Tag Archives: dysgraphia

Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Phonics and Spelling



I think I have about one more post on what we used for our fourth-grade curriculum.  It is summer here, and we have moved into our lighter summer schedule.  Glorious!  I didn’t mean for this to be a write up on Orton-Gillingham, but it kind of turned out that way!  If you have a struggling reader, struggling speller, or you have been unhappy with phonics and spelling curriculums, you may want to read on!  If not, and you’ve nailed your phonics and spelling curriculum down, move on!

Our Homeschooling Spelling/Phonics Objective

How do I spell “knowledgeable,” “acreage,” and “truly?”

How do I know when to use a “c,” “k,” or “ck?”

Do I double the “s” in “buses?”

After we complete our spelling/phonics curriculum, may my kids never (okay, rarely ever) have to erase and choose another word—or open another internet tab to look up the spelling of a desired word (like I do)–because they’re not sure of the spelling!

Discovering Orton-Gillingham Intensive Phonics

Because there are a LOT more rules to our English language that are generally followed than most phonics and spelling books present, I have never been able to happily settle on a phonics and spelling program, instead choosing to piece together our own curriculum.  I can’t stand the hodge-podge selection of phonics that most curriculums put together.  I want it all covered in one spot in a logical, sequential fashion.  This year, I discovered the Orton-Gillingham Approach to phonics and spelling (through a site called Orton Gillingham For All). Although targeted as an intensive phonics program which is particularly useful for dyslexic students and students who have difficulty learning to read, write, or spell, I think it is simply a great foundation for ALL English language students. We use it for my fourth-grader who doesn’t really qualify as dyslexic, I don’t think–but maybe without intensive home instruction and intervention she would have had a label.  I don’t know.  She was a later reader (learned in second grade) who had minor dysgraphia problems. Her letters were formed backwards well into, maybe even through, third grade and she continues to have a disgust of penmanship, although it has improved nicely!  (Her father struggled greatly with phonics, spelling, and reading until about fifth or sixth grade when he says it all started clicking together and he zoomed to the highest reading class.)

Orton-Gillingham has been around since at least the 1930s and is described as an intensive, sequential, multi-modal phonics program. It addresses lots of problems I confronted when trying to use a few different phonics/spelling curriculums. In my lowly, non-expert opinion, many phonics/spelling curriculums run into the following problems, which Orton-Gillingham usually circumvents:

  • Separating phonics from spelling. Orton-Gillingham incorporates the decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) together.
  • Some kids are not quite ready for phonics and spelling in the early elementary years, when they are most commonly hit the hardest. Later then, the basics are never re-represented, and those kids miss out completely on phonics and spelling fundamentals! (Late bloomers then struggle to read aloud fluently and spell.) Orton-Gillingham gives RANGES on the appropriate age/grade level for each concept, paying heed to the fact that you may need to refrain from teaching a particular concept OR make sure you re-visit it in another year or so. Orton-Gillingham is based more on ability and development than it is first grade, second grade, third grade, and so on.
  • For the sounds our language makes (phonemes), most phonics programs only present a couple of the spelling possibilities (graphemes) at first.  Logical, sequential learners and struggling learners get confused. (“First you taught me the /k/ sound is made by a “c” or a “k.” Now a year later you’re telling me it can also be made by a “ck” or a “ch?” I give up. You can’t keep changing the rules on me.”) Orton-Gillingham would present the sound /k/, the letter combinations (graphemes) for the sound, and then offer the available rules, which do exist, for selecting the correct letters to spell the words with the /k/ sound. Exceptions to rules are presented at the time of learning the appropriate rule. Exceptions are not left to chance. They are presented right up front.  Orton-Gillingham also coaches you through how much to tell the younger/less developed students so, although you’re supplying the information so they have heard it, you’re not overwhelming them with difficult concepts they’re not ready to absorb.  Next year they’ll dig deeper.
  • Too much rote memorization.  As mentioned already, Orton-Gillingham supplies rules to promote understanding, thus removing a lot of the need for flat-out memorization.  Not all, obviously.  English is a crazy, mish-mash language.
  • Too much time spent on words that are known already.  Orton-Gillingham provides lists of words for each concept, and as a teacher, I am able to pick and choose. If my kids understand a concept and spelling pattern, we simply skip those lessons.
  • Reliance on only one way of teaching phonics/spelling.  (That is usually writing the word over and over. I HATED writing words over and over in spelling. Didn’t you?) Orton-Gillingham uses speaking, listening, reading and writing. Encouragement for tactile learning is encouraged.

