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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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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 support@allaboutlearningpress.com.

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 “!

Mary

says:

I’m interested in how you condensed the lessons for an older student.
The download button doesn’t seem to work on your post about i

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry the link isn’t working, Mary. We’ll look into that right away! In the meantime, see if you can access it here.

Jenn

says:

Thanks for the real world tips and encouragement. We love AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jenn! I’m happy to hear that All About Spelling is working so well for you.

Jodi

says:

My 6th grader reads at grade level but spells at a 1st grade level. He was recently diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia/impairment of written expression. He attends public school. Should I start him with “All About Spelling” only, or do you think there might be something in All About Reading that he may have missed? Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jodi,
You can go over our All About Reading placement tests to see if he needs All About Reading, but in most cases with an older student that reads fine but is struggling with spelling, All About Spelling is all that is needed.

After you go over the placement tests with your student, if you have questions or need more help deciding on using All About Reading or which level he may need, just let me know.

Kyna

says:

Really interested in trying this program with my homeschool student. Most of his friends are around grade 8, but he’s missing a lot of middle school foundations. It’s been frustrating for him to feel so behind, so I’ve been trying to avoid courses that assign an explicit grade to each book level. I’m really interested in seeing how this multi-modal approach might work for him.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kyna,
You may find our A Typical Day with All About Spelling blog post informative, as it showcases a teenage student working in All About Spelling.

Do you have any questions or can I help you with anything? All About Spelling’s approach requires that struggling spellers start at the first level, but almost all see improvement with their spelling with that level and the improvement just continues as they progress through the levels. Let me know if I can help you with anything.

Seagreenaz

says:

This is so very useful and encouraging!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you think so! Thank you.

Joy

says:

We are an AAR and AAS using family – thank you so much for your great methods and products! As I have more kids coming into schooling years I find that I need less “teacher led” subjects to keep us afloat. My oldest son is a good reader and has finished AAS Level 1 with me. I would like to know if I can start having him do AAS independently and just check in with him from time to time? Any suggestions on how I could do that? I don’t want to switch to another curriculum but I need less teacher-driven time in our school schedule as I juggle having a Pre-K, 1st, and 3rd.
Thank you for your suggestions!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Joy,
All About Spelling is really designed so that parents and teachers can give individualized feedback to the student helping them understand the rules and concepts that are making spelling a struggle for them. There are some students who would do fine with a more independent program. However, our primary goal is to provide a product for those students who really benefit from that one on one attention.

Our Teaching Reading and Spelling to Multiple Kids blog post has tips and ideas for moms using All About Reading and All About Spelling with multiple kids. It may be helpful for you.

Some families will teach a lesson on one day, and then record (using an app on their phone or other means) the 10 words, the More Words, and the Dictation. Their student will listen and write those words and the dictation phrases or sentences. The parent still needs to correct and reteach the words that the student struggles with. This can sometimes work for students who don’t have a lot of spelling struggles. Students who do struggle would benefit from more immediate feedback so that they aren’t reinforcing misspellings.

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!