Category Archives: word attack

Level 8 Workbook

Oh my goodness, I've finally finished my Level 8 workbook, and put it in this website's shop.

I hope it fills what I see as a gap in the market for systematic spelling activities which help learners understand and manage syllable boundaries and vowel spellings in multi-syllable words.

It's my longest workbook yet, with 194 pages, designed for literacy learners who have grasped the basics of vowel spellings in one and two-syllable words but want to build on this, and really get their heads around the main sounds for each major vowel spelling.

There is a brief video tour of this workbook on YouTube – click here to see it.

Spellings covered

The workbook covers the following vowel spellings in multisyllable words: a, a…e, ai, air, ar, are, au, aw, ay, e, e…e, ea, ear, ee, eer, ei, er, ew, i, i…e, ie, igh, ir, o, o…e, oi, oo, or, ou, ow, oy, u, ue, ur, ure, y and y…e (see below for the full list of sound-letter relationships covered).

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Milo’s read and grab word game

In the last couple of days I’ve been using a great little card-stealing game with groups of Grade 1 and 2 students, who have consistently squealed with delight as they stole each other’s cards, called it “the funnest”, and wanted to keep playing it long after I was ready to do something else.

So I think it’s time for a blog post about this nifty little game.

Maureen Pollard from Little Learners Love Literacy made it up and publishes it, and gave the simplest version of it to me when we went out for a drink a few weeks ago (thanks Maureen!) to share ideas about how to get schools to take up synthetic phonics, and commiserate with each other about how difficult it is.

I got my groups to play it a couple of weeks ago, thought it was great, lent it to one of their teachers, and then the following week found the kids were asking, “Can we play the stealing game?”, and being unimpressed that I didn’t have it.

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Creative writing

One of the things very young children are encouraged to do in my local schools is creative writing. Putting your personal ideas on paper is a highly valued skill in our education system.

Of course, the kids I work with can’t do it. They stare at the blank page and get some chicken scratchings down, but their letters are poorly formed, they can’t spell the words they want to write, and quite often when they’re finished, even they can’t read it. The whole process makes them feel like failures.

These children have creative ideas, all right, and all but the language-impaired ones can easily tell you about them. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to stop them from talking about their creative ideas long enough to get some written work done. I’m currently a working with one Grade 2 group which is an exercise in hilarity, as they riff off the words we’re working on spelling, one-up each other with funny stories, and devise alternative endings for my decodable books.

In praise of Creative Talking

I recently came across the following by teacher Fay Maglen in the very useful but now apparently out-of-print book Wordswork:

“…adults expect written evidence of work and creative expression too early, to the point, perhaps, of inhibiting the free flow of oral expression. Certainly it would seem that in some classrooms more value is placed on what children write than on what they say…

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Updated spelling tests

Last month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its 2011-2012 adult literacy survey, which found that 44% of adults don’t have good enough literacy to cope with the complex reading and spelling demands of modern life.

This means very little has changed since the first such survey in 1996, when 46% of adults were found to be struggling, despite the millions of dollars that have been poured into adult literacy programs since then. How depressing.

Reading about the new data has motivated me to update my website’s non-word spelling tests, and add introductory videos for both adults with literacy difficulties and parents concerned about their child’s literacy.

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Reading comprehension

Today is one of those days when I wonder whether the education system really has redefined “literate” to mean “can turn pages”.

Good language comprehension, poor decoding

I’ve just come back from a secondary school where there is a student who recently got an A for English.

Just one small problem. She can’t read.

Well, she can read many high-frequency words, look at the first letter and guess from context, look at some of the other letters and see if she can think of a word that sort-of-approximates the one on the page. These are all things she has probably been systematically taught.

However, when reading, she makes constant mistakes, can’t tackle new words, and doesn’t persist (fair enough) or read for enjoyment. Reading is always a chore, and instead of reading books being studied in class herself, she gets the audio book. She doesn’t have any problem with language comprehension, her problem is getting the words off the page (decoding).

The most likely reason for this is that she wasn’t able to crack the complex English spelling code for herself as a young child, and so far nobody’s taught it to her, explicitly and systematically.

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Free phonological awareness test

Dr Jerome Rosner’s Test of Auditory Analysis Skills has been around forever, and is a simple, quick, plain-English test of how well a child in the early years of schooling can hear the identity, order and number of syllables and sounds in words.

These skills are nowadays known as Phonological Awareness. A child’s Phonological Awareness is one of the strongest predictors of his or her literacy achievement.

Who can use the TAAS, with whom, and how long does it take?

The Rosner TAAS is designed for use with children in the early years of schooling, so from about four or five – when children start to be able to grasp the idea that words are made of sounds – up till about age eight, though it can be used with older struggling learners too.

It has 13 questions and takes about three minutes to administer. The instructions and scoring system are simple and straightforward, and there’s a table that shows you how many items you’d expect a child to get right at Kindergarten/Prep level and Grades 1, 2 and 3.

It’s thus a handy screening tool for parents and teachers at this time of year, when everyone’s trying to work out who’s doing OK with early literacy, and who might need a bit of extra help.

It can help bring possible difficulties with Phonological Awareness to your attention.

You don’t need a PhD or special materials to administer the Rosner TAAS, and you can get it right now for $0 just by clicking here.

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Teach 100 first spellings, not 100 first words

Some days I think of a really good title for a blog post, but it's just stupidly long, and if I used it, the post would sink like  a stone in search engines and nobody would read it.

Today is one of those days, and the title I have sensibly not used is:

Why on earth would you teach children 100 first words, when you could teach them 100 first spellings, which would give them the power to read and spell thousands of words?

Children starting school are often taught to read and write "100 first words" – words that come up frequently in books and/or the English language more generally.

There are various 100 first words lists, but just for example, 20 words that seem to make it onto all of them include:





















To make these 20 words, you need the following spellings:

Vowels: a, e, i, o, or, ou.

Consonants: b, d, f, h, n, s, t, th, ve, w, y.

17 spellings.

Why would you teach concepts that are bulky and redundant, when you could teach compact, reusable concepts? We wouldn't do it in maths, or science, so why do we do it in literacy?

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