Our Fifth Grade Curriculum: Spelling

PhonicsI couldn’t find a lot out there on How to Teach Spelling and How to Spell, so hopefully if someone is searching, this will help!  I just like this program.  Nobody asked me to review it.  If you want a logical and progressive spelling curriculum which answers “Why?”–then this may be for you and your students.

How to Teach Spelling

How to Teach Spelling (by Laura Toby Rudginsky and Elizabeth C. Haskell) is not your typical spelling curriculum.  I suggest it for teaching in-depth English spelling and phonics with an emphasis on understanding.  Most kids don’t need this program, although struggling readers and spellers may benefit from it greatly.  If your child is progressing fine in reading and spelling and you’re content with your child being able to spell good enough so that spell check gets them by (and there is NOT a thing wrong with that), this is not your curriculum.  Spend your time and energy elsewhere.  I chose it probably for myself and my own curiosity in understanding our language.  Plus, I had a late reader and wanted to make sure we were proactive in her spelling and phonics foundation.

Early on in elementary school we tried other spelling and phonics curriculums; I just didn’t like any of them.  So I have put together a core of texts that I like and I circulate among them, using them to complement How to Teach Spelling and its workbooks called How to Spell.

Parent Prep Time Minimal But Participation Essential

How to Teach Spelling doesn’t require much teacher preparation at all.  One can even read the lesson on the spot and teach it adequately.  However, it requires a lot of teacher participation (but not necessarily much time), and I do not recommend it for teachers who cannot devote interactive time together with the student.  With a child who is not reading and spelling challenged, it doesn’t take much time, maybe 15 minutes on average, but it requires the teacher to at least orally quiz and assess knowledge.  Because I am one-on-one with my learner, I can move more quickly and don’t require lots of the writing the text recommends.

Tell Me What You Bought

  • The main manual where topics and concepts are presented in an orderly, linear fashion:  How to Teach Spelling  This is not a manual for the students.  It is written for the teacher.  There are 49 chapters, and they progress forward sequentially, with the most complex, difficult topics at the end.  For example, letter sounds and syllables come at the beginning, and more complex suffix rules and letter combinations come at the end.  How to Teach Spelling is based on, and meant to be piggy-backed with, an intensive reading and spelling program called Orton-Gillingham.  I am not trained in the Orton-Gillingham method, but I have still found How to Teach Spelling to be great.  It succinctly marches out all the topics needed to master English spelling and phonics in ONE text.  I don’t have to buy a new one each year!  There are many recommendations for drills, flashcards, and writing exercises.  My girls seem to catch on quickly to the rules and patterns, so I have not needed to do the intensive writing and memorization drills that How to Teach Spelling recommends.
  • The four workbooks:  How to Spell  There are four workbooks.  Workbook 1 is intended for grade one.  Workbook 2 is intended for grade two and three.  Workbook 3 for grades 4-6.  Workbook 4 is for grades 7-12.  My daughter started Workbook 3 last year, and we continued with it through much of this year.  Near the end of the year, we moved into Workbook 4.  The workbooks repeat themselves, as is customary for cumulative type materials, but the higher the level, the more that is expected with each topic.  In addition, more topics are covered.  The workbooks are black and white and pretty dry.  They do a great job listing the “rules” of our English spelling and phonics system, and they expect the students to learn them.  Then, practice work is provided.  Some of the work pages are just phenomenal, and others are just average.  Sometimes, I have to go on-line and find some extra practice pages.  There is a lot of writing required if the student does the workbook thoroughly.  I have found that we can escape the writing if I am willing to sit and quiz my child, only having her write what she doesn’t understand.  In this way, we also avoid “tests.”

Pros and Cons:

1.  It is not expensive.

2.  I can buy one text and four fairly short workbooks, and they will last me through all the years of teaching spelling.

3.  It is black and white.

4.  It requires lots of teacher participation and assessment.

5.  If the teacher cannot sit and assess, the curriculum will require lots of physical handwriting.

6.  It relies on learning rules for the English language (Yes, we do have rules.) and does not rely on simple memorization of word lists.  (For example, a student will understand when to use -ck versus -k at the end of a word.)

7.  It does supply sight words for those naughty, non-compliant words.

8.  All phonics and spelling topics are laid out in an orderly fashion in the How to Teach Spelling manual.  They are not arranged by difficulty level–but by topic.  However,  the manual tells you what is appropriate to teach to each grade level.  You have to pay attention as you teach from the manual.  However, the workbooks are by levels, and do not present more than is appropriate for each level of learner.

9.  The workbooks are succinct.

10.  I cannot find the answers to the workbooks anywhere.  Usually I know the answers, but I’ve had to look up a few.  I’m sure there must be answers somewhere!


Due to the new addition of a baby to our home this year, spelling occurred in cyclical fashion.  We’d do it for a few months on and then a few months off.  Most of it was by oral assessment based on the sequence laid out in the How to Spell workbooks, which my daughter completed on her own.  We pretty much just stuck to this curriculum for this past year.  However, near the end of the year, I assigned supplemental reading from Uncovering the Logic of English (I love this book.)

Please see last year’s spelling and phonics write-up for more!



