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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

Testimonials from Two Real Moms

Jamie Martin shared a blog post about teaching her teenage son with All About Spelling.

Spelling is important, of course, but never more important than the overall health and well-being of your child! Even with all the hard work we’ve put in, Jonathan is never going to call spelling his favorite subject, nor will it be his strongest one. The way I see it, that’s what spellcheck and dictation are for. 😉



I’ve asked him if, looking back, he wishes that I had pushed him to start earlier. He said, “Sometimes I do, but I think even though it might have made my spelling stronger, it would have made my love of learning weaker. And I don’t think I would be as interested in writing as I am now.”



My biggest advice, no matter what subject you’re covering with your child, is to remember to laugh! Because Jonathan chose to get serious about spelling, he was (almost) always a willing participant, which means we have had some of our best times and biggest laughs during our lessons. (Read more…)

And Bridget shared her son’s inspiring story with us via email…

I am a retired teacher, an instructional coach, and the mother of 4. My youngest son is dyslexic and has struggled with reading and spelling his whole life. He is also a reluctant writer because of his struggles with spelling. He is a smart child, but I couldn’t make sense of what he tried to write.

I was searching for a way to help him and stumbled upon your program online. We made a commitment to see it through. In two weeks we will finish Level 6 of All About Spelling. It has taken us about 7 months to advance through levels 1-6. I am so proud of my son and so thankful for this program. If you could only see where he started and where he is now. I look back at the dictation we were doing seven months ago and the dictation he is able to do now, and I am just amazed. It has taken commitment and hard work from both of us, but the reward is that he can now communicate what is in his mind onto paper.

My son will never be a perfect speller, but I would venture to say he now spells better than many adults. I would highly recommend this program to others who are desperately searching for a way to help their older child. I hope this testimonial will encourage others to take the plunge, be persistent and committed, and see how this program can open doors for your child.

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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Rebecca E

says:

This post is so full of helpful hints, advice and tools. I’ve had AAS on my shelf for a year but this post makes me feel more prepared to start it with my older child.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this post was helpful for you, Rebecca! However, if you need more help or encouragement or just have questions, please feel free to ask! We are happy to help.

Michal

says:

After 3 1/2 years of public school and 2 years of homeschool, my sixth-grader still struggles with spelling. Without a diagnosis of where the problem lies, I’ve finally decided to invest in a comprehensive program that starts from the beginning. These tips are just what I need to adapt the program for her!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad these tips were helpful for you, Michal. If you need help or anything, please let us know.

Nicole Christofferson

says:

Helpful information, thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Nicole!

Carla

says:

Thank you! I was stressed about starting level 1 with my older child, but now feel more at ease.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this blog post has helped you feel more at ease, Carla! However, if you have additional questions or concerns, let me know. I’m happy to help!

Shilo

says:

Very insightful, especially as I consider starting with my older daughter. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Shilo.

McKenzie Nicholas

says:

I love this post. I started all about spelling level with my 9 year old so I love the tips that are shared.

Ashley

says:

This makes me excited to get started with AAS and AAR! Thank you for not only offering the curriculum but some great pointers as well!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Ashley!

If you have questions about placement or anything else, we are happy to help!

Carol

says:

We begin first grade this fall. It would be wonderful to win the spelling program to get off to a good start. Thanks for the opportunity!

Mom_of_3

says:

Thank you very much for taking the time I lack to help others! I have 3 girls and being able to hop on here and get the help I need is priceless. :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome! But if you find you need help that isn’t on the blog, or you can’t find it, please contact us. We are happy to help!

Jennifer McCraw

says:

Thank you for letting us use your hard work to also teach our kiddos!

jackie

says:

this will be very useful when i start teaching my son reading and spelling next year. thank you for all these amazing resources and wonderful tips to help us succeed!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Jackie!

Alisha

says:

I have seen these books and I look forward to using them, my oldest is just now in pre-k and I cannot wait to see how well he does!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

We have lots of fun stuff on the blog for Preschoolers, Alisha!

