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Spell to Write and Read Curriculum
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Spell to Write and Read Curriculum

SWR Acronyms, ‘Breviations, Conventions, and Definitions

Ironic, isn’t it, that we promote teaching children to read by not teaching them the names of the letters and yet we use them here to describe the language of SWR? Acronyms, Abbreviations, Conventions, and Definitions (AACD!?!) just didn’t look quite right so please indulge me here.

Spell to Write and Read works for one student or many and is suitable for:

  • All ages (young or old)
  • All ability levels (struggling, average, gifted)
  • All learners (visual, auditory, vocal, tactile)
  • All backgrounds (native English speakers, English as a foreign language)

The streamlined, but complete, foundation organizes English in a way that works with all levels of spelling from K-12. Teachers fill in gaps in their own education with a direct, uncluttered program.

The heart of literacy is the word. SWR presents early the keys to unlocking English words. Phonograms and spelling rules are introduced quickly but mastered with repetition and application over time. The instruction given to the youngest child holds up to the highest levels of the language.

Spell to Write and Read is a historically successful, award-winning, comprehensive, K-12 spelling-first approach that leads a student into writing and reading in the most natural way.

The program delivers early, direct, systematic, intensive phonics.

  • Early: first and fast exposure to the “essential” keys that unlock written words
  • Direct: straightforward, precise instruction
  • Systematic: scientifically ordered, not incidental
  • Intensive: one or more times a day
  • Phonics: links together written symbols with their sound(s)

Spell to Write and Read teaches English first things first. It progresses from the known to the un-known: sounds of speech, penmanship, spelling, logic, composition, and reading.

  • Sounds of speech: A six months baby will babble all the sounds in all the known language of the world. You can expose him to the sounds in English by saying the 70 Basic Phonograms.
  • Penmanship: Train him to say, shape, and see the phonograms. With younger children big motor skills or finger tracing set the stage for later work with pencil and paper.
  • Spelling: Show how to blend the phonograms to create words sight last from teacher dictation.
  • Logic: Repeat together rules as they apply to words taught.
  • Composition: Each student composes oral or written sentences using new and review words.
  • Reading: Have him read his original sentence. This sets the stage for reading simple books.

Spell to Write and Read teaches the mechanics of reading before expecting a student to comprehend other authors. It moves from high frequency beginning words to high school level. Ideally, these words are covered by the end of fourth grade and reviewed in fifth. This establishes the foundation for a lifetime of an expanding vocabulary.

The teacher needs all five items in the Spell to Write and Read Core Kit:

  • SWR’s overall teacher’s manual: Provides the big picture (getting started and digging deeper)
  • Phonogram cards and CD: The code for written sounds [phono (sound) + gram (write)]
  • Wise Guide for Spelling: Two thousand spelling words with instructions for the teacher
  • Spelling Rule Cards: An aid for mastering spelling rules

Each student and teacher needs a Learning Log: Primary (K-2) or Black (3rd +). The teacher builds a master. The students write new spelling words and complete charts to prove the rules.

All students start the year with phonogram work and two reference pages described in the SWR Teacher’s Manual. The rest of the year, the spelling list in WISE Guide drives what to do when. Over the week, a teacher will dictate the new words and assign some generic ways for students to practice using them. WISE Guide suggests specific reinforcement activities with these particular words. For example, students may practice adding prefixes or suffixes to create derivatives.

Enrichment activities vary and make the program more enjoyable. Bonus activities include all aspects of language arts. The primary focus is spelling which this program covers in a comprehensive manner. Spelling work plants seeds for all other aspects of language arts. It sneaks in touches of grammar and vocabulary expansion. It sets the stage for building great composition skills.

Teachers who have taught Spell to Write and Read to many children, over a period of years, confess still delighting in new discoveries each time they teach the program.

Spell to Write and Read has built in flexibility. In general, you should allot about thirty minutes a day for direct teacher/student interaction. Teachers can easily adapt a plan with more concentrated work on some days and light review on others.

