mandy

says:

I would love to try out this program

Melinda Antonakos

says:

Learning the spelling rules has helped my fourth grader become a better speller! Love All About Spelling!

Jenna sybert

says:

We had to go back and re-teach quite a few things that my son missed. He was an older student but surprisingly he didn’t care about being in a lower level. I guess we never even focused on that it was a lower level. We love All About sSpelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jenna,
Some students don’t pay much attention to the levels; it definitely makes things easier when you need to start an older student. It’s great that All About Spelling has worked out so well for him and you.

Jill

says:

Great info thanks!

Ashley

says:

I’m using this for my own children and for my ESL students. I love the tip about having them teach it back to you. I think this will help so much with my older (9 year old) learners. They can spell many of the words but, I can see where the knowledge of the concepts behind those words is lacking. They also struggle with vowel sounds so the break down of the vowel sounds has helped drastically with their spelling even though the level one words are words they can already spell with ease.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ashley,
Yes. Learning the vowel sounds explicitly and practicing them does help a lot of students. Vowels are tricky.

Teaching skills back is a great learning tool across all subjects and even non-academic things. I recently had my 12-year-old teach me how to do a load a laundry before turning her loose with my washing machine. 😊

Jessica

says:

This will definitely help my son, thanks!

danielle bowers

says:

Thanks so much for this info!

Lauren Marshall

says:

The placement guide would be extremely helpful to use with any students but especially my older kids! Thank you for the guidance.

Tina

says:

I have a little one just diagnosed with dyslexia and I’ve been pouring over all of the various helpful information. Former preschool teacher – loving so many wonderful ideas on the multi-sensory teaching.

Tina

says:

I’m new to Orton-Gillingham and just love all your helpful articles and downloads.

Jessica

says:

I’d be excited to learn more about this program. I have a little one who does not like to read and teacher her has been a bit difficult.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
All About Reading is designed to take the struggle out reading!

All About Reading is multisensory. This means AAR approaches learning through sight, sound, and touch. This helps kids remember what they learn because they take in information in various ways and also interact with it in various ways. It includes research-based instruction in decoding skills, fluency, automaticity, comprehension, vocabulary and lots and lots of reading practice.

The program is laid out in an orderly form for the teacher, so that each day you can simply open and go. It is easy to do at home without special training or previous experience.

Each lesson time is simple and explicit, and will include 3 simple steps: review of what was learned the day before, a simple new teaching, and a short practice of that new teaching. The program is designed for you to move at your child’s pace, so you can go as quickly or as slowly as your child needs through each step.

Lessons are incremental. AAR breaks every teaching down into its most basic steps and then teaches the lessons in a logical order, carrying the students from one concept or skill to the next. Each step builds on the one the student has already mastered.

AAR uses specially color-coded letter tiles. Working with the All About Reading letter tiles can make the difference between understanding or not understanding a concept. The lessons are scripted, so you can concentrate on your child. The script is very clear, without excess verbiage. We also have a Letter Tiles app that can be used in addition to or instead of the physical tiles.

AAR has built-in review in every lesson. Some children need lots of review in order to retain concepts, while others don’t need as much–so you are free to adjust this to your child’s need. Your child will have a Reading Review Box so you can customize the review. This way, you can concentrate on just the things that your child needs help with, with no time wasted on reviewing things that your child already knows. One of the things that Marie, the author, noticed when she was researching reading programs is that few programs have enough review built in for kids to gain fluency.

I hope this gives you an idea of All About Reading’s focus and approach. However, I’d love to help you with any further questions you may have.

Bonnie Raras

says:

My son didn’t do very well when our homeschool co-op tried to do spelling with him in second grade. This year, without the co-op, he has improved somewhat through copywork but still is struggling. Now he is showing real signs of genuine interest in learning to spell words so seeing this post could not have come at a better time for us! Thank you so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Bonnie. My daughter was 4th-grade when we started All About Spelling and it made all the difference for her.

Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Kym

says:

I hadn’t thought much about learning the concept of why something is spelled the way it is. Thanks for the idea.

Christina

says:

The blog post have great information. Thank you for providing them for free.

Robyn

says:

As a homeschool mom to 2 special needs children, this program appears to be something worth trying. I appreciate the organization.

Melissa

says:

I have heard about it through my friend, who also teaches the Orton- Gillingham approach. My son has ADHD and slightly ASD, this would be such a blessing since he really does struggle with his reading. And I am hoping that this can give him the confidence he needs to progress.

Jessica Fernandez

says:

Thank you fir this step by step explanation. I was gonna skip level 1 thinking it’s not necessary but now will go ahead and customize it instead!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jessica. I understand the tendency to want to move to a higher level with an older student, but I’ve seen what starting at level 1 can do. My daughter made noticeable improvement in her spelling in the few short weeks it took to work through level 1. The foundational skills made a big difference.

Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Elizabeth Chamberlin

says:

What age is too young for this? I teach first and second grade, but my first graders cannot read, and just know their letters. Also, how do I do this in a class setting? I have 4 first graders, and 5 second graders. We are limited on time, since I teach a lot of subjects to both grades. I cannot do this individually. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Elizabeth,
We generally recommend students start All About Spelling 1 after they have finished All About Reading 1, or the equivalent reading level. However, given your combined classroom, I think it would benefit for the first graders to participate as you work with the second graders.

Our blog post 12 Reasons Teachers Love All About Reading and All About Spelling has more information for you about using our programs in a group setting. We also have a document with more details that I could email you if you are interested. Let me know.

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