Amy

says:

This was extremely helpful! I was contemplating what level to start on but it is so true that knowing the concepts or the “why“ behind things helps the knowledge to stick. So instead of skipping level one because we have those words memorized we will start there to learn concepts and hopefully it will be a quicker run through.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was so helpful, Amy! Starting with Level 1 is especially important for students that are struggling with spelling, even if they have memorized all the Level 1 ones. The foundational rules and concepts in Level 1 will make a big difference in higher-level spelling. And Level 1 typically does go quicker for older students.

Ree H

says:

As an associate in an elementary, these tips are great! I can easily apply them with some of the kiddos I work with.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad these will be helpful, Ree!

Roxanne Faccini

says:

We are absolutely loving AAR. My daughter is reading!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Roxanne! So exciting to hear that All About Reading is helping your daughter be successful with reading!

Katharine Gindin

says:

Great suggestions about customizing the plan.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Katharine.

Denise

says:

Thank you for this blog – it has helped me determine how time isn’t important but making sure they have the fundamentals to move forward.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Denise. Yes, the foundational skills must be mastered before a student is ready to move on to more complex concepts.

Lk

says:

Started when my son was 10-works well, not too childish

Lk

says:

Started when my son was 10; other teachings hadn’t stuck. This is working well!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so excited to hear that All About Spelling is working well for your son! Thank you.

Grace K

says:

I know this is an older post but I just wanted to say I needed it and thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Grace. It is an older post, but its helpfulness has not diminished! I still refer people to it quite often.

Carol Wise

says:

Need help with 10 y p going into 5th grade high achiever yet poor speller

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carol,
Your student is in much the same place my daughter was in. She was in the second half of 4th grade, reading well above grade level, but a terrible speller. I started her on Level 1 of All About Spelling. She was able to finish that level in just a month (approximately 20 minutes a day 5 days a week), yet she made remarkable improvement in her spelling in that month! She went on to complete all seven levels of All About Spelling in about four years’ time, and now I sometimes ask her how to spell words!

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.

If you have additional questions or concerns, please let me know. I’m happy to help!

Amanda

says:

I am homeschooling my 4th grader for the first time this year and notice that she has some spelling gaps. According to the placement test she is borderline level 1 and so I want to start her there to fill the gaps. Do I need to buy the teacher’s manual and student workbook to just review most of the concepts or can I purchase just the student workbook? Also, I have ordered the All About Reading deluxe interactive kit through my charter school and am awaiting approval. Should it go through, does it have the same letter tiles as the spelling interactive kit?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great plan, Amanda! When a student has gaps in spelling, it is best to start at the beginning to fill those gaps.

All About Spelling does not include workbooks. Rather, the Student Packet has cards used for organizing the customized review that helps make the program so effective. You will absolutely need the Student Packet and the Teacher’s Manual to fill the gaps your student may have. The All About Spelling Level 1 Materials package includes both.

As outlined in this blog post, you will simply go through the level more quickly. You will very quickly skim the parts that she already knows and slow down on the parts she needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure she understands the concept being taught and can demonstrate it back to you with the tiles or app, and then move on.

Note, our current promotion is for a free Spelling Interactive Kit and Review Box with the purchase of All About Spelling Level 1 and Level 2. Since your student will likely go through Level 1 very quickly, I recommend getting Level 2 anyway. However, the promotion ends on Friday, February 25, and is only available for individual orders, not charter schools or purchase orders.

If you cannot take advantage of the promotion, you do not need a full Spelling Interactive Kit if you receive a Reading Interactive Kit. The Basic Interactive Kits for reading and spelling are almost identical (these have the letter tiles, magnets, and divider cards). So, if you already have a reading kit, you would only need one or two components from the Spelling Interactive Kit:

Spelling Divider Cards (These are different than the Reading Divider Cards that come in the Reading Interactive Kit. You’ll need these to organize the customized review of the spelling cards.)

– Optional: Spelling Review Box (This is used to store the spelling cards, or you can use a card box you find elsewhere.)

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

Laura Fineberg

says:

Very Helpful. thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Laura.

Amy N

says:

We are on level 3 of AAS and my 10 year old is not able to transfer the skills into daily writing. He has used the AAR up through level 4 and reads beautifully, but spelling has not caught in or crossed over into a daily habit. Is there any advice, help or recommendations you can give regarding your products?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What you are describing is common for many students, Amy.

