Learning the building blocks of words - sounds, their spellings, and word parts

Alison Clarke, Speech Pathologist

Alison has been a Speech Pathologist since 1988, and also holds a Masters in Applied Linguistics and an ESL teaching certificate. She has worked for the Victorian Education Department, Yooralla, SCOPE, a University in Mexico, a hospital in London, RMIT, the Royal Children’s Hospital and Lewis and Lewis. She started her private practice in 2000 in Footscray, moved it to Clifton Hill in 2012, and then to North Fitzroy in 2018.

Alison set up this Spelfabet website in 2012, because she was keen to encourage early literacy teaching and intervention that  reflects scientific reading research. She was 2015-16 Vice President of Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), and has also worked as an administrator, and been a City Councillor and Mayor. She received LDA’s 2018 Mona Tobias Award, and a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2022. Alison works Tuesdays to Saturdays. Her COVID-19 lockdown creative project was a kids’ book called “I Love a Sunblessed Country”, which you can find here.

Tessa Weadman, Speech Pathologist

Tessa holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology, completed in 2015. She is now studying for a PhD focussed on the oral language and emergent literacy skills of preschool children.

Tessa has previously worked for the Department of Education and Training, in various clinic-based settings, and as a sessional tutor at La Trobe University. Her main clinical interests are reading and spelling difficulties, speech-language disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Tessa is finishing her PhD and has a new research job, so sadly now only works with us on Thursdays from 10.30am to 6.30pm. She is passionate about hummus.

Adrianna Galioto, Speech Pathologist

Adrianna holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s degree in Speech Pathology, completed in 2015.

Adrianna has experience in mainstream education settings and currently works at a high school. Her clinical interests include literacy, speaking and listening and social skills. She also speaks Italian and French.

Adrianna works at Spelfabet on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and at Pavilion School on Tuesdays. When she isn’t in the clinic, you will find Adrianna at dance classes, the theatre or eating yummy food,  especially pasta!

Maria Narouz, Speech Pathologist

Maria holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences and Master of Speech Pathology, completed in 2015.

Maria has experience in the mainstream education setting and is passionate about working with children to improve their reading and spelling skills. Maria also loves to work in the areas of speech and language. She tries to incorporate games and activities in all her therapy sessions. Maria has training in Sounds-Write, Read Write inc. and Cued Articulation. She speaks fluent Arabic.

Maria works on Mondays and Thursdays. When not looking after her daughter, at work or at church, Maria loves watching Disney movies and making scrabble frames.

Roshni Kaur, Speech Pathologist

Rosh holds a Bachelor of Speech Pathology, completed in 2016. She also has a Psychology and Criminology degree.

Rosh has experience in mainstream education settings and currently works at a primary and secondary school. She also has experience working in mental health for children and adolescents. Her main clinical interests are speech and language, literacy and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Rosh works for Spelfabet on Mondays. When she isn’t at work she enjoys hanging out with her dog, watching thrillers and exploring new places to eat.

Tiana Knights, Office Coordinator

Tiana holds a Bachelor of Medicinal Chemistry and has worked with children for over twenty years as a gymnastics coach.

She has also worked in administration for real estate, sporting organisations and not-for-profit gymnastics centres.

General interests include reading, festivals, and multi-species justice. Tiana enjoys exploring parks with Levi, her big and gentle dog friend, who sometimes comes to work.

Tamara Maison, Administrative Assistant

Tamara is studying Speech Pathology at the Australian Catholic University, having previously worked in retail, administration and a call centre.

She is an avid reader, cat lover and Wordle enthusiast.

Website goals

1. To provide helpful, accessible, Australian information for anyone who wants to help a beginning or struggling reader/speller with:

  • Discerning and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness/proficiency), and/or
  • Learning the complicated way English sounds are represented by letters/groups of letters (graphemes), and/or
  • Learning how longer words are often made up of meaningful word parts spelt in patterned ways (morphemes).

To promote high-quality research and teaching resources aiming to improve accurate word-level reading and spelling.

2.  To encourage schools to adopt a Response To Intervention (RTI) approach, so that 95-97% of children learn to read and spell well in their first three years of schooling, allowing intervention resources to be efficiently targeted towards the remaining 3-5% of children with significant learning difficulties.

