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

For an accessible explanation of what’s wrong with the way literacy is often taught around the English-speaking world, try Emily Hanford’s excellent documentaries.

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6 thoughts on “Where to start

  1. Leone Osland

    I have been using your moveable alphabet with my son that is in year 4 we are just about to complete level 2 list that you give free. Could you tell me the best resource to move to the next level. I am a teacher and I think the manipulation of the sounds is fabulous.
    Thank you Leone

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Leone, I’m just completing the process of revising my workbooks and other materials, and making new sequences which go higher than CVCC words, but they are not done yet, sorry. Can you play around with these yourself? e.g. make crash, change it into clash, change it into clap, change it into flap etc? Once you have all the spellings out on the table you can often try changing different parts and quickly see that there are new words there. Alison

  2. sbblackley


    “Low frequency” words are great for word study! They discourage guessing and avoid the problems inherent with “nonsense words”:
    1) For reading, their pronunciation of nonsense words is sometimes ambiguous (Is the nonsense word “aubust” to be pronounced “AUbust” or “auBUST”?). And, for spelling, some nonsense words have multiple spelling options.
    2) Meaning, which is normally a central component for sensible word analysis, is not a feature that can be deployed for understanding the structure of nonsense words.


    Sandie Barrie Blackley, MA/CCC
    Lexercise Co-founder

    1. alison Post author

      Thanks, Sandy. Yes, I got the idea from objections to the pseudowords section of the proposed UK-style Phonics Check, because pseudowords don’t have meanings, and many can be pronounced more than one way. Low frequency words are effectively pseudowords for test purposes if learners don’t know them yet, but the same objections don’t apply. Alison

  3. Carolyn O'Connor

    Great stuff, I have a couple of students in Y7/8 working at around a Y4 level with their spelling and one boy who is ESL doing very well but needing some extra help. I have bought all your spelling workbooks etc. Just wondering where to start them off. We have a Maqlit programme for our students with dyslexia. Do you think I could use that placement test and try to match it with your workbook levels? I don’t want to start too simple but on the other hand, they have significant gaps, esp once we move to two-syllable worlds.



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