4 thoughts on “Our Fifth Grade Curriculum: Spelling

  1. Melissa

    I just purchased the How To Spell teachers guide and workbooks, and I was very grateful for your review before my purchase because you are right, there are very few reviews out there of this series. I was wondering if you would explain how you teach it. I was a bit surprised to see that the layout doesn’t have Lesson 1, Lesson 2, etc.. Would you mind sharing how you teach a typical day’s lesson? BTW, you can find the answer keys to “How to Spell” at http://www.christianbook.com

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      That’s awesome news about the How to Spell answers! I thought I’d looked there, but maybe they were out?? No matter. I just ordered them.

      I’m so glad you pointed out that there’s not Lesson 1, 2, 3, and so on. Because there’s definitely not!!!! And that could definitely be a negative for many people.

      Yes. How do I teach from How to Spell? I’m going to think hard on this and throw out all my thoughts but they may be in random order. I feel like my spelling curriculum is very heavy on me, the teacher.

      1. I’ve learned to take it slow through the books. However, I intend to keep my spelling/phonics/understanding the English language curriculum going through probably about 9th grade. I think the end of my spelling/phonics curriculum will come when the learner is able to read and understand and apply the principles in the book called Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide. Rarely, even now, I’ll assign a section or two of that book to my oldest to read.

      2. At the beginning of the How to Spell book, I don’t spend much time on the sound sheets. (But I think I have average spellers at this point who aren’t too limited.) However, as I am now looking through the sound sheets typing this up, I know that I have definitely covered all that stuff with my older two girls. I think either as or before I started How to Spell, I would go through the alphabet and I’d teach them all the letter combinations (graphemes) that could come together to make all the sounds (phonemes).

      So for example, the sound for /f/ can be the letter combinations of f, ph at the beginning of a word, and -gh at the end of a word. The sound long E makes can be ee, ea, ey, y, ie, and more. The letters together CH can say /k/, /ch/, or /sh/.

      So my kids were acquainted with that knowledge ahead of time. I don’t have a copy of Book 1 to see how this was presented. We used flash cards to reinforce this. And I also orally “quizzed” them. (NOT a real quiz as in an scary sense. No grade or anything. Just to check if they were getting it and remembering it. At this point I didn’t ask them to spell the words, just recognize that many letters can come together to say one sound AND the same letters can come together to make different sounds.) I feel like this was valuable. Now that I’m looking at How to Spell right now with that in mind, I don’t see that it quite covers these early sounds that way. But again, I don’t have Book 1 right now.

      3. After the kids knew that (which in my mind is somewhat similar to those sound sheets), then I progressed through the How to Spell books chronologically. Some lesson topics would take one day and others would take two weeks!

      4. So, for example(s):

      Day 1, The sounds of c: I’d ask them to read the the Sounds of c section. I’d then at some point in the day ask them to summarize what the sounds of c were and tell my why they were different. I didn’t always make them copy the words. I felt like that was a lot of writing (not necessarily in this lesson, but in some of the other lessons).

      I’d also remember learning that when I was in elementary school we called that soft and hard c, so I’d point that out too.

      Day 2, the sounds of g: I’d do the same as for c.

      Day 3, they’d do the exercise for c and g in the book.

      Day 4, depending on how I felt they did and if they needed more practice, then I’d print off worksheets from the internet, various sources.

      Day 5, then, if I was testing, I’d give them a little spelling test. Before fifth grade these were not formal spelling tests. It was more, “Okay, here’s a piece of paper. I’m going to give you a few words to practice. Let’s see how you do and how much you remember.”) Then, as I started testing more, I would pick the words to assign them so they knew which to study.

      For the sounds of y:

      Day 1, We’d go over how the letter y can say long E or long I. They’d read all the words to me. I’d have them write some.
      Day 2, I would check for understanding and knowledge by giving a little “quiz.” If they did well, I moved on. If they didn’t, I’d print off worksheets from the internet or make up some. I didn’t expect them to know all the words. Some of the words were above their level of vocabulary. But I liked them to know the ones at their level.
      Day 3, as needed.

      For the sounds of ow:

      Day 1, they did the exercise in the book after they read the rules to me and I explained what those little phonics symbols meant!

      Day 2, I checked the exercise. Gave a little assessment.

      Day 3-5, if needed just to spend more time with words I thought they should know. Kind of quizzing them.

      And so on.

      5. When it came to sight words, we went through the lists together. Then, I’d pick the ones they didn’t know and we’d spend some time learning those.

      6. In essence, the books serve for our family as a guide to make sure we’re covering most of the phonics material. Without me quizzing them (and really, by this, I don’t mean anything scary at all—my school is about learning, learning, learning—-I have started formal spelling tests at a later age now because they really want tests and I’m gearing them up toward what to expect in the world as far as grading systems if they take on-line classes, take advanced placement classes via college, etc.), printing off extra worksheets as needed, having them summarize the “rules” back to me, etc, this program is useless. With an involved teacher, I think this curriculum does a much better job than most at supplying reasons for why English does what it does and does a good job not skipping stuff/leaving it out.

      7. The books layer on themselves. So book three is a repeat of book 2 with more complex words. So I do like that a lot.

      8. I also have How to Teach Spelling. I can see now as I look through that as writing this that for the sounds sheets, I went through and checked off as my kids mastered those. I see in the front of the book that they do kind of break it down as I described above. I would usually read the How to Teach Spelling manual when they did their workbook on the same lesson.

      Does this help? If it prompts more questions, do ask away!!!!!!

      Thanks, Terri

  2. Anonymous

    i found a few of the workbooks at rainbowresource.com (Rainbow Resource Center’s website. Maybe you can try there.


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