3. To make the Spelfabet literacy-teaching materials publicly available, and publicise Spelfabet’s assessment, therapy and professional development services. Income from these make it possible to maintain this website.

Spelfabet materials

Many mainstream phonics materials are poorly designed, and show a weak understanding of the sounds and spellings of English, and how we learn. Many of the high-quality synthetic phonics materials available are too “teddy-bearish” for use with older learners, because they’re designed for five and six-year-olds.

Alison first devised the Spelfabet materials because she needed materials to use with older children and teenagers which were affordable, phonetically accurate, easy for aides and parents to use, progressing in tiny, errorless-learning steps and with Australian English grammar, vocabulary and spelling. She also wanted something easy to carry on a USB stick for printing, laminating and binding at school. Most materials are pdf downloads from this website’s shop.

Your feedback and suggestions

We would love to hear your feedback, suggestions or questions on the Spelfabet materials, clinic or website. Any researchers who’d like to subject our materials to the blowtorch of scientifically rigorous testing would have our full and enthusiastic support.

47 thoughts on “About

  1. kathryn

    Hello Alison,  your program looks very interesting. I was also wondering if you personally tutor or have people tutoring for you with your program and materials.  We are in Melbourne in the Box Hill area and I have a son who is 9 years old. I often think it would be wonderful to give him a more solid grounding in phonics. 

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Kathryn, I’ve emailed you to say that I can certainly see your son, and have a look at his skills and needs, and then we can talk about how to address them in an efficient and cost-effective way. But then I realised people reading your comment might think I’d ignored it, so am replying here too. Looking forward to speaking to you in person. Alison C

  2. Penny

    Hi Alison,

    Another school mum has just turned me onto you after we had big 'unload' about how we feel our kids are going in their grade 1 class on the Gold Coast.

    My daughter is 6 and reads very well and spells very well, but I feel her needs are not being addressed in class.  I go in and help as much as possible, and it is quite disheartening to see how many children are unable to read, even just a little bit.

    I realise that Govt schools have neither the funds or time to address the needs of each individual child, so I am seeking suggestions that I may give my daughter homework so help progress her learning.  Is this the sort of problem that your program helps with?


    Thank you,



    1. alison Post author

      Hi, Penny, glad to hear your daughter is going OK with her reading and spelling, but sorry to hear not all her classmates are, and that you feel her needs are not really being addressed. I think schools create quite a big problem for themselves when they use only Whole Language or Balanced Literacy (usually whole language with a sprinkling of analytic phonics) approaches to teaching reading and spelling because you end up with situations like the Grade 2 class I was in today, where some kids read like 6-year-olds (i.e. they can’t read much) while one child has the decoding skills of a 16-year-old. How teachers are meant to address their needs and everyone else’s in between is really unclear to me. Their teacher is lovely and very hardworking and experienced, but I think her task is impossible. If everyone got a proper first-and-fast phonics blast in their first year of school, less kids would fall behind and there would be less discrepancy between kids, and thus teachers’ lives would be a lot easier after that.

      Re your daughter, if she’s good at reading and keen to do it, and has enough books in which she can decode 95% or more of the words, then she should be fine to just read, read, read with lots of encouragement and interest from you, and her decoding skills will probably continue to build.

      If you want to give her structured practice on spelling you can use my materials, or there are lots of other things on my resource lists that might work equally well. Make sure you include lots of writing activities, anyway, as this seems to be the most powerful way to help children grasp spellings. Make sure she says the sounds (not the letter names) as she writes them.

      Apart from that, it sounds like you’re one of the lucky ones who has a child with good phonemic awareness and the ability to see many of the patterns, so please enjoy this, there are a lot of parents who are less fortunate.

  3. Rebecca



    my daughter starts school next year and. Really want her t have a strong start. Do your materials cover this and wha would you suggest? 

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Rebecca, one of the best things you can do with your daughter is talk and read to her and develop her oral language, but also if you can make sure she understands that words are made of sounds and letters are how we draw them, this will start her off on the right path. We have a few spellings for each sound, and sometimes we use the same spelling for more than one sound, but children can cope with this, they understand from their own drawings that a drawing of a house can have different shapes and sizes and still be a house, and that a circle could be a sun or a balloon or an orange.

      I suggest you also help her learn to recognise letters and say the main sound for each one, perhaps using Jolly Phonics or Zoo Phonics actions to help her remember. Teaching the sounds is a lot more useful than teaching the letter names (though perhaps when she starts school they will expect her to know the names too, but letter names can really confuse some beginners).

