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Spelling with Phonics Pathways

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This article discusses how to use Phonics Pathways to teach spelling. These step-by-step directions are a guide and blueprint that will enable you to teach anyone how to spell easily and accurately.

Reprinted from Phonics Talk, volume 7

Many of you have requested information about how to use Phonics Pathways to teach spelling. Phonics Pathways indeed can be a useful and convenient tool to teach spelling as well as reading, as it does contain all of the spelling rules and patterns. And it's certainly economical to have just one text in your rapidly-growing piles of teaching materials that covers both subjects!

That being said, Phonics Pathways is not a scripted spelling program or workbook per se--it does not lay out specific exercises or have well-defined instructions for spelling activities, and it does not teach grammar, writing, origins of words (Greek, Latin, etc.), etc. It will simply provide a basic, plain-vanilla foundation for accurate spelling, from which you can then move into other aspects of the English language as desired.

This article is intended to offer specific strategies that might be helpful to those of you wishing to use Phonics Pathways for teaching spelling. It's also useful as a checkpoint reference with other programs to be sure all bases are covered, as it does contain a few spelling rules that are not always included elsewhere.

These hints, tips, and techniques have been gradually accumulating for many years, both from my own experience and that of others who have taken the time to write about how they used this book to teach spelling. (You know who you are--and a heartfelt thanks to all of you!)

There are two things to think about when planning to use Phonics Pathways to teach spelling:

(1) Will you teach spelling right away, along with reading, or wait until your child is almost finished learning how to read first?

While waiting with spelling lessons will help speed the reading process, it really can be very beneficial to consider teaching copywork and dictation along with reading at least up through three-letter word or double-consonant endings. Up to that point there is only one way to spell each letter and sound taught and spelling moves faster and is easier to teach. Accurate reading and accurate spelling are strongly intertwined, and flow naturally and reinforce each other.

Copywork and dictation will reinforce accurate reading, help increase and focus concentration, and can even help with pronunciation as well. Spelling lessons should be short at first-ten minutes is more than enough. As with reading, the time spent on dictation will gradually get longer as the lessons proceed without his even being aware of it. (Sneaky, isn't it? But all's fair in love, war, and teaching!)

(2) Will you go through the book in chronological order, and teach the spelling rules and patterns as they are presented in the book? This is the approach most commonly used. It's simply easier to move through the book page by page, with variations in spelling patterns learned word by word within each particular pattern (i.e.: meat, meet, hear, here, etc.)

Or will you teach the spelling rules first and then go back and teach the variations in spelling patterns afterward? This approach produces faster results because by learning only one rule the child can immediately spell many words (i.e.: one rule for all words ending in -able or -ible, etc.), but requires skipping around in the book to find the rules, and therefore is not recommended until the child has almost finished the book.

(Remember the difference? Check out "Spelling Rules and Spelling Patterns: What Is The Difference?" at Alternatively, go to and click on "Articles.")

Copywork always should be the first step in students' road to spelling. After all, until they know how to form and write each letter there is no point in dictating anything! When doing a spelling lesson, first have your child copy the words (or phrases, or sentences) and then dictate them to him.* This is the pattern to use in all of the following instructions.

(If writing is a problem, sometimes a whiteboard can be helpful. Or even writing with chalk on the sidewalk. If all else fails, at first have him point to the column that the sound should be written in, and you write it. But writing is an excellent exercise for reinforcing and cementing knowledge of any lesson learned, and should be included as soon as possible. The exercises in back of Phonics Pathways will help develop this skill, as will simply tracing large letters with tracing paper, or very helpful writing programs such as Writing Without Tears. That being said, many children are ready and eager to read but simply not ready to write at all, even simple copywork. In that case, just work with them orally until they are more developed in their writing skills.)

Now, without further adieu, here are some suggestions and strategies for teaching spelling with Phonics Pathways. These instructions assume that you will use some copywork and dictation to reinforce reading from the very beginning, at least in the first part of the book, and will be working through the book in chronological order.

