Spelling: Phoneme Awareness
Q. I have been told that my boys are weak in phonemic awareness. What is
how does The Spalding Method teach it?
A. Phoneme awareness is the understanding that spoken words consist of individual
sounds. Weak phonemic awareness is considered the key difficulty for students who have
trouble learning to read.
In The Spalding Method, teachers demonstrate that spoken words are made up of
individual speech sounds in the following ways:
- Say, "Listen to the word me. It is made up of two sounds." Hold up two fingers,
then sound /m/ /e/ while pointing to each finger. (segmenting).
- Say the individual sounds in words: /m/e/, then say the word: me (blending).
- Count the number of sounds in spoken words: me = 2; (counting).
- Identify beginning or ending sounds that are the same; me/man; tan/ten/tin/ton
- Identify rhyming or non-rhyming words pairs: rope, soap, mope (rhyming), home,
For each step the teacher coaches as needed while students perform the task.
Q. In what order are phonograms introduced?
A. Phonograms that are formed beginning at two on the clock are
always introduced first to establish correct directionality and to
practice one feature - forming a circle.
After these are learned, line letters are introduced. The remainder of the
phonograms are introduced in the order needed for writing Extended Ayres Words
in the spelling/vocabulary notebook (text p. 39).
Q. What do I focus on when listening to students say or write sounds?
A. Listen for accurate and automatic pronunciation of sounds
before allowing students to write the phonogram. This helps students
blend sounds correctly when reading and spell correctly when writing.
Q. Why are the a and g on the phonogram cards different from the a
and g used in writing?
A. Mrs. Spalding wanted children to easily associate the letters they write with
the printed words in books. The letters a and g are significantly different.
She solved the problem by printing on the phonogram cards the a and g
they would see in their reading books. When writing they use the simpler manuscript
form of a and g.
Q. How many phonograms should I review each day with a first-grader?
A. At first, provide daily oral and written reviews of all clock and
line letter phonograms which have been introduced. Next, divide the 26
alphabet letters into two categories: review daily those that children have
difficulty pronouncing in oral phonogram reviews and those they have
difficulty spelling in written phonogram reviews. Periodically review the
phonograms that students have mastered to develop and maintain them in
long-term memory. Once students are familiar with the routine, oral
review of twenty or thirty phonograms should be accomplished in five to
eight minutes (text p. 39).
Q. Why does the Spalding paper not have a "dotted line" between the solid lines?
A. Spalding paper does not have a dotted line because it is much
harder for children who have not yet attained fine motor control to
form letters that both touch the base line and touch a midline (text p. 15).
They may be able to form quite a nice circle, but it is slightly larger
or smaller than the halfway point. They still experience success for a
nicely formed letter. Children who have no difficulty with motor control
quickly learn to form circles without the line.
Q. When my students pronounce the phonogram wor, should they
say the sound w or just the sound er, and how
do they underline it during dictation?
A. Students say the blended sound wor because w
says its own sound, and it influences the or to say er.
When writing a word using this phonogram in the notebook, underline only
the or to show that those two letters say one sound er.
Q. When do I reinforce handwriting after the initial introduction?
A. Handwriting instruction is provided with daily written phonogram
reviews. Teach students to focus on one handwriting skill at a time
during these reviews. For example, when first practicing the clock
letters (described on pages 19-21), have students focus on starting at
2 on the clock and placing all letters on the base line. When students
are quite good at this, focus on making tall letters twice the size of
short letters. In this way, students improve their handwriting before
beginning the spelling notebook. For young beginners, provide additional
written phonogram reviews to
practice handwriting. No separate handwriting lessons are required.
Q. When giving phonogram quizzes, when do you have children write
letters across the line, and when do they write them in columns?
A. Each day, after introducing first clock and then line letters, have students
write letters across the line to practice writing the letters close to one another but
not touching. This prepares them for writing letters within words. After the two-letter
phonograms have been introduced, students write all phonograms in columns.
Q. Do you have students practice underlining or numbering phonograms when they are
written by themselves, such as on a quiz, or when they are used in words, such as on a
spelling test or in sentences they write?
A. Absolutely not. Underlining phonograms helps students think of single letters
or letter combinations as representing sounds (not letter names). Phonograms are underlined
in only two places: 1) when written within words in the spelling notebook and 2) when
practicing the marking system in rule application activities. After having taught students
a rule, give them two or three words that illustrate that rule, have them write the
spelling word, mark it, and orally or in writing explain how the rule applies to that word.