      Children who are starting to “hear” the structure of words are ahead of the game when they start school e.g. children who are aware of and can generate rhymes (e.g. they know what’s funny about “roses are red, violets are blue, most poems rhyme but this one doesn’t”, and if you ask them what rhymes with “cat” they can tell you at least a couple of words) and pull the first sound off a word e.g. “mum starts with m” and then tell you other words starting with that sound – monster, mouth, me etc.

      If you have an iPad and your daughter is playing with it anyway, perhaps get her playing Phonics Hero and some of the other apps at http://www.spelfabet.com.au/phonics-resources/preschool/, and perhaps also get her some Little Learners Love Literacy, Get Reading Right or Jolly Phonics decodable books and help her start sounding out words.

      You could use my Level 1 resources and movable alphabet with her if you like, but my resources are deliberately not full of teddies and princesses and children shouting hooray, because I use them a lot with older learners. So she might prefer some of the many resources that are specifically written for her age group. I hope that’s helpful and please just email me if you want to have a longer conversation about this. Alison

    1. alison Post author

      Thanks for the nice feedback! Now I just need to find time to make my last workbook, more sequences and games (in my head but I never get enough time to finish them)

  4. Sal

    Hi Alison,
    My daughter is 12 yrs old and just starting yr7 and has had speech therapy on and off since she was young. However, her treatment was interrupted several times over the years to address anxiety concerns stemming from her inability to express herself and the schools/ teacher’s lack of understanding how to deal with the situation. Despite many attempts at tutoring, speech therapy and counselling, she continues to perform below her age level, although she seems to perform better in numeracy.
    At the moment she’s seeing a psychologist and a speech therapist(Kids focus paediatric therapy) once a week. She has start school at a private school and it seems they’re not much better than public school. I have had a speech assessment done last month. Her results returned as having a reading age of 8.5 and spelling age of 9.5. She seems to be ok with oral decoding but not visual decoding with some area performing at expected level (7-13) and others at below expected level and scoring mostly 3.

    I am extremely frustrated, worried,confused and DESPERATE to help her in way possible. I really don’t know what to do?! I have opted to have the speech therapist address her concerns but I feel 1/2hr a week is not enough to help improve and it’s quite expensive at $75 . Also I’m not sure whether if she requires the assistances of anyone else now that she’s in high school.
    I’m hoping after stumbling upon your website that you may be able to help me or advise me of what/where to go from here and if you would have recommendation for anyone/service I could access in Sydney. I live in Sydney, Bankstown area . I would really appreciate it if you could give any directions 🙂

  5. Sal

    Yes I just saw your earlier reply. Thanks you.
    I have contacted them many years ago for my son but as I recall Speld provided one on one tutoring services, however, I will contact them today and hopefully they’ll be able to help.
    Once thank you 🙂

  6. DN

    Hi there,
    I have a 4 tear old who is not interested in reading and writing or even drawing. I was wondering do you hold private classes to enhance his learning skills. Thanks

    1. alison Post author

      Hi there, I don’t run private classes for four year olds in literacy skills, but there are a few preschool programs that do focus on this area, see for example http://littlelearnersloveliteracy.com.au/centres-using-little-learners. You might like to try one of those? Also I find that some apps are a nice way to get littlies interested in sounds and letters e.g. Phonics Hero, Reading Raven, Bob Books, Starfall learn to read, Spooky letters, Pocket Phonics, Hairy Letters. Hope that’s useful, Alison

  7. Rachel Fenton

    Hi Alison, I really sympathise with children that have these problems. I myself suffered considerably when until I reached 17 years old. I got private tuition but it helped only slightly.
    I’m very happy that your daughter is progressing, every step forward is one less back.
    All the best x

  8. Eimie Sugimori

    I want to attend your seminar.
    When will you come to Japan?And please tell me which place of Japan you will come.
    Sincerely yours,

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Eimie, the seminar I am most involved in organising and presenting at right now is the Maryanne Wolf one, https://www.ldaustralia.org/pdm-wolf.html. You’d be welcome to come, but it is quite far if you’re coming from Japan. I have no immediate plans to travel to Japan myself, though my friends and relatives who have been there all highly recommend it. So maybe one day. Alison

  9. Jill

    Hello Alison,
    my name is Jill. I am very interested in phonics. My mother taught me the basics when I was little, enabling me to read at a young age.