It is helpful to do some phonogram work daily at every level of the program even if only for a minute or two. A student experienced with the program can review the full deck of phonograms in that time. A new learner could do a fast drill on a selected number of cards.

Most weeks will involve new spelling dictation and application work with the new words. SWR gives you the pool of information to teach. SWR recommends the quantity of words per level, per week. You build the actual schedule to fit your needs.

The overall SWR Manual gives the big picture with detailed instruction for such things as how to start the year, teach penmanship, teach phonograms, evaluate skill levels, dictate new words, and

introduce various reference pages. Most lesson plans for the year are organized around the new words being covered that week in the WISE Guide. If the preliminaries in the WISE Guide say to introduce a specific reference page, you turn to the SWR Manual for details on how to do so. The full scope of the rule is explained there. The two books work together to help the teacher adapt the principles to a large range of abilities.

A program that serves many diversified needs has to have some flexibility. The books do not say: “On Monday, you need to spend 15 minutes covering . . .” SWR gives a sample beginning of the year lesson plan for a primary beginner and a third grader. Then, it gives a general guide of how to customize specific lesson plans to fit any situation. (SWR p.228)

All ages start a new year building the Consonant/Vowel Reference Page. Understanding of the concepts presented grows each year. You can adapt the actual presentation to your situation.

  • A beginning non-reader can watch the teacher at the board and echo the correct responses.
  • A first or second grader can fill in his own chart in his Learning Log in a day or two.
  • A student in upper grades can build the full reference page in maybe 30 minutes.
  • Mixed levels can work together with the non-reader echoing while others say and write.

The WISE Guide tells you what reference page to teach when in relationship to where you are in the spelling list. The SWR Manual gives you scripted ideas on how to teach it. It provides advanced suggestions and answers commonly asked questions. You, as the teacher, determine how long to spend. You determine how deeply to dig. The SWR Manual gives guidelines for making those decisions. Notes that say “advanced” mean that you can wait on that until later unless a student asks.

Most Reference Pages in the log are built a word or two at a time over the course of the year. For example, the WISE Guide will tell you when to introduce the SH Page which covers the rules for spelling /sh/. It tags new spelling words that can be added to the SH chart. The SWR Manual, in one central location, covers the ins and outs of the more complex rules. It often lists of all the words that will apply in the order they are taught. The teacher can see the full picture in one place while teaching students to internalize the spelling rules by application over time.

Spell to Write and Read does not have a prescribed daily schedule. Plan your schedule by the week. The beginning of the year has some start up steps (SWR Steps 11-12). After starting with the actual spelling list (Step 13), the lesson plan revolves around the new words for the week.

  1. Daily: Phonogram work. Select some or review all. Vary the approach.
    • a. Read the phonograms: Hold up cards one by one. Students see and say them.
    • b. Spell the phonograms: Say sounds of each phonogram. Students echo and shape them.
  2. As Needed: Reference Page work in student Learning Log (his personal textbook).
    • a. All levels start the year building the Consonant Vowel Page. Time needed will vary.
    • b. Add other reference page work as instructed by the specific spelling list.
  3. As desired: New Spelling Dictation. Adapt the plan that works best for you at the time. Each list has three sections: preliminaries, new words, spelling enrichments. The teachers’ preliminaries include a note about phonograms, rules, and reference pages. All of these do not need to be covered in depth the day that you first dictate the new words. You can teach all the new words in one day or spread out new spelling dictation over the week.
  4. After teaching new words: Spelling Reinforcements. The new words need to be read, quizzed, and applied. Select generic reinforcements from SWR Step 13 or specific reinforcement ideas provided with each individual spelling list. Reinforcements touch on all aspects of language arts. Find joy in playing with the words. Teachers who have taught SWR over a period of years still delight in making new discoveries along the way.

If it is possible for you to take a SWR Seminar, you will benefit richly. Even if you take a class, it is best to start work with the materials on your own first. The training will be more meaningful if you do. Most teachers leave the class feeling affirmed and motivated. They pick up pointers that reinforced what they were already doing and develop stronger confidence and excitement. Seminars give the experience of being a student to reinforce the power of what a teacher can give to a student. For some teachers, a training class is a dramatic breakthrough.

Connect with Endorsed Trainers here in the SWR Forum & Resource Center. Each Trainer maintains a Group Bulletin Board and adds her Seminars and Courses to the shared Calendar. There are also links to individual Trainers’ websites.

The SWR Forum & Resource Center exists for continued support of all SWR educators. Notice the ability to tag your new discussions in the Forum with “Classroom.” This is encouraged when your question, or its anticipated answers, are mostly applicable only to classroom settings. It will also help future classroom teachers more easily find the information they seek.

Spell to Write and Read is easy to use once you understand the methodology and get your feet wet with the program. Some initial studying and work needs to be done on the teacher’s part to be prepared to teach. However, once you start using it with your students, the program falls into place and makes a lot of sense.

Many educators do well just by picking up the book and doing their homework. Spell to Write and Read explains well enough that a teacher can catch on if she reads the materials carefully and follows instructions. The seminars help bring the program to life, walk you through the steps, model the teaching process, and answer your questions as you learn.

There are two basic reasons that this approach requires extra start-up work for the teacher.

  1. Most adults today never learned the concepts that SWR teaches. Did anyone ever show you the five reasons for a silent final E at the end of English words? Can you see a phonogram and instantly say all the sounds it can make in the order of frequency?
  2. Students need exposure to these concepts quickly. Most programs teach only a partial list of the tools of the language in a pokey fashion. The material they teach is presented slowly over a long period of time, concentrating on one small aspect at a time.
    • For example, most phonics programs start teaching only one sound per vowel. The student may be taught O with many example words: hop, mop, top. What happens when he then tries out his new knowledge and reads the sign on the door as /op-en/. You tell him that the word is “open.” Suddenly he feels insecure. What else have you not told him?

One hundred English words appear in 60% of what we read and write. Fifteen of these words have a single vowel O. Eight of them do not make the short vowel sound. Four make the long sound (so, go, no, over). Four make the broad sound (to, do, two, who). Teaching O with just one sound may feel easier for the teacher at first, but it creates unnecessary insecurity and confusion for the trusting child. SWR students learn all three sounds in isolation from the beginning.

SWR exposes students in a non-threatening way to word essentials within the first six weeks. Over time, they learn to apply these concepts to specific words until the process becomes second nature. This proven, classic approach makes learning more natural and less frustrating for the student. The teacher provides quick exposure so she can create on a more reliable foundation in a non-threaten- ing manner.

It is ideal to set the stage at a young age. Many parents repeat phonogram sounds or play the Phonogram CD for a baby. As a child grows, they segment the sounds of words, and blend them back together. Say it slow /m-o-m/. Say it fast, “mom.”

In time, start showing the phonogram cards. Say the sound(s) and teach him how to make the letter(s) for himself. Start with big motor skills. Expose him to the tools that he will need later to successfully write and read. Create the desire. Read aloud to children daily. Plant seeds. When they start to sprout, water them.

Yes! They both can work on the backbone of the whole program: the phonograms (the letter or letters that represent the sounds of speech) and the basic spelling rules. The preschooler can hear and pick up a great deal of the phonograms.

SWR teaches the direct link between the image and the sound. A student learns to see the “ch” phonogram and instantly say the three possible sounds it can make given in order of frequen- cy. This is simple enough that one family’s parakeet joined the children saying the sounds.

Years ago, Wanda Sanseri taught a seminar. Right before class started, a student introduced himself as a college professor of linguistics. Wanda felt a sense of pressure, but it was too late to run. In the first session, she held up and said the sounds for “ch.” The audience echoed the three sounds. The linguistics professor suddenly blurted out loud, “It does. Wow!” Later, he told Mrs. Sanseri that he learned more at the SWR seminar than in any class he had ever taken. He said that for the first time in his life he now understood his language. While SWR teaches what a parakeet can repeat, it is, in the simplest terms, what a professor of linguists needs as well.

Exposing good penmanship instruction can be especially helpful. We recommend cursive. See “Penmanship Tips,” a free download at If need be, start with big muscle movements. A chalkboard is helpful. That gives tactile tension not available on a white board. For now, have him practice spelling dictation up at the board instead of using small motor skills.

Here is a sample answer from someone who had this challenge: I want to thank you for such a wonderful program. I can’t begin to express how much it has helped my struggling ten-year-old. My son has gone up two grade levels this year with the program, and his reading has made a dras- tic improvement. Your program is the best I have EVER seen! I have been telling all of my home school friends about the program and have been explaining to them how it works.

Meanwhile, I am learning much more that I had ever dreamed. I now think in phonograms all the time (even find myself picking them out on signs and in song books). My husband laughs at me, because I used to dread spelling, and now I sit on the floor with my Wise Guide during family movie time and spell out words and mark them. It’s great!

Diagnostic tests help place an older student at his tension of learning spot as well as monitor his overall progress as he works with the program. The first of eight equivilant tests is available as a free download at All eight test are in the appendix of the SWR book.

You don’t have to start at the lowest level words if he has already mastered them. The same principles keep coming up over and over as the spelling levels increase. SWR rules are consistent with the language as a whole. That is why the SWR Core Kit can cover from K to 12 grade levels in one non-consumable package. Understanding grows with the vocabulary.

Spell to Write and Read covers words from beginner to college level. Students master the sound code to the point of automaticity. They mentally break words apart and then put them back together, analyzing how they are formed. This foundation prepares them for higher level com- prehension skills. Deficiencies with older students trace back to gaps in their initial foundation. Dr. Jeanne Chall says, “Early stress on code learning…not only produces better word recognition and spelling, but also makes it easier for the child to eventually read with understanding” (SWR p.30).

Yes, The goal of Spell to Write and Read is to use high frequency and commonly misspelled words to learn firsthand how the English language works. No fickle rules are taught. Seeds are planted for a broader vocabulary.

Advanced versions of the Consonant/Vowel Page (a reference page in the student’s learning log), provide alternative words taken from the periodic tables (science), names of books in the Bible (spiritual training), or states in the United States (history, geography). Words with Greek and Latin roots are taught. Learning the roots is an aid for specialty vocabulary in many disciplines like medicine, law, etc.

Spell to Write and Read students spell their way into reading. Most programs bypass the read- ing readiness stages in order to get students reading. Such approaches create needless confusion. They require mindless sight word memory and boring basal readers. They leave students in the dark and cause false expectations. They make English appear to be extremely illogical.

Spell to Write and Read builds a solid foundation with a reliable, reversible code for spelling and reading (70 phonograms/ 28 spelling rules). These keys are concise enough for young beginners and yet durable enough for advanced learners. Students apply the code to a vibrant list, including the most commonly used words, starting with the words that real children find easiest to learn.

Spell to Write and Read reaches all types of students, even those who are declared “unteachable” under other approaches. It stimulates the gifted learners and frees struggling students.

Wanda Sanseri’s Oregon Senate Hearing Presentation includes information on how most reading programs fail our nation’s students. She also discusses the way SWR provides students with tools for success in both reading and spelling. A transcript of this speech is in Appendix A of Spell to Write and Read. It is also available as a free download at

  • SWR establishes from the beginning the basic tools needed for our language. A student who knows the core components of English spelling can build or recognize many words at all levels. SWR does not restrict a student to mindless rote memory for every new word.
  • SWR starts with spelling and not reading. A beginning, non-reader learns to write and say the symbols and the sound(s) they represent. Next, with teacher-guided dictation, he learns to sound out and write spelling words. He is not expected to read a book until after he can smoothly read the spelling words he has written for himself and analyzed.
  • SWR presents the language in a way that has few exceptions. Most systems have long lists of rule-breaker words. With only 70 phonograms and a few spelling rules, we can phonetically explain 93-97% of the most frequently used words. We eliminate the need for sight words.
  • SWR students of varying levels can often work together without sacrificing students at either end of the spectrum. The principles SWR teaches with first grade words still apply to high school level vocabulary.
  • SWR avoids common practices that establish misleading expectations.

Click here for a list of articles comparing SWR to specific other curricula.

While seeking to retain the heart of Mrs. Spalding’s work, Wanda Sanseri brought her unique experience to the table. She started in high school classrooms as both a regular English teacher and a remedial reading instructor. She discovered Writing Road to Reading in 1975 and, after working with it for six years, trained directly under Romalda Spalding. Since then, she has home- schooled three sons through high school, privately tutored all ages (children to adults), field- tested Wise Guide in multi-age co-ops, and tutored English as a Foreign Language students. For three decades, she has conducted teacher training seminars using these principles in seventeen states across the nation as well as in Canada and China. She started using WRR as her textbook. Over time that grew to the full Spell to Write and Read program of today.

Spell to Write and Read works with some of the same outstanding sources that Romalda Spalding used in Writing Road to Reading. Both systems draw from:

  • The 70 Phonograms (the sound-letter system to the English language)
  • The Ayres List (an ability level normed list of high frequency English words)
  • A core list of spelling rules inspired by Spalding’s professor, Dr. William McCall
  • Dr. Samuel Orton’s brain research as applied to dyslexic students Mrs. Spalding tutored under his supervision

Wanda Sanseri expanded these basic tools based on modern research. She organized the teacher materials in a user-friendly format and rewrote the spelling rules to make them more precise, lyrical, and complete. She consolidated some rules and filled in gaps by providing a rule for plurals and contractions. She turned an outstanding spelling program into an integrated Language Arts program. She developed spelling rule cards and formatted student learning logs.

First, although both programs contain the full Ayres List, the overall word lists are not identical. Wise Guide removed needless duplicates and added additional words from current research. Secondly, the Wise words are reorganized to enhance teaching dynamics within the ability levels.

Wise Guide enlarges and updates the word base. In 1915, Leonard Ayres published a list of the1000 most frequently used English words. BHI sells a book that describes his research (A Measuring Scale for Ability in Spelling by Leonard Ayres). Mrs. Spalding used 500 additional words for a total of 1500 words.

  • The WISE Guide enlarges and updates the word base. In 1915, Leonard Ayres published a list of the 1,000 most frequently used English words. BHI sells a book that describes his research (A Measuring Scale for Ability in Spelling by Leonard Ayres). Mrs. Spalding used 500 additional words for a total of 1500 words.
  • The WISE Guide omits the needless duplications and updates the list in light of current findings. Computer studies of the 1,000 most frequently used words include 300 words not in the century-old Ayres List. Wanda brought the total count up to 2,000 by adding 200 words that apply spelling rules neglected in the original list as well as “most commonly misspelled words” not already covered.
  • The WISE Guide reorganizes the word list for added teaching opportunities. Writing Road to Reading follows the Ayres List in the exact word order that Ayres presented in his study. It seems that Mrs. Spalding thought his ability level word order needed to be rigidly retained.

Wanda remembered Mrs. Spalding confessing that, from a certain point in the program, the teacher should have students build derivatives from the new words. It was a valid suggestion, but the word order did not lend itself to such activities. Mrs. Spalding carefully kept the words in the exact order listed by Mr. Ayres. Sanseri also longed for more natural ways to do this. She stud- ied the research behind the Ayres List. Words were grouped into sections of increasing difficult words. All the words within a particular section are the same level. That meant that she could rearranged words within sections without losing the science behind the list. The shackles fell off.

Sanseri eagerly examined the words in each division and asked questions on grammar, diction, and vocabulary development. What words in this section can…

  • take a common prefix or suffix?
  • take a plural or past tense ending?
  • combine to build compound words?
  • be turned into LY adverbs?
  • provide practice in alphabetizing?
  • illustrate vivid verbs and nouns?
  • highlight basic parts of speech?
  • form synonyms or antonyms?
  • link to a common contraction or abbreviation?
  • prompt original stories (character, setting, conflict, resolution)?
  • relate in word meaning (seasons of the year, colors, numbers)?

The WISE Guide gives two pages of lesson plan ideas for each set of twenty words. Each set has tailored follow-up activities many students can work on independently. For example, one column of spelling words can all be used as nouns. The student can read each noun and categorize it as a person (boy), place (home), thing (book), or idea (time). At other times, she suggests that a student can turn each noun into its plural form using the plural spelling rule.

She grouped the ten most commonly used prepositions into one lesson. She grouped verbs that could be turned into past tense following our ED spelling rule. She watched for homographs, words that could have two unrelated meanings, and suggested that the students write the word and draw a picture of the two meanings. With “saw” the sketches could be of eyes (I saw you.) and a carpenter saw (I saw wood.)

Other activities combine art and grammar. For example, a graphic way to teach adjectives is to draw the difference an adjective can make. Consider how this might work in a list that includes words like: egg, brown, large, more, cooked. The students can draw and label: brown egg, large egg, more eggs, cooked eggs (WISE Guide p.49).

Two sections of words have easy to learn ASL signs. If you want to teach these, the end of the week test can be given by signing. The teacher silently shapes the word with her mouth as she shows the sign. The student imitates her and then writes the word.

The key personal pronouns are early level words. Sanseri put them into an orderly column: I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it, we, us. This opens the door to teach subject/object pronouns either at that time or later. Sometimes she selected words that have common opposites. The teacher can vary the spelling quiz by saying, “Write the new spelling word that is the opposite of young.”

A favorite activity is grouping related spelling words together and composing original sentences using new and review spelling words. This progresses to building original paragraphs or even writing stories. For a story, the class brainstorms together. What spelling words could establish the location of the story? What words could give us the characters involved? What words point to a conflict? What words could be a part of the resolution? In the process, the students are learning to understand how to combine words as well as spell them correctly and read them.

The wide variety of optional spelling enrichments help the child master the new words as they do something engaging. It sure beats just saying, “Now take your words and copy them five times.”

This time-tested method is not only excellent for beginning readers, but also for remedial stu- dents behind in reading and/or spelling. It has produced amazing breakthroughs with students who had been declared unteachable. It has given talented and gifted readers, a confidence in their language and the tools to better expand their vocabulary.

The integration of all areas of language arts simplifies your teaching. When working with young- er elementary students, there is no need for separate curricula for penmanship, grammar, compo- sition, vocabulary and spelling. SWR covers it all!

It teaches to all language centers of the brain simultaneously. It trains the brain to retain. (See Free Downloads at > Multi-sensory _chart.pdf).

Thrilled teachers spread the word about SWR so that others can enjoy the same benefits they experienced. A second generation teacher once contacted Mrs. Sanseri. Her family ran a curriculum consulting business when the daughter was growing up. She tagged along at multiple homeschool conventions. Now she teaches her own children at home in Atlanta. Spell to Write and Read is the only curriculum that she plans to never replace.

Spell to Write and Read equips you to become an exceptional teacher of the most important educational subject you can teach. Language instruction is the foundation on which all other academic disciplines rest. Even a student’s spiritual growth is hindered if he cannot read the Bible with ease.


Yes! Other items previously available from Back Home Industries will be added incrementally. Please send us an email to let us know which products you are seeking:

The SWR Core Kit is now available as individual items. The main reason for this is to keep the cost as low as we can for you. If we sold the items as a kit, we would need to raise the price in order to pay someone to pre-package them. If you order one of each of the following, you will have everything that was formerly sold as the SWR Core Kit:

Another advantage of purchasing the items individually is that you may select whichever size of the card sets that best meets your needs!

Please note that you will also need a Learning Log for each of your students and one for yourself.

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If your question was not answered above, please email

If your question pertains to the store, please email

You may contact us by mail at:

1740 Shaff Rd #108
Stayton, OR 97383

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