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The Phonetic Zoo Review by Charlotte Gochnauer

Institute for Excellence in Writing
8799 N. 387 Road
Locust Grove, OK 74352

Are you looking for an easy way to teach your children spelling? Are you a busy homeschooling mom, who would love to NOT be responsible for reading all those endless spelling lists as you test your children? If you said yes to either of those questions then keep reading, because Phonetic Zoo from Institute for Excellence in Writing might be just the curriculum for you.

Phonetic Zoo is meant for children ages 9 and up and is based on an interesting concept. When we look at words, we don’t see each individual letter, but the word as a whole. So a child might get the first and last letters correct, but mix up the letters in the middle. Phonetic Zoo strives to teach spelling words, through auditory input, letter by letter. This exercise slows the child down and forces them to see each letter in turn and learn the sequential order of correctly spelled words. This multi-sensory approach helps the child to retain the word and gives them tools for better spelling.

There are three levels in Phonetic Zoo, levels A, B, and C. There are 47 lessons in each level. For each level you will receive a teacher e-book, a set of large spelling-list flashcards, a set of small spelling –rule flashcards, audio CD’s and an instructional DVD/DVD-ROM. There is an online placement test that is helpful in figuring out which level your child needs. Each large spelling card has the words lists and spelling rule jingle on it. All three levels are on each card, so when you need to progress to the next level all you will need purchase is the audio CD for that level.

The Teacher’s DVD is very helpful in reinforcing the program and gives guidance in implementing the steps. There are also teacher notes for each lesson in convenient PDF files to download.

You will also receive a set of small spelling-rule cards; these have the rule for each lesson on it and are meant to be used to reinforce the jingle. These jingles are very helpful. For example, the jingle in the third lesson begins like this:

When two vowels go walking
The first often does the talking.
Either shouting out its name
As in goat, leaf, and pain.

And the list of words in that lesson all follows the rule. Some of the words in the A level are boat and heavily, the B level has goalie and leopard, and you will see pleadingly and maelstrom in level C.

Each CD begins with an introductory note to the students with instructions.  The word list, which has 15 words, is then read, along with a comprehension sentence, with a pause to write each word. As they hear the list, the student will write the words on their paper. After all 15 words have been read and the jingle gone over a few times, the words are repeated, and this time they are spelled out correctly, letter by letter.

It works like this:

  1. You present the rule, or jingle for each lesson.
  2. You can briefly talk about the rule and how it applies to the words on the list. This is where the teacher files are very useful; they give further insight into the spelling rules and helpful hints in teaching the concept.
  3. You will then set up your child with a paper, pen, the CD, and headphones. They will then listen to the lesson on the CD, spelling the words as they are said. Then they will make corrections to their test as each word is spelled out for them. They do not progress to the next lesson until they receive 100% on a test.
  4. Every 5 lessons is a ‘Personal Spelling” lesson and is made up of words that the student has struggled with, either in previous spelling lists or writing assignments.

I used this program with my two older children. One was in Level B and the other was in Level C. They liked having their time in front of the CD player with the headphones, and the simple way that the lessons advanced. Other spelling programs have a child progress lesson by lesson, regardless of how many words are wrong. And that is what made this program so unique; the idea of perfect proficiency. Mastery is encouraged through this multi-sensory method, in the way that children test, over and over, in each lesson. There is also less time spent on words that are known and quality time spent on the words that are more challenging for the student.

My children actually enjoyed doing spelling, and I noticed an improvement in their spelling skills. The only criticism I have about this wonderful program is about the instructors voices on the CD. One of the male teachers does have a speech impediment. This does prove to be a bit distracting and made it hard, in some cases, to hear the word that was being said. But there are two other instructors who are speaking, and it did cause my children to listen very carefully. I do plan to use Phonetic Zoo for many years to come.

Product review by Charlotte Gochnauer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2013