October 26, 2015

Phonetic Zoo: A Phonics Based Spelling Program for the Auditory Learner {Product Review}

Spelling. The bane of our homeschooling experience. We have already tried out two other complete curriculum without any luck in mastery or...enjoyment. Little Britches is an auditory learner and none of the programs we have tried were geared to that style. Enter Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) and their Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set]--a program designed FOR the auditory learner. I was eager to review this product to see if it was all that I hoped for in a spelling curriculum for our family. 
Phonetic Zoo~ Product Review from Farm Fresh Adventures

Product Information

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is recognized as one of the premier writing curriculum companies on the homeschooling market today. The founder Andrew Pudewa has a mission to help students learn how to write well, think clearly, and express themselves articulately and confidently. Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW for short) offers everything from complete Language Arts curriculum packages for Kindergarten to High school, to focused writing curriculum. There are even special curriculum available for special needs students!

I have been blessed to have experienced several of IEW's products including their Fix It! Grammar curriculum, the Student Writing Intensive Level A curriculum, and the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style program. I am always eager to discover other products that they offer...like their spelling curriculum!

If you are looking for a spelling curriculum, IEW offers them for the full age group from Kindergarten through High School! One of the programs geared to the 3rd grade+ range is their Phonetic Zoo Spelling Program! It comes in three levels:

Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A (Grades 3-8)
Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level B (Grades 3-8)
Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level C (Grades 6-12)

What makes this curriculum different? It's especially geared towards the auditory learner! It's a phonics based program that uses an input through the students ears to absorb the correct spelling of each word. The program also is geared towards repetition to mastery! The audio cds in the starter set allow your child to work independently most of the time too!

A starter set is available for anyone who hasn't experienced Phonetic Zoo Spelling yet. 

Materials included in the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Starter Set (retails for $99):

*5 audio CDs (includes MP3 downloads)or MP3 downloads and no CDs
*Lesson Cards with all three levels of spelling words and jingles
*Personal Spelling Cards to keep track of your student’s typical misspellings
*Zoo Cards that serve as a way to practice jingles or as rewards
*Downloadable Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes PDF file
*Spelling and the Brain video seminar (link to streaming video)

A placement test is available and highly recommended to determine what level your student needs to start with. If you are not new to Phonetic Zoo, it's possible to just purchase the Audio CD you need for the level you want. It's also possible to buy pieces of the sets. On a budget? You can also purchase a budget package.

After taking the placement test, I determined that we needed the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Program Level A [Starter Set] for completing my review with Little Britches, age 9.

How Did We Use This Product?

I eagerly anticipated the arrival of this product! Even before the physical pieces of the set arrived, I went online to my IEW account and downloaded the Phonetic Zoo Teacher's Notes PDF file so I could begin looking through it. The notes include several pages relating to how the program works and why it works and what the goals are. I went ahead and printed out all the pages and put them into a binder. I noticed that the final pages in the PDF are appendices which are discussed in the notes. One of the appendix section contained a blank spelling test form that could be used for the student, if it was preferred over blank notebook paper. I decided that we would use this and went ahead and printed out ten of them.

I also went ahead and printed out the pages for the "Zoo Cages" where the zoo cards would be attached as we went through our different lessons. There is a nice explanation in this section talking about how you can use these cages to make a big poster board of sorts, or even a Phonetic Zoo city for your walls. At this time, I decided we would just attach them to the papers themselves.

The next thing I did while waiting for the physical product was to listen to the Spelling and the Brain seminar by Andrew Pudewa. I opted for the mp3 that I downloaded and listened to from my Kindle. It was a GREAT way to learn more about the program, why it was created and the kind of children it would work for. As I listened I was like "Yes! Yes! This is us!" It was so worth it just to hear that seminar.

Finally the physical product came and I eagerly tore into the package. I received the audio cds, lesson cards, and zoo cards in this package. I looked over the downloadable teachers notes one more time, this time seeing how the physical products pieced together with it.

It seemed to have very easy and simple steps:

1. Introduce the lesson using the Teachers Notes and Zoo Lesson Card (each are labeled with the lesson number). Read and show the words for the appropriate leveled words (Level A for us). Teach the jingle that is set up for each lesson.

2. Give child a headset, blank test, and pen. Next, set them up with the audio CD with the track that matches their lesson. There are two tracks for each lesson--first track is for the spelling test and the second track is for your child to correct their work.

3. Once your child has taken the test, they are to correct their own work. The teacher can look over the words to make sure the child didn't mistakenly miss a word spelling.

4. If your child got 100% on the test, then they simply need to get 100% on the next day's test. If your child misses words, they write the word correctly next to the misspelled word which has been crossed out. The next day, they take the test again, and correct their test again. The student continues to take the test over again until they get 100% two days in a row.

