IEW: Spelling Review

I was recently invited to use and review a spelling curriculum, Phonetic Zoo, Spelling Level A [Starter Set] from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Today, I am going to go over how I used this program with my 3rd grader. This program is designed for grades 3-8, and Level A is the first set in the program.

Institute for Excellence in Writing

What I Received

Phonetic Zoo comes with a set of 5 CDs, Personal Spelling Cards, Zoo Cards, Lesson Cards, a link to the streaming video Spelling and the Brain, and the Phonetic Zoo Teacher’s Notes (a PDF file). These all came in the mail in a fairly small package. It’s a concise, easy-to-use program that doesn’t take too much time per day, but teaches the rules that your student needs to learn to become a successful speller.

Institute for Excellence in Writing

I took my Zoo Cards and laminated them. The instructions say your student can keep them on their wall or in a binder or something once they have mastered that lesson, or your student can use them for practice throughout that week’s lesson. You’re supposed to keep it in a location where it can be seen regularly. However, the one side has the words on it and one has the rule/rhyme on it. I figured if I laminated them, they wouldn’t get wrecked if we taped them up. I also hold punched the Lesson Cards once in the top left corner and put a ring through them so they would all stay together easily for me. When there are a lot of pieces of something, I tend to misplace them. This worked well for me.

The Lesson Cards are created to use one with each lesson. Once you have completed the set of cards once, your student starts back over at the beginning and goes to the next harder set of words (Set B), and then a third repeat of the lessons with still harder words (Set C). Each lesson has a spelling rule associated with it. The goal is to learn to memorize the specific words as well as the rule in a given week.

Phonetic Zoo Level A


How I Used This Curriculum

For me, even though the program says it is mostly self-led, I wound up teaching the lessons to my son. I would sit at the computer and play the audio from the CD for him, do several repeats of the rule, and have him read and spell the words for that week’s lesson. After our review, I would have him independently write each word five times and turn that in for handwriting. We did spelling a few times a week, and we went over the rule regularly so that he could remember it.

Of course, if your student is more independent and can be trusted to study on their own (such as with older students or some very motivated younger students), then it would be a more self-led spelling study. My son needs the guidance to get him through the lessons still, so I had to be present for the lesson, except for the handwriting portion. For me, the CD was a bit of overkill. This is only because of the way I taught it and because of my unique situation. They also sell the set without the CD and say that it can be taught more hands on. That’s basically what I did. If your student needs this or it suits your teaching style, you can save quite a bit of money and order the spelling set without the CDs included. You still get all the benefits of the teaching method, but you don’t get the audio portion.

I gave my son the laminated Zoo Cards for him to use as review. We stuck them to the fridge while he was working on them. We listened to the CD audio together so I could make sure that he was actually being quiet and doing what he was supposed to be doing. Again, if your child is more independent, this could be done on their own.


Final Thoughts

I like the idea of how this program progresses each year, or each time your student makes it through the set of lessons. It’s repetitive, which is important for knowledge retention, but it’s not boring. It’s always upping the ante, so to speak. I’d like to keep using this program for spelling and see how well my son does with it long-term. I feel like I don’t know how it’s working for us just yet. The lessons are short, which should make it pretty easy to fit into your day, no matter how much you’ve got going on. This will work well especially if you have an independent learner on your hands. I think spelling is such an important addition to your day because it helps improve writing, reading comprehension, and language mastery.

You can find IEW, The Institute for Excellence in Writing, on Facebook at, or on YouTube at


If you are interested in more reviews like this, please click the link below to visit the other members of the Review Crew. They are a great group of people who take time out of their busy homeschooling schedules to try things out so you don’t have to waste your money on something that just won’t work for your family. I happen to be biased, but I think they’re an awesome group! We all received different products from IEW this time, so there are lots of fun things to see. Click below!


IEW ReviewLegal Stuff:

Crew Disclaimer*This post originally appeared on BlogHer October of 2015.*


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