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Phonetic Zoo: A Self-Teaching Spelling Program (Review Crew) - Home With Purpose

Phonetic Zoo: A Self-Teaching Spelling Program (Review Crew)


Phonetic Zoo Level B - HomeWithPurpose.net

Some kids are natural spellers and some are not.

If you’ve followed me for long, you probably know that Kyle (14) falls into that latter category. I’ve tried several different programs to help him brush up, but it’s been hard to find something that doesn’t seem “babyish” to him…until we discovered Institute for Excellence in Writing’s Phonetic Zoo program. Just like most other IEW programs we’ve tried, this one’s been a hit! He’s done Level A and is now working through Level B. For this review, we received the Phonetic Zoo Level B Starter Set, which includes:

  • 5 audio Cds (including MP3 download files)
  • Lesson Cards with words and “jingles” for all 3 levels of the program
  • Personal Spelling Cards so students can track their own misspellings
  • “Zoo Cards” for practice and/or rewards
  • Teacher’s Notes PDF file
  • Spelling and the Brain video seminar

Phonetic Zoo is unique because it’s pretty much self-taught. With an older student like Kyle, it really is completely self taught. It’s also multi-sensory, sequential, and phonetic. Here’s how it works:

  1. Students learn a spelling rule using the lesson cards (the teacher’s notes contain a deeper explanation, history, and additional commentary for each rule to be used as needed). Each card features an animal whose name illustrates the rule, and a sample of words from that lesson.
  2. Students are given the small corresponding “Zoo Card” to keep as a reminder of the rule (there are some fun motivational ideas for using these cards too). We haven’t really utilize these much, since Kyle did the program independently and had the lesson cards himself.
  3. Using headphones, students listen to the lesson and spelling list and take the spelling test, writing their answers down (this is important! Don’t just play the spelling list out loud! The Spelling and the Brain seminar will go into more on this). They then correct their words using the next audio track, and continue to take the test each day until they get 100% twice in a row. Then, move on to the next lesson.


Every fifth lesson is a “personal spelling lesson”, so there are no words or rule provided. The student is supposed to collect words he or she has misspelled in papers, other subjects, etc. and create their own list. There are also several word lists in the teacher’s notes appendixes, including one of frequently misspelled words.

Kyle has been working through the program independently. He reads the rule, listens to the lesson, and takes the tests using his phone and earbuds (I put the mp3 files on the phone for him), and then moves on to the next lesson when he’s ready. He likes that it’s simple, straightforward, and he can do it himself. So do I! 😉

Lesson Cards

An example of the Lesson Cards

Just as with other Institute for Excellence in Writing courses we’ve used, I’m also impressed with the philosophy behind the course and the thoroughness that’s gone into designing it. The teacher training materials (like the seminar included with this set) go in depth on the why and how behind each course and really equip the teacher!

Another plus is how adaptable this program is to all ages. It would work wonderfully for an elementary student, although it would require a bit of teacher involvement, and yet my high schooler is also using it quite successfully. The initial investment is more than some programs at $99 ($79 for the download), but once you’ve purchased a starter pack, you’ll only need to purchase the audio CDs or files for the other levels. The cards include words for all 3 levels.

Once again, Institute in Excellence for Writing has hit it out of the park for our needs with Phonetic Zoo!

I wish I’d discovered this company earlier in our homeschool journey! Click the link below to read reviews of all the levels of Phonetic Zoo, as well as some other resources IEW offers.

IEW Review
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