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Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately

You may have noticed that language arts programs can be divided into two types: all-in-one programs and single-subject programs.

  • All-in-one programs combine reading and spelling in a single lesson, and the lesson often includes handwriting, grammar, and composition as well. When the student learns to read the word bread, for example, he learns to spell the word in the same lesson.
  • Single-subject programs, on the other hand, teach reading and spelling in separate lessons. All About Reading and All About Spelling fall into this category.

You may be wondering why we don’t combine our programs into a single All About® program. After all, wouldn’t it be more efficient to teach multiple subjects in the same program?

That’s a great question! Read on to discover the two main reasons we teach these subjects separately.

Reason #1: Most Children Learn to Read More Quickly than They Learn to Spell

Simply put, reading is easier than spelling.

In reading, a child decodes the written word. Phonogram AY always says long A, so once a child learns that, reading words like stay and display is a straightforward task.

Even with a more complex phonogram—such as phonogram EA, which can say three sounds (/ē/, /ĕ/, or /ā/)—students can try out each of the three sounds to see which forms a real word. And the fact that students learn to recite the phonogram sounds in order of frequency is also helpful. In a word like thread, the student who tries out the first, most common sound of EA quickly realizes that /thrēd/ isn’t a real word, so she tries the second sound of EA, resulting in the real word /thrĕd/.

But in spelling, a child encodes the word. Ideally, there would be just one way to write each sound, but the reality is that there are many ways to write each sound. If a child wants to write the word great or neighbor, for example, he has to decide how the sound of long A should be written. Choices include A, AI, A-consonant-E, EIGH, EI, EY, or AY. There are some generalizations that can help narrow down the options, but the fact is that there are approximately 250 ways to spell the 45 speech sounds of the English language.

So even though reading and spelling are flip sides of the same coin, reading is easier.

Here’s Proof that Reading Is Easier

Let’s do a quick demonstration. Read the words below.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

You didn’t have any trouble reading them, did you?

But what if I asked you to spell them? (Without looking first, of course!) How would you do?

If you think you would have spelled all these words correctly, congratulations! You’re probably a better speller than most adults. Though most adults can easily read these words, many would misspell them.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

The Same Is True for Your Child

With a basic understanding of phonics, a child should be able to read the word special without much trouble. But spelling the word special is a greater challenge because of that tricky /sh/ sound in the middle of the word.

  • Is it spelled speshul, just like it sounds?
  • Or is it spetial like martial?
  • Or should it be spelled spesial with the same word ending as controversial?

See what I mean? Is it any wonder that so many children struggle with spelling? And that leads to the second reason we teach reading and spelling separately.

Reason #2: All-In-One Programs Force You to Choose between Two Scenarios

When you try to teach your child to read and spell the same words at the same time, you guarantee only one thing: one of these critically important subjects will fall by the wayside. That’s because there are two possible scenarios with programs that combine reading and spelling:

Scenario #1. Your child learns to read the words in the lesson, but he can’t move on to the next lesson because he’s still learning to spell those words. Without knowing it, you have chosen to focus on spelling at the expense of reading.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

Scenario #2. Your child learns to read the words in the lesson, but although he’s still learning to spell the words, you decide to allow him to move on to the next lesson. You’ve chosen to focus on reading, so your child’s spelling suffers.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

As you can see, it’s a no-win situation. All-in-one programs force you to choose one subject to the detriment of the other. But I don’t believe you should have to sacrifice your child’s learning in any subject.

So, That’s Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately

With our single-subject approach, your child can succeed at both subjects. He can progress as quickly as possible in reading …

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

… and he can take as much time as he needs in spelling.

Teach Reading Spelling Separately - All About Learning Press

With this approach, your child can more easily achieve mastery in both reading and spelling, without sacrificing learning in either subject.

Do you think that teaching reading and spelling separately would make a difference for your kids?

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Mary Bedel

says:

We just began AAS1 after finishing AAR1, and our daughter is already enjoying spelling more than reading. I can see that the spelling is coming easily because of all the work we put into reading in decoding the words, but given her level of enjoyment, I wonder if it’s possible to move ahead in spelling and have reading taught after. Is that a possibility now or should we keep the order of reading concepts first?

Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mary,
At this point, we recommend working in both All About Reading and All About Spelling each day, separately. Allow your daughter to progress at her own pace in each, and if that means she gets ahead in spelling, that’s fine! It doesn’t happen often, but it works out that way for some children.

Melissa B.

says:

We’ve been using the reading program for over a year but just started the spelling program. We love it! I now see how they work together, yet separately, to reinforce both reading and spelling skills.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this, Melissa! It’s great to hear that All About Reading and All About Spelling are both working out well for you.

Allie Healy

says:

I love the idea of teaching Spelling separately, as a kid I was always way above grade level in reading and an awful speller. I wish I would have learned to spell this way

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What you experienced is common, Allie. Many people, children and adults, read much more easily than they can spell. I can’t spell mayonnaise without looking it up!

Kristin

says:

Wow! I originally thought I wanted an all-in-one program, but now I see the benefits of separating reading and spelling. Excellent article!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Kristin! Yes, there are many benefits to teaching subjects separately. However, if you have questions or concerns, please let me know.

Emily

says:

This makes so much sense. I had never really thought about it before and now I don’t know if I can un-think it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this made sense for you, Emily!

Sherri Covington

says:

I totally understand why to do these separate. My son can read but his spelling is horrible.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Sherri.

Tahrin

says:

The information in reason #1 is brilliant. It makes sense to use the single-subject areas especially in these early years as we’re starting K in our house right now! I really hope to do your programs!