5. Once the child has received 100% two days in a row, it is considered mastered and they can move to the next lesson. The process then repeats with each lesson.

6. When the lesson has been learned, you can give the student the zoo card which will help them remember the lesson rule with an animal cue. The student can attach this to the cages sheets where they can note down three words from their lesson.

7. Every 5th lesson is a Personal Spelling card. Through out the weeks prior, the parent can note down words that are being misspelled from writing lessons, or they can use words from the lists of frequently misspelled words included in the Appendices, or use the extra lessons provided in the appendices that aren't going to be covered in the lesson cards. These lessons will have the parent doing the test giving and correction--but should be done in the same manner as the audio cds.

As of right now, we are on Lesson 5-Personal Spelling cards, where I used the -ck spelling lesson from the appendix. He has received his first 100% and is going to be hopefully getting his next one with our next spelling day. 

What Are My Thoughts On This Product?

Little Britches: It's the best spelling I've ever done! It's so easy and I can do it on my own and keep doing over the words over and over until I get them right. I like that I get to correct my own work, but I don't have to write my words like 30 times or anything. The jingles also make it easier for me to remember my lessons. I like that they say them several times during my test.

Me: Amen! LOL. I second and third everything he said because---it means we don't fight with spelling anymore! Spelling is easy breezy and he's really learning it...FINALLY!

Here are the reasons it's working for us:

1. It's almost completely auditory. 
He's an auditory learner. Hearing these words over and over. And hearing hearing their spellings over and over in his ears. It's key to his success. Same as having the jingles to guide him. Think Spelling Bee. That's how this program operates! Imput it in the correct order and keep reviewing it orally with them hearing the correct spellings until they get it right!

2. It's independent.
Other than the first day when I give the lesson, it's pretty much all on him to get it done. He simply grabs his headset, paper, and pen...then gets going on the laptop with the audio cd. He loves being able to correct his own work and I hear him cheer his own progress. "Yes! I got that one!"

3. It's short and to the point.

He has a fairly short attention span--he is a boy you know. The fact that this system requires just a little time each day and is very to the point without a lot of extras, makes it ideal for him.

4. It's repetitive to mastery.
For many spelling programs, you take one test and then move on--no matter what your score. With this program, you can't move on until you get two 100% tests in a row. This is ideal for him. He loves that it's the same words every time. He tries hard to do better with each test all on his own. He comes up with little ways to remember the word combinations so he doesn't miss them the next time. "Pe-o-ple". He is doing well and remembers the rules. I even saw him use the jingle for one of the writing assignments which made me very happy.

Is there anything I don't like?
Well, the only thing that's more of mom-student thing to take care of is that I caught him a few times changing his spelling of words during correction. Fortunately, I had seen the words he had written so I knew he had done this. I explained that he needed to remember there wasn't a penalty for missing words. Nor was it going to help him learn the words if he continued to do it. For the next few tests, I simply had him bring me his test to look at before he corrected his work. This quickly nipped the issue in the bud. It is something that the parent will need to be aware of when allowing them to work through their tests on their own.

So, will we continue to use this program?
Teachers Notes can be used for all 3 levels, just like the cards
Absolutely. No doubt about it. This is working for us and I thank God that we were blessed with this program. I really like that the Lesson Cards can be used for all three levels, so once we are done with Level A, I could continue to use the program to work through the Level B and Level C words.

If I want the independent aspect, I would have to purchase the audio cds (or mp3s) for each of these ($59 download each), but I can always simply follow the method and do the spelling tests for the upper levels the way I would do the Personal Spelling cards.

Will I use this with Baby Britches?
Hmm. That's the catch. I don't know. He does not have an auditory learning style, so other programs might work better for him, but this one is so good, I may just give it a whirl for him too when the time comes. 

Would I Recommend This Product?

Are you struggling with spelling in your school? Does it seem like your child can spell the same word four different ways, EVEN after learning it the traditional spelling way? Does your child HATE spelling? Do you want your child to have mastery over the words they are learning? Does your child work well with some independence in their lessons? Do you want an open and go program? What about multiple students able to work through it together? Then I definitely would recommend checking out this program! It has been a Godsend for us because I was answering yes to all of these questions myself--even after trying out two other well known spelling programs!

Want To Know More?

We reviewed Phonetic Zoo Spelling Program Level A [Starter Set] (retails for $99.00) from Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). You have seen how much we enjoy this program, but why not check out the rest of my review crew thought about it! I also encourage you to check out some of the teams review on the Resource Set!


I am so happy with the results of this program. We finally found a spelling curriculum that not only works, but Little Britches actually likes to do! It is great to add another win to our experiences with products from Institute for Excellence in Writing--I look forward to continuing to use their products for years to come!
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