Teaching to Read, Write, & Spell

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Teaching a kid how to read is big. I'm by no means an expert, but I thought I'd share how I've tweaked my methods and curriculum to teach my kids how to read.

I started Eowyn out with Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading. Eowyn and I got through the vowels before we had to set it aside. The poem to memorize the vowel sounds is cute, but it's a lot of extra information she had to memorize that has nothing to do with reading. So I went back to the search, and found the Writing Road to Reading
Man, that is one tough book! I would read a little, and then go to Google to search, "how to teach the Writing Road to Reading." I had so much trouble wrapping my head around the method! And everyone on the internet just says, "Read the book. And then read it again. And again." I finally buckled down and read through the book a few times until I understood Spalding's method. 

I haven't embraced her full method, but I do use her spelling method. So I wouldn't say I have a Spalding school, but I have had success teaching the kids to spell in order to learn to read. Since I'm on my second go round with Gideon, my method is more defined. 

First thing we learn is the phonograms. (I have no idea where the phonogram cards I use came from, and some of them I had to modify to work with the method. They aren't the official ones, which are HERE, but just a set of phonetic cards.) One of the reasons I prefer this method is because we learn all the sounds of each letter all together. So A is "a, a, ah." (I have no idea how to write the phonetic sounds, so that's a as in cat, a as in navy, and ah as in father.) If your student is ready to begin learning to write, you can teach letter formation at the same time. I could with Eowyn, but Gideon's fine motor skills weren't ready.
The two kids are actually opposite in their skills. When Eowyn was Gideon's age, she was much better at writing and spelling, but Gideon is much better at reading than she was.

Anyway, if they are ready to learn to write at the time, I teach them to write using the instructions in WRTR in a notebook and with a pencil. I sit right there to instruct them. I can't tell you how many times I've said "Hold your pencil properly." But eventually they both got it without any other help. The instructions are for clock face letters and line letters, and actually make it easy to learn cursive as well. It takes lots of practice, but I've learned that they actually have an easier time writing the letters on normal lined paper, and not trying to write large letters. And we just keep practicing until it becomes habit.
I think it was Charlotte Mason who said that a few perfect letters are better than fifty imperfect, so I do keep that in mind, and they only practice writing a few letters at a time, making sure each is perfect.

Once letters and phonograms are learned, we can move on to spelling. I was astonished how easy it was for Eowyn, and Gideon, to pick up spelling. I learned the language of phonograms, and taught them that language, and boom! we can spell. For Eowyn, I used the word list in WRTR. For Gideon, I've been using the McGuffey readers to give him reading practice, and I've used the spelling lists in those before he reads the lesson.

Before he begins his reading practice, I go through the lesson and mark the phonograms. This helps him recognize the two-letter phonograms, final silent e's, and can more easily read through the lesson. I don't always get the whole lesson marked up, but if I can get half of it, he does much better than if I don't get any done.

Now that Eowyn has begun Essentials, I've found the spelling rules in our Essentials guide to much better fit with the problems I had with the Spalding method. The Spalding method didn't use or acknowledge the "schwa" sound. You know, the "uh" sound that any vowel can make on unaccented syllables. As in, come (cum), was (wuz), what (whut), and others I can't think of right now. But the Essentials guide gives a rule for schwa, which makes a lot more sense!

The Essentials guide also covers the final "y" sound when it is an "e." I had already added that sound to our y phonogram (y, i, I, E), but it's so nice to give them the rule, or exception, as well.

So, while I love the method of Writing Road to Reading, I did find some holes. But the Essentials Guide from classical conversations covers those holes so nicely. I just wish I'd had these rules earlier! (I really wish Classical Conversations would publish them in some way, maybe as a Trivium Table. I wonder if I can suggest that somewhere.)

Some other helps for the Spalding method: Apparently, the 4th edition is the easiest to read and understand. It is the last written by Spalding herself. (I have the 5th edition.) And while the 6th edition, and the new Spalding website, offer many, new teaching materials, the only things you need are the book, some phonogram cards, a notebook, and a pencil. And then books to read!
Any one else kept up at night worrying about the schwa sound and how to teach it? Tell me how you teach reading in the comments! Or if you have any questions, let me know those too!


  1. We are about a fourth of the way through "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and we love it! There is writing practice in every lesson. I haven't discovered any holes yet but we shall see! Thanks for this post!

    1. I've heard good things about that one Michelle!

  2. I taught my first to read using OPGTTR, but we started it AFTER she had already mastered CVC words (with the help of Leap Frog Letter Factory & Bob Books). I agree about the rhymes at the beginning of the book-just went through them with my second and found it to be quite useless:) That catchy song from Leap Frog, however, has proven quite valuable LOL!
    For the life of me, I can't figure out the schwa thing, or when I do, I promptly forget it!

    1. I think we had some kind of Leap Frog singing thing way, way back. I'd forgotten about it! It was a catchy song.

      The schwa thing drives me crazy too. The WRTR tells you to teach the schwa words how they are supposed to be sounded out, so was (wuz) is w-a-s. It claims it's like Wednesday (when we spell it we sound it out as Wed-NES-Day, instead of Windsday, like we say it.) But that's a lot of schwas to remember like that! So I've always told the kids it's a schwa, but I've never had a rule about it. Now we can talk about unaccented words and syllables. Like the articles, in a sentence we say "uh" for "a" or "thuh" for "the."

  3. You share a great process here, thank you!

  4. This is interesting to me, as being Scottish, we pronounce the sounds quite differently, for example "the" is like "thi", "was" is "woz" and "what" is "whot"! We used Jolly Phonics, which is an English programme, so I still had to point out to our children that we don't say this sound like that for example, they would pronounce "or" in a word as "aw", whereas we roll our r's! Trivial, but interesting to me :-)

    1. Interesting to me too Gwen! I would love to be able to sit down and compare our phonograms out loud.

  5. I've heard about this method but this is the first review I've read. Thanks for the clear information!

  6. It sounds like we teach reading very similarly! I read through the WRTR when my oldest was young and have used the principles with both my kids. I don't follow it perfectly, but I really appreciate the method. Then we move to the McGuffey Readers as well. I actually print out the primer (free version on gutenburg and other public domain sites) so that I can mark it up like you do. By the time my kids were in the first reader, they didn't need the helps anymore. I ended up adding All About Spelling because although my kids could read amazingly, it didn't translate to spelling as well as I would have liked it to. I like AAS because it uses most of the same rules as the WRTR, but is a scripted plan as opposed to a thick, confusing guidebook ;)