Kelly

says:

Hi, I have a Special Needs kiddo. He has Autism & Dyslexia and probably ADHD in some form. He cannot read or spell. I’ve tried several Reading programs and he also spent the last 4 years in private special needs schools. I decided to homeschool him again with an emphasis on therapies and your mastery Reading / Spelling program (also using MathUsee) I’m starting him at level 1 in all about Reading. When should I introduce the level 1 all about Spelling? Thanks, Kelly

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kelly,
Yes. In this situation, we would recommend starting All About Spelling level 1 while working in All About Reading level 1. For students that have struggled with other reading programs, working on spelling can help. Spelling approaches words from the opposite direction and will provide additional review, as he needs to read each word he spells to ensure he spelled it correctly.

All About Reading (AAR) slowly introduces the letter sounds three or four about every other lesson. All About Spelling (AAS) reviews all the letter sounds in the early lessons. Because of this, it may be best to wait on AAS until your son gets to about lesson 16 of AAR level 1 when all the letters have been introduced.

AAS reviews all the sounds of all the letters at the beginning, but you can proceed forward in spelling as long as your son knows the first sound of each letter. He can then work on learning the rest of the sounds each letter makes while learning to spell words using the first sound. Our How to Teach Phonograms blog post includes printable games for reviewing letter and phonogram sounds.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have further questions or need anything else.

Michelle

says:

As a writing teacher I put a high value on my kids’ ability to read and spell.

Michelle

says:

I am a writing teacher so I have a lot of personal charge around my kids’ reading and spelling capabilities. Choosing the right curriculum is giving me knots!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you have any questions I can help you with, Michelle? We have a good overview video on All About Reading and All About Spelling here (just scroll a bit).

Sue Edmunds

says:

Should you teach spelling first?

Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Sue. No, spelling should not be taught before reading.

We recommend waiting to begin spelling until your student has complete All About Reading level 1 or the equivalent reading level. Having a good foundation in reading helps students have the best success in spelling. We discuss this further in our The Right Time to Start Spelling Instruction article.

Christy

says:

Thank you for this! I appreciate the concrete examples given.

Liezl Nel

says:

Love this! There’s no reason to keep a child back from a world of reading because he’s struggling with spelling. Makes so much sense! I’m definitely going to check myself more on this. We use AAS and love it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear that you are enjoying All About Spelling, Liezl!

Tami

says:

I love your spelling program. It makes it so much easier!

Jonell

says:

This makes so much sense.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Jonell.

Michele

says:

I notice with my son that it is easier to see a phonogram and know the sounds it makes, but much harder to hear a sound and think of which phonogram he should use in a word. The different combinations and rules take longer to think of when spelling as opposed to the few sounds certain letter combinations make. Just think, an “a” in a word only makes a few sounds, but there are half a dozen choices when you want to spell the “long a” sound.

Separating reading and spelling means we can take our time to let the spelling rules really stick without holding back on reading. I just love your program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Michele! Yes, it is much easier to see a phonogram and remember its sound or two, than to hear a sound and have to decide which of the many (sometimes up to eight or nine!) ways to spell that one sound.

Jennifer Vasquez

says:

My girls test in the very high above average each year when they are evaluated. I give credit to this curriculum. I am so grateful I found it. We have truly enjoyed it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is wonderful, Jennifer!

Amanda

says:

Thank you for breaking this down! It makes sense why my son struggled with spelling before.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amanda.

Charity

says:

This is so logical!

Allie G

says:

This makes a lot of sense

Sarah

says:

This makes so much sense!

Marie

says:

Aaaah! That makes so much sense now! I remember learning English (2nd language) by reading a lot. And now my 5.75 yo has taught herself to read incredibly fast (currently at a 4th grade level!) but she will write “speshul”. Even if she reads and writes a lot, she often does not remember how to spell many words she’s seen. I am now curious to try AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you have any questions about All About Spelling or need help with placement, Maria? Let me know.

Jennifer Stephenson

says:

Awesome information. My son loves the reading program. Definitely looking forward to starting the spelling curriculum.

Jennifer You

says:

My son picked up basic spelling so fast because he was already a good reader – I think letting his reading get ahead helped both.

Melissa

says:

We love the logical steps spelling is introduced in. I’m excited to try the reading program out too this year.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s great to hear that All About Spelling is working well for you, Melissa!

Megan in Minnesota

says:

After reading this post, I’m convinced teaching reading and spelling separately will be best for me during instruction, ultimately best for my child on our mission to close her skills gaps. These words from your blog post convince me your programs are well developed: learning “sounds in order of frequency,” and “… there are approximately 250 ways to spell the 45 speech sounds of the English language.” Those insights along with the “speshul” example clench it for me. We’re going to use your resources, order the courses and are glad we found them! Thanks a lot!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this post was helpful for you, Megan! Let me know if you need help with placement or anything else.

Amanda

says:

As always your lovely graphics make digesting what feels like complex topics simple.

Alyssa

says:

Fascinating!! My daughter is loving your reading program and will be starting on spelling soon!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear that your daughter is enjoying the program, Alyssa! Thank you.

Jennifer

says:

Love this blog post. Very informative.

Angie

says:

I can see the logic in this now that I’ve lived it. My eldest learned to spell while she read. Not every word was right, but she picked up on most. My next kids learned to read, but didn’t pick up spelling at the same time. I’m finally realizing I need a designated spelling program that is separate from their reading program.

Ann

says:

This approach just makes sense! Excited to try this curriculum!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Ann! Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else.