Archive for FAQs

Spelling? Hmmm…

Should a reading program include spelling rules? And if so, how many? Should it include all of the spelling rules, even complex rules applying to only a few words? Or should it include just the main rules that apply to most words? Or should spelling even be taught?

Good questions all! It’s enough to make one’s head spin. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of various approaches used to teach spelling:

Teach Spelling Rules AFTER Reading

Waiting to teach spelling rules until after the student has learned how to read has the advantage of continuous reading instruction uninterrupted by learning how to spell at the same time. Attention is totally focused on learning how to read. Spelling is considered a separate skill, and is taught later.

The disadvantage is that of course students must learn how to spell sooner or later, and this only postpones the whole idea of spelling until a later date.

Teach ALL Spelling Rules WITH Reading  

If all spelling rules are introduced in the beginning, when students are first learning how to read, while it has the obvious advantage of teaching spelling it can slow students down considerably because they are learning two skills at the same time, dividing their attention between learning how to read and learning how to spell.

For example, there are about half a dozen rules for adding E to the end of a word, with up to nine subcategories—not to mention all the exceptions. It might be daunting to try and learn all of this material at the same time one is trying to learn how to read! Focusing on only one task at a time greatly eases learning and prevents getting bogged down in minutia.

Take the plural of octopus, for another example: it is not octopi. A little knowledge of Latin and Greek can be a dangerous thing and sometimes leads people into error. While some Latin plurals are formed by changing the -US ending of a singular noun into -I for the plural, octopus is ultimately borrowed from a Greek word and not a Latin one, so it’s incorrect to form the plural according to the Latin rules. If you wanted to be ultra-correct and conform to ancient Greek you’d talk about “octopodes” but this is rare: the Anglicized plural, “octopuses,” is absolutely fine. (“Tricky Plurals in English,…” Oxford University Press).

Teach MOST Spelling Rules With Reading GRADUALLY

Nevertheless, reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as a single unit. Marilyn Adams wrote: “Accurate spelling is critical to the reading process. To the extent that this knowledge is inaccurate or underdeveloped, it is strongly associated with learning disabilities.” (Annals of Dyslexia, Vol.47, 1997)

So how then should spelling be taught? A happy compromise is to teach the major spelling rules that apply to many words one by one, when the sound or spelling occurs. For example, here is how the rules for /K/ are taught in Phonics Pathways: (The first rule is not even taught until students are already reading three-letter words.)

1. /K/ is spelled -C or -K depending on the vowel that follows it:                Page 53  (cat, keg, kid, cop, cup)

2. /K/ is spelled -CK at the end of a single-syllable word:                         Page 55  (back, deck, pick)

3. /K/ is spelled -C at the end of a multi-syllable word:                            Page 118  (picnic, fantastic, frolic)

4. /K/ is spelled -ICK when adding a suffix to a multi-syllable word:            Page 118  (picknicking, frolicking)

There are two more spellings of /K/ which are spelling patterns, not rules:    /K/ = CH (chorus, school) and /K/ = QU (quack, queen)

When we are introduced to a whole roomful of people at once it’s difficult to remember all of their names. But when we meet them one at a time it’s much easier. The same thing is true when teaching spelling rules—just teach one at a time, and the simplest rule first.

I’ll close this post with a teaser: Why are some words spelled -ABLE and others -IBLE, as in “appeasable, horrible, lovable, visible,” etc.? There is one simple rule that is true over 90% of the time.

It’s so much easier knowing one spelling rule for many words than it is having to learn each word individually, one at a time!

After basic decoding skills and basic spelling rules are solidly learned and mastered, those wishing to learn more about our language can pursue great resources such as “Vocabulary Through Morphemes” by Susan Ebbers, and other such publications.

Happy hunting!








“B” and “D” Confusion Solution

One of the most frustrating roadblocks to learning the English language is, and always has been, confusing the letters “b” and “d”. They not only look alike, but unless you listen very carefully they even sound alike.