    How can I be trained in phonics, such that I can become a tutor, & to make a career of it?

    I would appreciate any help you can offer.

    Kind regards,

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Jill, lots of people run courses, have a look at this blog post http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2016/03/upcoming-training-in-synthetic-phonics, which is out of date now but it contains lots of links to providers who will be running training this year, their contact details and an idea of how long their training takes and what it costs. Probably the Sounds~Write training would be my pick of the bunch in terms of value for money, but I don’t think there is a course in Melbourne till later in the year.

  10. Malia Tompson

    Thanks for sharing the above link. I really want to jump in and take one of these courses but I could never come to a decision on which one to enrol in. Thank you Alison, I appreciate your help.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi David, sorry, I can’t teach you from this website, you need a teacher/therapist, and I hope this website helps your teacher/therapist with finding great teaching resources and ideas that help you.

  11. Jen Gorey

    Hi Alison
    Do you have a guide for parents to help beginning readers (4-5 year old) using decodable books at home please?

  12. Jacqui

    Hi my 10 yr old son has been diagnosed with dysgraphia and dyslexia i was wondering if you know of anyone around the pakenham area for tutoring. Thanks

    1. alison Post author

      Try the Learning Difficulties Australia website’s tutor search: https://www.ldaustralia.org/tutor-referral-services. If you can’t find anyone who suits, you might be able to find a speech pathologist who can help using the Speech Pathology Australia website’s search function: https://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Find_a_Speech_Pathologist/SPAweb/Resources_for_the_Public/Find_a_Speech_Pathologist/All_Searches.aspx?hkey=0b04c883-80b2-43e7-9298-7e5db5c75197

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Diane, no, I don’t know LIPI and LIPI2, these seem from googling to be made up by people in the NSW education department, but I can’t see where/whether they are now available. Do you know who to ask about this? Alison

  13. Diane

    Hi Alison
    This is the info on the program.
    ‘Adapted and developed by ISER-Shellharbour Learning Assistance Team:
    Maree Shirlaw Learning Assistance Coordinator
    Jenny Miller DSTLA
    Susan McIntosh DSTLA
    Mary Paris DSTLA
    Lois Kull DSTLA
    and the many schools involved in the pilot program.’

  14. Riv

    Hi Alison,
    My 9 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. She is approximately 1.5/2 years behind in both spelling and reading. What would your suggestion be to assist her. Would you think tutoring in msl? Or is a speech therapist better? We are located in Melbourne.

    1. alison Post author

      I’m so sorry that it’s taken me ages to reply, I’ve been neglecting my website because I’ve been so busy and tired working with a very large caseload. I think any tutor or therapist who uses an evidence-based approach should be helpful, they should work from sounds to their spellings and make sure your daughter establishes each pattern to mastery/automaticity before moving on to other patterns. You can find LDA tutors in your area on the LDA website and Speech Pathologists in your area on the Speech Pathology Australia website, perhaps you’ve already done this. I haven’t done MSL training, but I understand it’s quite solid phonics work, however David Kilpatrick says the key things to target for successful reading are 1. Phonemic awareness, including advanced skills like phoneme manipulation, 2. Phonics and 3. Reading connected text. I’d like him to add lots of work on spelling to that list, but that isn’t his focus, however we know that work on spelling boosts reading. Good luck with it all and once again, my apologies for taking a long time to reply. Alison

  15. Robyn DAvies

    Good morning Alison,
    I am so thrilled to have found your web site about spelling! I am currently a student studying a Community services Diploma in Wodonga and have an assignment about group advocacy and the topic I have chosen is about children and adults who can read but cannot spell. Your web site gives me the material I require to complete my assignment. I have always been passionate about literacy from when my sisters and I were taught by our parents on an island off the Queensland coast during the 1950s. Great grounding! Having made sure my own children grew up literate, I am shocked to learn the literacy standards these days in Australia are not very good. I do have a couple of questions, do all children with a spelling problem have a learning difficulty such as dyslexia? Or is it some children who cannot spell have never been taught to spell? Many thanks for your web site Cheers Robyn

