Review: IEW’s Phonetic Zoo Spelling A


Spelling!  I have an love hate relationship with this subject.  I’m not the most spectacular of spellers myself. When I  was in school spelling usually consisted of the tried and true…. write each word five times every day, write a sentence with the word, take a test on Friday.  That worked alright for me except my spelling ability has mostly be limited to the words I learned to spell the words on the tests.  It wasn’t until I became an adult and I started teaching my children to spell that I realized there are actual spelling rules that make spelling the crazy English language easier.  Not perfect of course because there are many exceptions to most rules.

We haven’t done much spelling in my house lately.  I find most programs to be either too easy or too hard and complicated.  I think spelling is an important skill to have.  It will always make a person appear to be smart and well educated.  So when the opportunity to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] from Institute for Excellence in Writing I decided we could give it a try.

Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A_zpsiac4zab5Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] is intended for grades 3-5 and comes with the following:

  • 5 audio CDs (includes MP3 downloads) or MP3 downloads and no CDs
  • Lesson Cards with all three levels of spelling words and rhymes or poems to help memorize the rules.
  • Personal Spelling Cards which you will use to create personalized lists of spelling words for your child.
  • Zoo Cards which act as a type of reward or visual reference as your child learns the rules
  • Downloadable Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes PDF file (which I personally had printed and bound)
  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar which is a link to a video you can view online

If you visit the IEW website you can find a Spelling Zoo Placement Test.  I love that they offer this opportunity.  It can be very difficult to decide where to start in a new program that you might not be able to see in person and can only purchase online.  It lessened the worry that I might have my children begin at the wrong level and my kids would struggle.

How does it work?

Phonetic Spelling Zoo uses two key components to teach children to spell well.  First, every list of spelling words come with a rule that the children have to memorize.  The rule is written out on a card and in a rhyme or jingle type style. Repeating it a few times a day make these rules easy to remember.  The audio CDs are then used to teach the children the spelling words through auditory sequential practice.

I highly suggestion you take the time to watch Spelling and the Brain.  It is essential if you and your children are going to get the most out of the program. It is just about an hour long and just full of information about how the brain really processes the information needed to learn to spell well.  Andrew Pudewa does a fantastic job of explaining how the brain retains the spelling of words better if they learn the words in auditory sequence instead of a visually remembering what the word looks like.

IEW dedicates an entire webpage FULL of information about how all of this works.  You won’t want to miss reading through it.  It is titled Getting Started with The Phonetic Zoo.

Every day that you and your children will do the following….

  1. Review the rules and rhyme on the flashcards.
  2. Listen to the lesson on the audio CD.  The children use the spelling rhyme to attempt to write the list of spelling words correctly as the audio reads the words for them.
  3. After that the audio correctly spells each of the words and the child corrects his own work as they listen.
  4. After the child is able to get all of the words spelled correctly 2 days in a row they move on to the next lesson.

For this program I purchased each of my boys a simple lined notebook in which to write the spelling words in every day.

Lesson Cards:

The Lesson Cards are large and printed on card stock.  There is a whole punched in the corner so you can add a ring to keep the cards together.  Every card represents 1 spelling rule and includes the three levels.  There is an animal on each card as well as the spelling rule or rhyme.

Teacher Notes:

The teacher notes come in a downloadable pdf.  This book is absolutely filled with information about how to teach spelling.  It is over 70 pages long.  I found myself turning to it so much that I took the file to a print shop and had it printed and bound into a book I keep out on the school table.  There are reference charts, templates, and so much more.  Don’t miss out on the gold mine of this resource.

How we used it:

I am using this program with my two boys ages 8 and 10.  Most of the time they are actually pretty independent with it.  They are moving through it at their individual paces and that is really easy to do.  Each day the boys take out the cards and review the rules.  They quiz each other to see who can remember them.  Then they take turns working on the their own lesson.  One whole lesson just takes maybe 15 minutes to complete.  They enjoy the program and actually look forward to it.  That’s big points in my world!


This is a really nicely done program.  My children are easily and pretty effortlessly learning quite a bit about the rules of spelling, the exceptions to those rules, and how to spell many great words.  Over all I really recommend it and we will continue to use it.

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