Do not have them rotely recite the applicable rule, but ask them to apply it to the word.
Q. When and with which activities do you grade handwriting?
A. With beginners, check handwriting on the daily written
phonogram reviews and on the sentences which you assign to practice
spelling words that need vocabulary development. Soon, you may wish to
grade handwriting on these sentences or on other assignments, such as
a composition, but it should be a separate grade unrelated to the
content of the sentence or composition.
Q. Should I be concerned with a third-grader's ability to write correctly? Students
are so programmed to write the way they were taught in first grade it is hard to change
their habits. Is it all right to just require that their handwriting be legible?
A. Handwriting is an important subskill of reading and writing. It is true that
motor habits once formed are difficult to change. However, there is a high correlation
between remedial readers and poorly formed handwriting. Require students new to Spalding
to focus attention on one subskill at a time. With explicit handwriting instruction and
an explanation of its importance in school and adult life, students over time can and
do improve their handwriting dramatically. (See answer to question about reinforcing
Q. Why does The Writing Road to Reading say first graders should write an
average of 30 Ayres words a week?
A. Writing the most frequently used words teaches students the English spelling
rules and language concepts so they can spell, write, and read an infinite number of words.
The more words they analyze and read from their spelling/vocabulary notebook, the
more familiar they become with language and spelling rules. By teaching first graders
an average of thirty words a week, they can quickly begin reading aloud.
Maintaining this average enables first graders to read the first 700
words which "are in the spoken vocabulary of most five and six-year-old
children" (text p. 42).
Q. How do you get children to improve their accuracy when writing in the
A. Explain the importance of accuracy in reading an author's words,
in mathematics, science, and social studies.
Provide daily handwriting feedback on written phonogram reviews. This
daily practice prepares students for writing words in the notebook.
Next, monitor students while they write the words. Point out errors and have
students fix them immediately.
Then, have students proofread their work after the day's words are written.
Finally, check their notebooks for any remaining errors which students
then correct before studying their words. (Place a tiny checkmark next to
the words the child needs to fix.) .) (Refer to pp. 7-8 in the Spelling
If students are consistently held accountable for accurate notebooks at the
beginning of each year, they develop the habit of being accurate and
taking pride in their work.
Q. Why is spelling dictation taking an hour to do thirty words? What can I do about it?
A. Spelling dictation should average about one minute per word.
Here are some tips to speed up the dictation process.
- Provide daily oral phonogram reviews of difficult phonograms just
prior to dictating the words in which they appear. Knowing phonograms
automatically helps students say and write words more quickly.
- Give sentences only when needed to clarify meaning (text p. 48).
- Provide vocabulary development or rule explanations in the integrated
spelling and writing lesson rather than during dictation.
- Have students progress from saying individual sounds
to saying syllables, in multisyllable words. When students
learn to hear individual sounds within syllables they no longer need to
say multisyllable words by sounds. Only difficult syllables need
be said by individual sounds.
Q. What do you analyze on spelling quizzes?
A. After each spelling quiz, check each child's test to determine the type of errors
- Is the wrong phonogram (for example, ee instead of ea) used? If many
children miss a particular phonogram or fail to apply a rule, the teacher must reteach.
- Are letters missing?
Q. How is a child's spelling progress determined?
A. A child's progress is determined by weekly spelling tests and
by accurately using the spelling words in written sentences that
demonstrate word meanings. Each month, students are tested on the
Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale. During ILA 1,
teachers are trained to analyze individual student progress as well as
that of the entire class. Page 189-190 in The Writing Road to Reading
explains how to use these tests to track student progress and determine
how to adjust instruction.
(See answer to previous question.)
Q. When a child scores 2.8 on the Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale the first month and
a month later scores 2.1, what is happening?
A. Perhaps some sight words were recognized the first month. The child may not be
sounding out the phonograms sequentially. Be sure to have daily written phonogram reviews
and reread the words for spelling (by sound or syllable). Reinforce the rules as explained
above. All these activities provide practice necessary for monthly spelling gains.