How We Implemented Orton-Gillingham Into Our Phonics/Spelling Program

Since I didn’t stumble on Orton-Gillingham until this last year or so, we obviously didn’t jump right in at the very beginning of the material.  My fourth-grader had a good grasp of most of the basic material, and we skipped it.  I’d quiz her on a few words, and then move on quickly.  (Note:  I also use Orton-Gillingham with my second grader, too.) For my fourth-grader, I just am so excited to have concepts logically organized and categorized with the exceptions provided immediately. For example, types of syllables are broken down concretely. Concrete and discrete rules for dropping the “e” before adding a suffix are delineated. Mnemonic (memory) devices are often provided to help remember exceptions.

We will continue to use Orton-Gillingham as my main guide to covering phonics and spelling. I plan to stretch phonics and spelling out through sixth grade. Once we have mastered all that is in the Orton-Gillingham resources I purchased, I will then proceed to again read through Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide to see what further I can teach her about English phonics and spelling that got missed using Orton-Gillingham.  (I highly recommend Uncovering the Logic of English if you are teaching a child phonics and spelling.  I loved it!)

Our phonics and spelling instruction

  • Is very reliant on teacher instruction and “quizzing.” Most of the time, I cannot just hand a worksheet. We do have some worksheets, but usually, I am asking her to recite spelling/phonics rules and then spell me some words based on those rules. Sometimes she spells out loud. Sometimes she spells on paper. Sometimes she spells on a chalkboard. Sometimes she traces the word in the sky. I’ll occasionally go back a month or two and ask her some of the words and concepts she had trouble with for memory reinforcement.
  • Is flexible and allows us to speed up and slow down based on the child’s ability in the lesson. Certain lessons we spend a week or two on. Certain lessons we fly by.
  • Occurs about 3-4 times weekly in 10-20 minute time allotments.
  • Uses two Orton-Gillingham manuals, a workbook series to go along with Orton-Gillingham, internet resources I print off, and pages from old phonics and spelling workbooks I picked up here and there. The two main manuals provide the order in which concepts are taught, and provide the “rules” and tips on teaching the “rules.”

The Texts

How to Teach Spelling Teacher’s Manual with its How to Spell Workbook Series (4 books): I started out with just the teacher’s manual. I love that the How to Teach Spelling Teacher’s Manual is full of sequential, logical rules/concepts, teaching suggestions, rule exceptions, and the unique sentence dictations. (Sentence dictation helps to reinforce the spelling concept when the child uses it in an actual phrase or sentence! This helps students to be able to not only spell when mom “tests” the word, but also to integrate the process of spelling into writing! How many times have you noticed that your child can spell a word, but when she goes to write a letter, she misspells the word?) One thing that is confusing is that the manual is organized by concepts/rules, not by age/grade level of the student. So there are times you have to pay attention and realize that the next concept up shouldn’t be presented to your student yet! That doesn’t keep me from testing it out, but I usually concur that it is above her head. Because of this, the manual is “layering.” You will not simply use the manual in first grade and put it down. You will use it every year, adding in the appropriate lessons that you skipped the last years. I like this because, as I add in the new lessons, I can also remember to review older concepts. However, it does require you to pay attention, assess your student, and skip pieces of the book depending on mastery.

I decided I wanted something that would provide extra practice and organization of the rules/concepts in a little bit better layout than the manual. So I bought the How to Spell Workbook Series later in the year. I am pleased with the workbooks and like that if I can’t sit down and “quiz” my daughter on the words and rules we are mastering, I can have her do an assignment in the workbooks. We quickly moved through the second book, skipping a lot, and we have settled into the third book and are about done with it now at the end of fourth grade. She could fly through it all a lot faster, but I make her review a lot of old words and concepts so they stick.

Unlocking the Power of Print: I also bought this manual. There is no workbook series to accompany it. I have found that it is very similar to How to Teach Spelling in its layout, which makes sense because they’re both based on Orton-Gillingham which teaches in a sequential manner.  The manual does not feel as “busy” as How to Teach Spelling and the type-print is a little bigger and easier to read.  At first I used it more until I became more comfortable with How to Teach Spelling and bought the workbooks.


That’s how we approached spelling and phonics this year.  Some people love trying new curriculums and materials and look forward to choosing new homeschooling books each year.  Me, I love finding the strongest curriculum I can for my child and hanging onto it for many years, getting all the worth out of it we can.  Orton-Gillingham will be with us, I think, through the next three kids.  As needed, I will fill in with Explode the Code and internet worksheets for extra reinforcement.  Finally, I will use  Denise Eide’s Uncovering the Logic of English as a final checklist to our phonics and spelling curriculum.