Consider making a master sheet with each vowel written in large, bold letters horizontally across the top of the page. Draw vertical lines between each letter, making five columns in all. Run off a number of copies--they can be used for all dictation involving short-vowel sounds, from individual vowel sounds to whole words. The column-type dictation seems to make it more enjoyable for many students. Almost like a game! But if your child prefers writing on plain lined paper without columns, that's perfectly fine.

You can gently begin these exercises just as soon as your student has learned even two short-vowel sounds in the beginning of the book. Have him read the sound of each of the two letters at the bottom of page 2 (*a* and *e*) and then copy each letter on paper in the column under the proper heading. Then dictate each sound and have him write the letter in the proper column. As more short-vowel sounds are learned add them to this exercise. Try to copy and dictate about five to ten letters per lesson.

Repeat this procedure with the two-letter blends section of Phonics Pathways, as well as the three-letter word section after that. If he misses the same vowel sound consistently, go back to the page that sound is introduced and review it.

After you have copied and dictated enough words so the student can write them in the correct column with no more than one or two errors, you may put the columned paper aside. It is from this point on that spelling becomes more complex, (i.e., long-e: *team, feet, me,* etc.) and you might wish to wait with spelling lessons until your child is at least half-way finished with Phonics Pathways or even has finished the book in order to facilitate reading and keep it moving. For the present, it it will be sufficient simply to expose him to the logic of the language by reading the rule when you get to it, and then moving on. (Do keep up the copywork if you can, however.)

When you are far enough with reading and he is ready to resume spelling lessons, begin using two notebooks with lined paper: one for copywork, and one for dictation. Use the following procedure for these lessons:

Read him the rule again, and have him repeat it back to you in his own words. Then have him read a few sample words and/or sentences using this rule. Now have him copy about five to ten words in his copywork notebook. Now dictate these words, using fewer words if necessary, having him write them in his spelling book. (Little fingers can get tired from writing!)

For the next lesson use different words from the same word list. Hopefully by now his writing ability has developed, and you can begin dictating phrases and sentences--perhaps about three or four phrases or sentences per lesson. (You also can use the sentences on the review pages at the end of the lesson.)

If he stumbles with whole sentences, go back to phrases or just word lists if necessary until he is more confident of the spelling. He might need you to repeat the word very slowly, and it also can be beneficial for him to carefully sound each word out loud himself as he writes it.

If he should have ongoing difficulty with a particular spelling, take time to review the page where the rule or pattern is first presented to refresh his memory. It is very common for this to happen, and should be seen as an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen a rule or pattern he might not know as well as he should.

You may have to remind him what the sentence was if he stops half-way and forgets-his memory will slowly improve with practice. It may also be helpful for him to say the words out loud as he writes them.

If he does misspell a word, correct it and immediately have him write it out three times to erase the error from his memory.

While dictation with word families alone is useful to show the pattern of a particular spelling, in the final analysis dictation using sentences is the best way to ensure that knowledge of the spelling rule has been truly reinforced and cemented. If word lists alone are used for dictation, these same words are frequently misspelled when used out of context in sentences.

To spice things up, try substituting his name for the one in the sentence. Or make up funny sentences using his, his friend's, and/or his pet's name. Students love doing this--it makes it personal and fun!

You may need to take several weeks to cover the same rule--the time it takes to learn spelling will vary with each child. As with reading, there is no hurry. Your child is not running a race--he is learning how to spell!

Some children are natural spellers and learn quickly. Others struggle more, and need to move slowly, even if they've learned how to read easily. Some children read long before they are able to write, and conversely--some children write long before they begin reading. The important thing is to make this a special time you will have together. So remember to smile and praise him a lot--and don't forget to give him a great big hug!

*Him refers to male and female students alike.

© 2002-2003 Dolores G. Hiskes

Teaching reading is really very simple - anyone can teach it,
and everyone can learn!

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