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Spelling Lessons with Explode the Code

DSC01684A couple of people have been asking on the boards, as I was at this time last year, how to transition from phonics to spelling. 
The assumption out there in education-land seems to be that phonics is baby stuff and spelling is how big kids learn.  Maybe they’re thinking of BOB Books and their ilk.  Since our disappointing experience with Spelling Workout earlier this year, and our return to Explode the Code, I have realize that this popular perception is not necessarily the case.  Why would they make Explode the Code books all the way up to level 8 and beyond – at least to a Grade Four level – if phonics becomes irrelevant (or less important) the minute a child is reading somewhat successfully?
In fact, it’s only now that Naomi’s reading fairly well that the phonics rules are starting to make sense, and Explode the Code guides her gently through understanding and navigating the maze that is spelling in English.
The only thing I really liked about Spelling Workout was the idea of a spelling LIST, and spelling TESTS that would check to make sure that she was absorbing the material.  And then I realized, a couple of months ago, that there’s no reason I can’t use Explode the Code lesson words as a spelling list in just the same way.   So I’ve developed a technique that works extremely well for us, offering (kinda) rigourous spelling review along with a thorough, rules-based phonics curriculum.
Here’s what I do:
  • Before we start phonics, I give her a sheet of paper to number 1-6 in the margin.  NOTE:  I only do this if her current work is a continuation of a previous day's activity.  I would never "cold-test" a child with words she hadn't worked with before!!!
  • I remind her of the “lesson rule.”  Today’s rule was that the “oh” sound is more often seen as “oa” INSIDE a word and “ow” at the END of a word.
  • Then, I hold the phonics lesson pages and choose 6 words from the current lesson to dictate.  I number them so I don’t forget which words I picked.  Today, she asked me to quiz her on “February” as well, because we did this in First Language Lessons last time, so I added it in as #2.  Why 6 words?  I felt like 8 was too many; 6 gives me some idea of whether she’s mastered the current rule and the “lesson words.”
  • Then, I mark her spelling test.  She loves seeing her mark, no matter what it is!  Today, she drew in the fraction, leaving the numerator blank so I could fill in her mark out of 7 (which was 7).
  • If she’s gotten a word wrong (100% is rare, because her spelling is still kind of random!), I give her the phonics pages and have her correct it right away based on the correct spelling.
  • THEN, if the current lesson doesn’t contain a “test” – the wrap-up page at the end of a lesson – I do another test at the end of our phonics time.  She usually manages to get 100% the second time around.  Today, I didn’t make her do it a second time because she got 100% the first time.  I don’t see any point, never have, in testing kids on words they know well already.
(In today’s lesson, she decided the “toad” looked too much like a frog – so she’s written in her own choice at the top of the page, then circled it and written it neatly on the line below.  Hurrah for independent thinkers!)
As with everything else, this is what works for us… I’d love to hear what you’re doing to adapt the programs you love as your kids get older and more capable!


  1. That's a great idea! I just went out and printed up a bunch of spelling list worksheets for my 7 year old and I like this idea better. We did have a Sequential Spelling workbook where the words are built according to word families and each list builds on that. You basically test every day though, which starts out with a small list and builds each day until about 20 words. You have them correct their spelling right then. I like it, except it may have been a level to advanced for her and we kept forgetting to do it daily. More like skipping it for long stretches at a time.

  2. Brilliant! I was going to skip 1st grade spelling for DD6, but now maybe I'll do it this way! He loves ETC. DD8 is just going on with Spelling Workout, but BLEAH. Hmmmmmmmm....

  3. Great idea to use ETC for spelling! It makes spelling a little less random, thanks for the great suggestion.

  4. I love this idea (just saw it today on WTM forum)! Thanks so much!

    I am within 1 to 2 months of finishing up OPGTR with two first grade boys who are both 6 YO and are reading at about a 4th grade level. Any idea which book I would start with?

  5. @Lea:
    Wow - 4th grade! :-o
    I have no idea because we started from the beginning. You can buy an ETC placement test, but there is a Scope & Sequence available here if you just want an overview:

    I suggest you just search for as many online samples as you can find. Christian Book, Rainbow, etc., all have sample pages of each book. Annoying, but probably the best way.

    Book 4 might be a good place to start as it begins the more advanced task of syllabication (sp?) and the books get more serious after that. We are actually using ETC5 but we SKIPPED 4 because many parents at the WTM forums suggested that 5 is easier than 4. So... you might also want to do 5, just quickly, to get them into the format, before you dive into the "tough stuff" with syllables.
    Here are some more sample pages from various ETC books:
    But search around online and I'm sure you'll find many more.

  6. Thanks Jennifer. I'll take a look at the samples. I think there is a store near me that carries them also so I might just go there.

    Even though their reading is advanced, I think they could use a refresher course in their phonics work, while thinking about how to spell words. I think it will help cement the phonics rules in their minds. I think you have hit upon a very good solution for reinforcing spelling. Thanks for the ideas.

  7. I love being able to take a little of this and a little of that to teach a subject. What ever works for you. I really wish my son would have done Explore the Code but he did not care for the non color. I am hoping that my daughter might be interested in them. I would like to use them along with We will see. Thanks for sharing your method's. Always neat to hear the different ways people homeschool.

    Lil Momma
    On the great adventure as my daughter is learning to read.

  8. Thanks for this suggestion. I was just thinking I wanted to use Explode the Code for spelling since it works so well for us for reading. I have always enjoyed the activities in the Teacher's manual which helped my child listen for the initial sound, final sound, and blends, etc. I know he needs to have a bit more spelling practice because he's starting to have a desire to write things (notes, letters, lists) all by himself (yay! He used to hate writing) and sometimes he misspells a lot of words he can read with ease so I want to get on top of this before he ends up having to "unlearn" spelling things incorrectly. I was very nervous about trying to use ETC as a basis for spelling, but adding in another, separate spelling program that may work on a different schedule didn't seem like a grand idea either. Sometimes I just need to hear that someone else had the same idea (bonus if they already tried and it's working!) because I lack the confidence to give it a shot since I have only been homeschooling a couple years. Thanks for sharing!


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