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The Phonetic Zoo

adapted by James Webster and Andrew Pudewa

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: The Phonetic Zoo: A Self-Teaching Spelling Program, adapted by James Webster and Andrew Pudewa. $99 per level. Published by Institute for Excellence in Writing. Please support by buying this program from our Christian Book Distributors link or Amazon affiliate link.

If you have tried other spelling programs with your child without success, The Phonetic Zoo offers a unique spelling method that warrants your consideration. While text-based spelling curricula may work for visually oriented children, a combination of visual and auditory teaching methods are better for most children, according to Andrew Pudewa, the co-creator of the program. The Phonetic Zoo uses a multi-sensory approach with plenty of reinforcement.

The Phonetic Zoo is available in level A (elementary), B (intermediate), and C (advanced). A free placement test will help in determining which level to buy. Level A words tend to be mostly four to seven letters in length and generally have no more than two syllables. Level B words are slightly longer and more complex while level C words are frequently rich, descriptive words that your student may need to look up in the dictionary.

The Phonetic Zoo "complete program" has these components: five audio CD's, a set of 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" flashcards, a set of 2 3/4" x 3 5/8" zoo cards, an introduction video, and a pamphlet explaining the program. The introduction video is not professionally done, but rather is a home video of Mr. Pudewa giving a seminar in which he explains and demonstrates the use of the product.

The large flashcards are the same for all levels. Each flashcard has animal pictures associated with the phonetic rule on the front along with three sample words from each level. On the back of the flashcard, the word lists for all three levels and the phonetic rule for the lesson are found. The parent needs to review the rule with the child and go over the words to study. Then, the student listens to the CD on his own. It is recommended for the student to use headphones to help with concentration when listening to the CD's.

With one lesson per track, the CD is very easy to use. After a little introductory music, the rule is read and then the practice begins. The student is to write down each word as it is read and used in a sentence. The rule is repeated every three words during the fifteen word session. Then, each word is spelled for the child to check his work. The child writes the correct spelling next to his word and then compares the two. If any words are missed, the student is to study those further and do the same lesson again the following day. After the lesson is completed successfully (100% correct!) two times, the child moves on to the next lesson.

The small zoo cards are part of the motivation program in The Phonetic Zoo. In addition to recommending that the parent offer the child encouragement on the daily practice sessions, Mr. Pudewa provides the zoo cards, which have pictures of the animals on them, as an incentive and a reminder of the lesson each time a new lesson is begun. He views these cards as a sort of collector card.

Every fifth lesson is a "personal spelling" lesson. During the weeks of regular lessons, words that give the student problems in his other assignments are gathered on to the "personal spelling card." Those words are then studied and practiced with the help of the parent until all are spelled correctly on two consecutive days.

Each level teaches 540 regular spelling words plus as many as 70 personal spelling words. When the student completes one level by successfully finishing the "final exam," he may move on to the next level or repeat the same level if needed. No time limit has been set to complete the 47 lessons. A student could do it in as little as 94 school days (by completing two correct sessions per lesson on the first try every time) or could take a year or more. The CD will continue to coach the child as patiently as ever until the child memorizes and applies the rules taught.

Recommendation: At $99 for the first level, The Phonetic Zoo is a pricey program; however, if your student has been unable to succeed with other spelling methods or you think that your child is an auditory learner, The Phonetic Zoo could be right for you. The student must be able to work independently to do the CD, but this method could actually increase independence. The constant review of phonics rules is sure to sink in and will be helpful to those who did not have phonics earlier.

Our experience: My eleven year old son, an auditory learner, is not a natural speller and his enthusiasm for spelling programs is generally low. He immediately liked the idea of The Phonetic Zoo and proudly showed me his first practice sheet with all words correct. The collector cards appealed to him because of the interesting animals on them. It took him more than a year to finish the program, but his spelling has definitely improved. I offer a positive recommendation for this program for an auditory learner. resources related to this review:'s Language Arts Resources Section for tons of ideas, links, and more!
Review of Advanced Communication Series by Andrew Pudewa
Review of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style by Andrew Pudewa
Review of Bible Based Writing Lessons in Structure and Style
Review of Writing Trails in American History, an IEW supplement
Review of Imitation in Writing, an IEW supplement
Review of Calvert's Interactive Spelling & Vocabulary
Review of Sequential Spelling
Review of Spell to Read and Write and The Wise Guide
Review of Spelling Workout

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