When students are writing outside of spelling time, they have many more things to focus on such as content, creativity, organization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization, what kind of audience they are addressing, and more. It’s a lot to think about at once! Many kids are in junior high or high school before they are able to put these skills together effectively. Even professional writers need proofreaders, so students definitely need ongoing training in this area.

One thing you can do is have him self-edit his writing the next day, looking for spelling errors as well as capitalization, punctuation, homophone, and organization errors. With my children, we called it “CHOPS”; they had to CHOPS their writing. The acronym helped them to remember to look for Capitalization, Homophones, Organization, Punctuation, and Spelling errors. (Organization meant things like word spacing and correct letter formation in the early years, and paragraph indention and logical order and flow to their sentences as they got older.)

Here are two articles with additional tips to help you:

Automaticity in Reading and Spelling
How to Handle Spelling Mistakes

Linda Kovac

says:

How can i help a bright eleven year old who is a terrible speller.?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I think you will find All About Spelling to be just the thing to help your student, Linda!

Older students often struggle because they have gaps in foundational knowledge or skills necessary for success. All About Spelling is a “no gaps” approach to spelling that allows you to move a quickly as your student is capable. Our Using All About Spelling with Older Students blog post includes a download that details how you might fast track through the lower levels.

Please let me know if you have further questions.

Erica

says:

Hi! I’m looking to change my current spelling curriculum I’ve been using with my two boys who have Autism! One going in 4th other in 9th. Friends told me they love this curriculum. I’m wondering if this could work with my boys. They do struggle with spelling and aren’t really at the grade levels in spelling. I’m wanting to help them achieve that. Wondering if your program be a good fit.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Have you seen our Teaching Reading and Spelling to Children with Autism blog post, Erica? It might answer some of your questions in addition to this blog post.

Also, we have a one-year “Go Ahead and Use It” guarantee. We never want anyone to feel “stuck” with their purchase and want them to feel free to really try the program. If you purchase directly from us and find the program isn’t a good fit for your students, you can return it up to a year after your purchase date for a full refund of the purchase price, excluding shipping.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Melissa

says:

I’m completing my first year homeschool teaching a pod of 3rd and 4th graders after 18 years teaching in public school. We used Learning Language Arts through Literature (Yellow and Orange Books) and while I enjoyed the literature aspect, it lacked a strong phonetic/language “rules” concept. We paired it with A Reason for Spelling which we also enjoyed but also acknowledge missing components. Next year I will be adding a 1st grader to our mix and am looking for a more complete package. I’m certain one of my students is struggling with some form of dyslexia and we desire a program that is rich in literature but builds a solid foundation in reading, writing, and grammar. Should I stick with All About Spelling and use a different literature curriculum or would it be beneficial to use both AAR & AAS? I guess I’m confused on the purpose of AAR, is this specifically an intervention for struggling readers? Thanks so much! Melissa

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
All About Reading is mostly used for two purposes. The first is teaching reading from the beginning to give children an excellent foundation in reading. The second is for those that have struggled with reading with other approaches. It is a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading that works wonderfully for both purposes.

Many use All About Reading alongside a literature-based program. We strongly encourage Reading Aloud to Your Kids to support their own reading and comprehension.

Kathi Wilson

says:

Is All About Spelling useable as a Tier 3 MTSS, intervention in/by a school?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kathi,
Yes! Many schools use All About Spelling for their Tier 2 or Tier 3 Response to Intervention programs.

If you have further questions or need more information about using All About Spelling in this way, please email us at [email protected].

Megan

says:

Thank you so much! I currently have a 7th and 4th grader and we are on level 2-moving slowly through it.

I love this post and HOPE you offer more of these posts for atypical students and families. I look at society and think I should just put my kids in a different (more like public school) program because they “should” be more advanced, but my mothers heart tells me “no, keep up with this”.

I was honestly ready to try to get them in another program before I read this post. But now you have given me encouragement that we aren’t the only family taking our time and making sure we master the skills.

Question- Do you have any sort of supplemental activity worksheets or know of any other companies that come along side AAS to provide work sheets to practice the skills?

We don’t use the tiles as much as we probably should and now the tiles are more of an inconvenience timewise. They just take up a little bit more time than I have to dedicate to spelling. I would love to be able to access or to pay for some exercise worksheets.