On page 37 of Phonics Pathways there is a solution to this dilemma which has been helpful to many people throughout the years. The mattress on this graphic “bed” card is held up with a “b” and a “d.” It has to show the “b” facing to the right and has to show the “d” facing to the left, in order to hold the mattress up!

This has been so helpful to to many people that I have also had many requests for a larger version of this card to use with a whole classroom of students. And so, in response to these requests, here is a large “bed” card for your use and enjoyment—and in glorious living color as well: bed

I hope you enjoy this little teaching tip!

Reading Level After Phonics Pathways?


“I do have a question concerning your book. What grade level would someone be at as far as typical phonics/reading skills after finishing Phonics Pathways? My young five-year-old son just reached the pyramid, and was so excited to read his first BOB book after reading the pyramid.”


When someone finishes Phonics Pathways they are technically able to read anything in the English language, uncategorized or unhampered by “grade level.” However, that does not mean they will want to, or understand what they are reading.

For example, you and I technically would be able to read a book about brain surgery because we understand the mechanics of reading, but it is doubtful that either one of us would comprehend what we are reading.

So along with teaching the mechanics of reading, it is also necessary to develop  vocabulary and comprehension. As far as vocabulary goes this is best done with good books — reading to them using a wide variety of literature, and explaining the meaning of any words that may be too difficult to understand at the time. (Yet even if they don’t understand all the meanings of the words, just being able to read them and pronounce them is a considerable achievement!) Learn how to use the dictionary.

Good movies can help accomplish this as well, if chosen carefully. I’m also a believer in diagramming sentences as reading develops, to help organize complex sentences into logical patterns. And always, periodically, ask them to explain to you in a nutshell what they just read. Who did what? (You can also ask them how they felt about it, what they think might happen next, etc. but those are conversational questions that don’t directly deal with the content.)

In summary, exposing your young son to a wide use of new vocabulary using a variety of techniques is the best thing you can do to develop his reading skills and comprehension!


The Comprehension Dilemma: A Simple Solution

Today’s reading programs often produce excellent reading scores in the early grades, but by 3rd or 4th grade frequently comprehension begins a downhill slide. That’s the point where instruction shifts from decoding and word recognition to fluency and comprehension.

This phenomena is so widespread that researchers have given it a name: “The Fourth-Grade Slump.”

Oklahoma is one of several states that recently adopted new reading policies that call for 3rd graders to be held back if they flunk a state standardized test. “If our children are not able to read at grade-appropriate levels,” Gov. Fallin said when signing the measure into law last year, “they can’t learn the math, the science, the social studies as they … go through the education system.”

All the plans appear to take a page from the playbook in Florida, where a policy to end the social promotion of 3rd graders was enacted under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Supporters say that retention is intended as a last resort, and that a key goal of the policies is to place a greater focus to make sure schools intervene early with struggling readers. Without an adequate ability to read, they say, children are ill-equipped to learn across disciplines and may never catch up.
Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett stated “It really comes down to this: How can we expect our children to use that vital skill of reading as a learning tool if they haven’t learned to read in the primary grades?” (Education Week, 4-7-12)

What happened? What went wrong? Wasn’t phonics supposed to address some of these issues?

The problem is, the definition of phonics is like that of beauty and is in the eye of the beholder. It means many different things to many different people!

Implicit Phonics teaches the words first, and then breaks them into parts.

Explicit Phonics teaches the letters first, and then builds them into words.

Implicit phonics teaches reading using beginning and ending letter clues, the shape of the word, and sentence context clues. Here is a demonstration lesson teaching reading using implicit phonics that is quite revealing: Implicit Phonics

 And here is a presentation of how to teach the same two multisyllable words using Explicit Phonics.

Implicit phonics and explicit phonics have vastly different results! Clearly, explicit phonics is the preferred way to teach reading with any degree of accuracy, precision, and comprehension.

Coming soon:

A simple recipe for reading that anyone can use to teach students of any age how to read! Ten easy steps reveal what to teach (and what not to teach)  using colorful graphic illustrations. Discover the most important features to keep in mind when looking for a good phonics program. Watch for it!