Q. Does Spalding teach word families in addition to the Ayres list of high frequency
A. No. Mrs. Spalding used high frequency words (the Ayres words) to study the
structure of the language because the Ayres list accounts for 85% of the words encountered
in daily speaking, writing, and reading. These words are used to teach not only spelling,
but also meaning and usage. Children use these words to learn the parts of speech, how to
build derived words, and how to write simple, compound, and complex sentences and apply
capitalization and punctuation rules. In contrast, words listed in word families often are
low frequency and therefore not of immediate use in students' daily reading and writing. To
read, write, and spell a year above their grade placement, students need to concentrate on
high frequency words. However, students having difficulty remembering a particular
phonogram may benefit from two or three similar words, (for example, paw, saw, and law,)
to help them remember the sound.
Q. In two-syllable words, if children cannot easily distinguish which syllable is
accented, should I just encourage them to use the dictionary for words that apply rule 15
or 29 or is there another teaching strategy?
A. During introduction of these words, clap lightly for the unaccented syllable and
more sharply for the accented syllable.
For example, when teaching the word begin (rule page 3), say be gin and clap
more sharply for gin. Students recognize that this word fulfills the criteria
1) accent on gin, 2) gin ends in one consonant with one vowel before it,
so they should write another n before adding a vowel ending.
When dictating words, such as little (rule 29), students say both t's for
spelling (lit tle) so they do not forget to write both. When rereading the Ayres
words for reading, they pronounce only the t in the accented syllable
( lit' le ).
Q. Why are baby and other words pronounced with the first (short) sound of i
when most people say the second (long) sound of e?
A. The Spalding Method teaches children to analyze the written spelling of
words. Spelling has remained relatively constant over the years while pronunciations vary
among geographical regions and countries. In the English spelling system y and
i are used interchangeably, but y and e are not. For example, in the
words gym, rhythm, system, we use y to represent the first sound of i.
When teaching children to spell, pronouncing the word ba by (short i), helps them
to write y, not e. Note that the accent is on the first syllable. When
reading the word for speaking, you have a choice: have children pronounce the word as
spoken in your region or maintain the original pronunciation which is consistent with the
spelling. Children have no problem with the difference. They understand that pronouncing
words two ways helps them spell and read.
Q. My students know the phonograms, and they are reading quite well,
so why do they continue to misspell words when they write?
A. Spelling is more difficult than reading because students must hear the spoken
word, break the word into sounds or syllables, then write the phonograms/syllables which
represent the speech sounds. They must determine whether there are alternative spellings
for a particular speech sound and whether a rule governs which phonogram to write.
Spelling requires higher-level thinking and two types of practice. First students read
the Ayres words daily for spelling and reading. When students read for spelling, they
say individual sounds in one-syllable words and syllables in multisyllable words. This
process trains students to think sequentially for spelling and writing. Students also need
the opportunity to "work with the difficult words" after the dictation lesson is over.
Have students write sentences using those words and explain how English rules determine
the spellings. Given practice reading Ayres words for spelling and using these words in
original sentences, students will soon be writing the words correctly as well as reading
Q. Why do you use the Ayres word list for reading vocabulary? Isn't it a
A. The Ayres list is the foundation for vocabulary instruction.
Children learn the meanings of high-frequency words as well as word
parts (text p. 156). As students "work with" the Ayres words, they
learn spelling, meaning, and how to use these words in oral and written
sentences. The Ayres words account for 85% of all words used in
speaking, writing, and reading. Students who can fluently read and
understand the meaning and usage of these high frequency words can
comprehend science and social studies material with ease.
Q. Why does Mrs. Spalding mark the word carry with a 1 above the a?
A. Numbers and underlines are visual signals that connect speech sounds with their
printed symbols. In the word car ry, we expect the two letters a and r
to say ar as in the word car. Mrs. Spalding writes a 1 above the
a to help students remember that there are three separate sounds, c a r, in
Q. On the Morrison-McCall Spelling Scale pretest, my third-grade students began
missing many words at Section P. How do I ensure that they learn the rules which were
introduced prior to that section?
A. Dictate rule pages 1 and 7 of the spelling notebook before beginning Section P.
When you come to the first word that requires use of a rule taught on one of the other rule
pages, dictate that rule page. Provide meaningful application activities using words
from that rule page. Follow that procedure until all rule pages have been entered.
Teach the other rules as they occur in the Ayres words. Spalding Word Builder™ Cards
also are helpful.
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