Level 1 – one-syllable, three-sound words with checked vowels

Level 2 – one-syllable, four-sound words with checked vowels and final consonant blends

Level 3 – one-syllable, four-sound words with checked vowels and initial consonant blends

Level 4 – “long” vowel sounds in one-syllable words

Level 5 – the rest of the vowel sounds in one-syllable words

Level 6 – one-syllable consonant spellings; homophones and overlaps

Level 7 – two-syllable words, and managing the unstressed vowel

Level 8 – Vowel spellings in multisyllable words

Level 9 – Less common consonant spellings

Level 10 – The trickiest spellings


© Alison Clarke 2012

7 responses to “Sorted from easy to hard”

  1. ariadne1895 says:

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks so much for these word lists! They’re awesome!

    When you compiled the lists, how did you decide what was ‘easy’ and what was ‘hard’? I can see how CVC words are easier than CVCC words. But what is it that makes CCVC words harder than CVCC? Is it easier for children to ‘hear’ final consonant blends than initial blends?

    Also, are the spellings ordered by difficulty within each level?

    Many thanks!

    • alison says:

      Hi Ariadne, thanks for the nice feedback. My lists need some work but I’m glad you find them helpful.

      Being a Speech Pathologist, and working with a lot of kids with articulation errors, I wanted to work on sounds that are easier to produce and prolong first, and initial blends tend to either contain “s” which a lot of my students struggle with (lisping, mixing it up with “sh” etc) or “r” which is often hard, or “l”, again often hard for kids with articulation errors. Final blends contain “l” and “s” too but there are quite a few with “n” and “m” as the inside consonant and some “f” ones like “soft” and “left”, and these consonants are continuants so they are easy to prolong when stretching a word out (SSSSOOOOOOFFFFFFT). Also stories tend to be written in past tense, so I wanted to get the “ed” spelling (messed, kicked etc) out of the way early, as that would help with managing past tense in books. Also schools often put a lot of work into initial blends but not final ones, and since my materials are principally catch-up resources I wanted to focus on the biggest gaps in my catch-up students’ knowledge.

      I did think I had read somewhere that final blends are easier to discriminate than initial blends but I cannot find the reference now, and I just checked my Diane McGuinness book and she says start with initial blends, which is what most programs do. So I think you can make up your own mind based on your student(s), if they are beginners perhaps go for initial blends but if they’ve done lots of work on initial blends at school perhaps go for final ones first.

      I don’t think spellings are the principal problem for most kids who struggle, I think it’s the sounds, and I did try to order the sounds in level 1 from those that are easier to pronounce to those that are harder. However that level introduces all the consonant sounds except “zh” as in “treasure” and “vision” then workbooks 2 and 3 just deal with four-sound words, then in the vowel spellings the order was about trying to be explicit about positional frequency and get kids to see the e-controlled pattern and the ending spellings that finish with a w or a y (ay, ey, oy, aw, ew, ow) and then the ones that end with “r” (ar, er, ir, or, ur). After that some more consonants and noting homophones and overlaps, then on to longer words. But I have a revision in my head now that would rejig it a little (more work on open v/s closed syllables and separating e-controlled vowels out first), just need to find time to make it!

      Hope that’s useful,


  2. ariadne1895 says:

    Thank you for the swift and very detailed response! That is very useful information indeed and all makes perfect sense to me.

    Excellent point about the -ed ending, and I can see what you are saying about the difficulties of s, l, r in initial blends. As a primary teacher, I often see little children writing things like “went” as “wet”, so I’ve often wondered if there is something particularly difficult about perceiving the penultimate consonant.

    On a related matter, I wonder what your opinion is on teaching rimes? For example, to help with the spelling of “went”, is it useful to learn others at the same time (sent, bent)? There is a list of “the 37 most common rimes” that is often used in primary schools; do you think it is useful to learn a rime at a time (or logical groupings of rimes, like -ill and -ell) for spelling and reading?

  3. Rose says:

    Hi alison, i would like to ask if you have any reading activities that you can suggest for tge students?

    Or, on what portion do the students need to read in order for them to pass the level?

    • alison says:

      I use a variety of decodable books, it really depends on learners’ age and interest level. A lot of kids come to see me reading reasonably well but spelling poorly, so reading recommendations aren’t really required. I use Sounds Write and Forward With Phonics stories with high frequencies of particular phonemes quite a bit. In Speech Pathology we usually set a target of 80% or 90% correct before moving on to the next level, but this also depends on a few factors, some children get antsy if you stick on a topic for too long, but others like to really nail one thing down before meeting the next thing. I’m not sure that’s really the answer you wanted and sorry to only just see this comment, they used to all be emailed to me but the system seems to have changed. Alison

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *