Phonics Based Spelling Curriculum a Schoolhouse Crew Review

This entry is part 22 of 25 in the series 2015 Homeschool Reviews

IEW Phonetic Zoo

For homeschool this year I knew I needed to challenge my daughter in the area of spelling.

We normally use a boxed curriculum and I had gotten really comfortable using the grade level spelling course that was sent every year.

But last year I mumbled something about upping the anty a bit. Spelling was becoming a joke. Okay not really a joke but it was getting a bit ridiculous. We were going through the motions with perfect 100% on spelling tests every week.


When we were given the opportunity to review Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level C [Starter Set]  by Institute for Excellence in Writing  I decided this was my chance.
IEW Phonetic Zoo

Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level C [Starter Set] is a phonics based spelling curriculum which uses an audial approach to ensure words are learned as opposed to just memorized.

There are three levels starting at A and they cover grades 3 through 12.

Our current curriculum (you can search on the blog to find out what we’re using) does an excellent job with phonics and also uses a phonics approach but going with just audio was kind of a new idea…I think.

So to begin we first took the online spelling assessment tests to see where the Sweet Peanut stood. She had to take one test based upon grade level and then take another test based on how many were missed in the first.  So she placed into Level C and that is what we are reviewing.

At first I was going to keep her in grade level (5th grade) but then thought to myself that a challenge is what she and I think she needs and I need to keep moving forward. She was pretty excited and overly pleased with herself but I did my best to keep her humble.

When Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level C [Starter Set] came in the mail we received…

  • 6 CDs with the lessons (also MP3 downloads)
  • Larger sized Lesson Cards that actually includes all three levels of spelling words and the learning jingles
  • Smaller Personal Spelling Cards
  • Zoo Cards that serve as a way to practice jingles or as rewards
  • Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes PDF file to download
  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar (which comes as a link and proved invaluable).

The first thing I did was to watch the Spelling and the Brain video/seminar. What the guy was saying caught my husband’s interest so he took a breather to sit down and watch it with me. We learned some valuable tips that have helped to make using the Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level C work really well in our homeschool.

This same information is in the Teacher’s Manual but of course I hadn’t read that yet.

I’ll admit we had a few starts and stops as we figured out the best way to use this program but I think we’re there now.

I was a bit confused as to how to proceed with this program. You know some people need absolute step by step instructions (even if we don’t follow them to the letter)?  Well I’m one of those people and even after reading the Teacher’s Note Instruction Booklet I just needed to go at it to see how it was done.

The Teacher’s booklet also includes some extra information on the lesson jingles. And then you add your own little tidbits when teaching the lessons.

You also give your child the small zoo card to study on their own time.  They’re cute so my daughter loved that.


Then your child is to do the audio lessons themselves. They use headphones and listen to the introduction/jingle. Then they take the test with the audio. They use pen and the Teacher’s Notebook includes a test sheet you can print. You can see an example of it above in my bad pic.

In the same lesson they check their answers and rewrite the words while listening to the correct spellings. No moving on until 2 tests are 100% correct (that makes sense).

So this is where I started having a bit of confusion. How long do you go about teaching the lesson until you feel your child is ready to take the test?

Is it a day? The same day? The Teacher’s notebook lists everything as it it’s done in one sitting (or did I miss something?).

The first time I had my daughter listen to the jingle and take the test and check it right away (since everything looked like it was in the same day to me). She was a little discouraged when she missed several but and not really understanding how this all worked we fumbled through that. We put the lesson down and said we would pick it up the next day.

We tried another test the next day with no better results when I remembered something that was talked about in the Spelling and the Brain video (and in the Teacher’s notebook). The audio connection.

So the next day we put down the audios and, as in a spelling bee, I had my daughter spell the words back to me. If she got one wrong I would let her know it was wrong and ask her to try again, reminding her of the jingle or any other spelling tips we had learned through the years. The next day she got almost all right.

We skipped the test the next day and repeated going over the words verbally. And then the next day she got them all right! And the next day she got them all right again! She was ecstatic and I was impressed. We were ready to move on to the next lesson!


We stopped trying to do everything all in one day and just went with what worked for us. Studying one day, test the next. Missed? Study next day, test day after. Rinse, repeat.

Being in her non-humble mode she went on to grill anyone she came into a 5 mile radius on spelling those words. I put the cabosh on that by jumping into the next lesson where we repeated the same steps.

So unlike many of our review products this one will be replacing our regular spelling curriculum. I like that she can move at her own pace but mostly that she is challenged and learning at the same time. It’s a simple approach but one that is working.

Connect with IEW on Social Media:



Click to read Crew Reviews

Series Navigation<< Super Teacher Worksheets a Schoolhouse Crew ReviewTake off Again With The Brinkman Adventures Season 3 a Schoolhouse Crew Review >>

One Comment

  1. The biggest challenge is finding what is working for that specific child. There were times when we forced a fit and my kid adjusted, but that was a frustrating process.

Leave a Reply

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