Question- My 7th grader is a right brain learner. He learns better by just memorizing the words. We have a method that we use to do this. What advice do you have to incorporate this program in with a learner who is more right brained? It is hard for him to remember all of the rules. So we usually take the words and put them on an index card with some bright letters or pictures to help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Megan,
I’m pleased to hear that this article has helped you! We have a few blog posts that showcase older students succeeding after struggling. Here are some: Dyslexia and Hope, A Typical Day with All About Spelling, and How AAS Saved My Son with Dyslexia.

I am not aware of any worksheets that work on the skills that All About Spelling teaches in the same order. One of the things that makes AAS so successful is that it is set up to be adapted to each student’s needs. Commercially available worksheets wouldn’t target the specific areas your student needs while skipping the things that your student has already mastered.

The tiles can be cumbersome, and not every student needs them. However, they can make the difference between success with mastering a concept and struggling for many students. The ability to see and touch the letters, physically move syllables apart, and immediately see how the word is spelled phonogram-by-phonogram (and not letter-by-letter) is extremely important for some learners. While an older student may not want to spell with the tiles themselves, they are still very important for demonstrating concepts to the student.

You may consider looking into the Letter Tile app. I have found it more convenient and much quicker to use than the physical letter tiles. However, another option is to attempt to show the information without the tiles by using colored markers or pens and showing the phonograms as one unit by underlining or something.

As for memorizing words instead of rules, that can be a problem in the longer term. All About Spelling has only 25 Key Cards total to be learned, and some are not even rules to memorize but are rather concept cards (like “tell me the base word of ____” and on the back are words for the teacher to read and the student to identify the base, such as you would say “brushes” and your student would say “brush”). In contrast, All About Spelling cover over 3000 individual words. Memorizing less than 25 rules, even if difficult for a student to do, will be a lot easier in the long term than memorizing over 3000 separate words.

Learning rules and, even more difficult, learning to consistently apply the rules, can be challenging for many students. However, there are many things you can do to help your student. One is to review a rule daily with the tiles until your student can teach it to you without help or prompting. This removes the rule from just a flashcard and rote memorization (which doesn’t always translate to being good at applying the rule anyway) to something very physical and visual with the tiles.

If you take just a few minutes at the beginning of spelling lesson time to work with the tiles. For example, say you are working on Step 7 of All About Spelling level 2, Silent E’s first job. Start each day with a tile demonstration where you add or delete silent E, and mix up the type of word you start with. Sometimes start with the vowel-consonant-E word and then make it short, and other times start with the short vowel word. Change out various letters: kit-kite-bite-bike-pike-pine-pin. Or tap-tape-cape-cap-map-mad-made-mode. (Not all in one day, but do a short demo each day where you change out various letters, and your student has to decide how to read it).

Have your student label words with the syllable tags as VCE or Closed Syllable. Have them answer questions like, “How did you know the i was short in this word” or “How did you know the i was long in this word?” or “What did the silent E do to this word?”

After a couple of days of that, then dictate a short vowel word for your student to build with the tiles (one that can change to a silent e word, like cap – cape.) Once your student makes the short vowel word, then say, “Good. Now, how could we change this word to make it say cape?” See if they can change it. Have them tell you what silent E does to the word after they change it.

Then do the opposite–dictate a silent E word to your student and see if they can build it with tiles and then change it to a short vowel word.

Encourage your student each step of the way and model as needed. As they seem ready, try to do a string of words like you did for reading, only this time you just say the words, and they change a letter each time to build the new word.

These sorts of activities with the letter tiles allow for spelling many more words than those memorized, and you could likely do something similar with writing on a whiteboard or scrap paper. The idea is to review the rule or concept daily until the student is showing mastery of it. Mastery with any word will be more effective long term than memorizing just the word cards.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have additional questions!

Kimberley Varland

says:

Thank you so much for this blog post and PDF! This was/is tremendously helpful for me and my son, and was helpful to me, giving me ideas on how to explain to my son “why” he needs these these basic skills even though he is slightly older. All About Spelling has been a blessing to him, as he has realized that he is a great speller when he has the “tools “ in his “back pocket “!