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Robyn, thanks for the lovely feedback, great to hear your kids have learnt to spell well. I think lots of poor spellers are just instructional casualties, but of course the ones with the more severe difficulties probably qualify for a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorder (dyslexia or if the focus is spelling the more accurate term is perhaps dysgraphia, but that also includes kids with handwriting problems so it’s a bit of a confusing term). The cutoff for this diagnosis is around the 7th percentile, though of course it depends a bit on the impact it is having on their life. All the best, Alison

  16. Ellisha Blackburn

    Hi, I’m excited to start using your resources with my 7 year old whose decoding skills are weak and she is not surprisingly finding reading to be “hard!” I’m kicking myself for not doing more explicit instruction on this sooner. Unfortunately, she’s missed a lot of class time due to challenging behaviour, as she has some significant attention and social/emotional difficulties. And I think her current school is influenced strongly by a whole language approach. I’m an SLP with a background in working with preschoolers. So, learning to read is not my specialty. (My experience includes a lot of early language, speech and early literacy.) I’ve downloaded the moveable alphabet, workbook 1, the rare words spelling test, level on words sequences and first phonics picture book. Little question about how you use “qu” in the moveable alphabet: It’s kind of a special one, isn’t it? It looks like you’ve spaced the letters out a bit, presumably because they represent 2 phonemes, is that right? Is there a specific way that you teach that to kids?
    PS I’m also keen to see how my son does using the rare words spelling test, as he has been doing French immersion and I wonder if his English spelling has taken a hit over the years.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Ellisha, thanks so much for the lovely feedback, glad you find my stuff helpful. When teaching “qu” I usually tell kids that in Old English people wrote “cw” as you’d expect e.g. queen was spelt “cwen”, but then after the French invaded in 1066 their scribes decided to use “qu” not “cw” or “kw”. We also use “gu” not “gw”, as in language, penguin and guava. Being a speech pathologist you know that /k/ and /g/ both being velar plosives, and the sound /w/ being very close to the sound /u/ as in tofu, so these spelling patterns kind of make sense from a phonology point of view. Hope that makes sense. And hopefully all that exposure to French will mean your son’s ability to spell words that are Latin in origin is enhanced, not reduced. All the best, Alison

  17. Carol Lykins

    Hi Alison,
    I’m a 6-12th grade dyslexia interventionist.
    I just printed and laminated several sets of your game cards. We’re on Christmas break here in Arkansas, USA, but I can’t wait to try them out with my students when we get back to school.

    Thank you!

    1. alison Post author

      I haven’t had any experience with LIPI or LIPI2, sorry, I was trying to find out about it a few years ago but didn’t get very far. Alison

  18. Karla Morison

    Hi just letting you know that I tried to buy the CVC card games on the free stuff page (and others) but once it’s sent to my email address it says page not found. Any ideas?

  19. David Brew

    Good Morning,
    I have recently stumbled upon your website. it looks very impressive and helpful.

    I am an experienced classroom teacher in the Hawkesbury region of Greater Western Sydney NSW. I am currently teaching a Year 4 class, in which I have several students who really struggle with their reading, word attack skills and spelling. In my school, we have recently started using the SoundWaves program (which has a sound phonics base) across Stages 2 and 3.

    I’m intrigued by your playing cards resources, but not sure how I would use them in my classroom. Do you have games/rules/suggested routines for how they should or could be used?

    Kind regards,

    1. alison Post author

      Hi David, thanks for the nice feedback about my website, much appreciated. You can use our phonics playing cards with any game that uses a standard deck of playing cards, we have a few examples here: http://www.spelfabet.com.au/2019/07/introducing-clever-caitlins-phonics-playing-cards. I use Snap and War with younger kids and ones with cognitive difficulties, and California Speed and Spit with older kids. But if you go to YouTube and search for ‘kids’ card games’, you’ll find heaps of other ideas. Any game you/colleagues played with a standard deck of cards as a child is one you could play with these cards. Some of your students might also know card games they can teach others. All the best, Alison

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Donna, all the Spelfabet resources are downloadables not printed materials, except for one little deck of cards, and we only ship them within Australia (unless you want a bulk shipment, in which case please email me, but otherwise it’s not worth posting such a small thing overseas). If I had to print, store and mail out the things on my site they would all need to be much more expensive. You can get anything from the site except the printed cards instantly by buying and downloading them, then printing what you need yourself. There is also a printable version of the little cards that are available in hard copy within Australia. All the best, Alison


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