Spell to Write and Read

Return to Categories


  • Reviewed on Saturday, June 1, 2013
  • Grades Used: 3rd
  • Dates used: 2011-2012
We started off the school year in July of 2011, but my sister, also a home schooling mom, went to a home schooling conference and found STWR curriculum. She was so excited about it, and since I was a high school English teacher before I chose to be a stay-at-home/home schooling mom, I became the English teacher for my 3rd grade daughter, nephew, niece, and adopted sister. We quickly formed a home school group that met together once a week, and we switched over to the STWR curriculum for all of them. I was excited about it. My brother-in-law was a former spelling bee champion and raved about what he saw in it.

However, being a former English teacher with a Bachelor's in education, but also a human that struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder, it was a drudgery to muddle through the preparation the teacher needs to do just to get to the point that she can teach it.

When we got to the actual lessons, the spelling rules and phonograms were great to learn; however, the grammar and punctuation seems to fall into a short second compared to the focus on spelling, and for my other niece that was just learning to read, she really struggled with learning a bunch of rules and phonograms before she even learned to read.

In my opinion, spelling is important, by far; however, if you don't learn to construct a sentence with correct grammar and puntuation, then spelling is not going to benefit you. It's like getting the fingers of a glove without the part of the glove that covers your palm and connects all the fingers together. We're looking for a new language arts curriculum for 4th grade.

AnneMarie Jordan

  • Reviewed on Friday, December 7, 2012
  • Grades Used: PreSchool - Middle School
  • Dates used: 2007 - present
If you are looking for a foundational language arts program, Spell to Write and Read (SWR), written by Wanda Sanseri, is an excellent choice.

Overview: SWR is a teacher driven curriculum that will develop and teach seven skills which are: the sounds of speech, penmanship, spelling, logic, composition, grammar and spontaneous reading. Notice that reading is the last step that occurs as a natural process when the foundation of language is taught.

SWR is a systematic program. So why should a parent consider this approach when many families choose to "just" get a 6 year old child reading? What are the benefits of this systematic approach?

From a big picture perspective, a child learns to write and spell his way into reading in an integrated manner. This is really how language arts should be taught. This was also how language arts was taught for centuries in the United States.
(see "Four Centuries of American Education" by David Barton)

Reading, decoding and spelling, and encoding should be taught together. In time, an SWR student will be able to read selections regardless of level because they have learned a clean and uncluttered code. SWR teaches the letter sounds know as phonograms; it does not teach letter names along with sounds. This frees the mind up to decipher the code.

During the time an SWR student learns his spelling words he will be asked to reinforce his new words and writing a sentence is a common reinforcement. When the student writes a sentence, this becomes the first example of what the student reads. The student reads his work which is meaningful to him.

He learns to capitalize the first letter of the first word and place a period at the end of the sentence. He learns to add a plural ending or a suffix to a word, expanding his knowledge of the language.

He learns the logic of the language and applies spelling rules.
These rules repeat and the student can rely on consistency rather than the fallback phrase "there are just too many exceptions".

An SWR student becomes a confident and independent learner.

Materials: The SWR teachers manual, the Wise Guide for Spelling, the phonogram cards, the rule cards, the phonogram CD, a spelling log for the teacher, a spelling log for the student.

Preparation: To begin the home educator needs to read about the program and how it works. They need to cut and laminate 70 phonogram cards and 28 rules cards. They can play the CD to refresh themselves on the sounds of the phonograms.

The program will teach the 2000 most frequently used words in the English Language and these words will be covered in The Wise Guide for Spelling. These words are grouped into spelling lists A - Z.

A home educator builds her log before teaching her children.
I built my log and included 4 spelling lists A - D before teaching my children. This helped me to understand how the program works. Then I added to my log as I taught the program.

A mom needs to teach her child to write neatly the 26 lowercase letters of the alphabet and the digits 0-9. Then she can begin spelling.

Spelling Dictation: The child and the teacher engage in something called guided spelling dictation. The teacher teaches a word by finger spelling the word and the child first hears the word, then speaks the word, breaks the word down by sound, and writes this new word in his log and he reads his word. This multisensory process relies on four pathways to the mind and is a powerful way for a child to not only learn but more importantly retain the language. This is far more powerful than a child seeing a spelling word and spelling it by letter name.

Children naturally learn to read through the constant exposure of the spelling words and the phonograms.

Time factor: It took me one month to read the materials, laminate, build my log and be prepared to teach my first child.
I ordered the books the end of December and I began teaching the end of January. My first son was already writing so we could just begin the program.

It took me about 4 months to teach my second son who was 5 and a half to write the alphabet neatly. I made this my goal for his Kindergarten year. I read to him, glued and unglued words, and taught him the phonograms. I used large motor with chalk and salt and sidewalk chalk. It was fun and happy.
I was rewarded with him spontaneously reading at his sixth birthday and I had not taught one list yet. I began with List A when he turned 6. Today he can read reviews from Consumer Reports. He is 8 years old and I am not kidding: He is also one of the only children in our homeschool group who can write neatly in cursive.

Each day I spend about 30 to 40 minutes teaching SWR. I teach SWR 5 days a week with Fridays being a shorter day.
I teach my children separately so my commitment to SWR is about 1 hour to 1 and a half hours per day depending. Some home educators are able to spend just 20 to 30 minutes a day and that is great; I am just not at that point. Once I teach SWR I consider all my language arts and penmanship and grammar covered for the day. I can assign independent reading or writing and my children can do that on their own.

Overall SWR is a very powerful curriculum and I find the results worth the time. It is also one of the most affordable curriculums on the market today.

Ease of Use: A common issue with SWR is that it takes time for the teacher and time for the child to cover a lesson. Keep in mind the idea behind SWR is that we are teaching a child to think and learn new skills. A child gradually learns to build on their skills and this is a process that does not come overnight but gradually day by day.

As teachers, we learn right along with our children and I have a better knowledge of the language. I find that planning and creating an environment free of distractions allows me to teach what is the backbone of all learning: literacy.

Breaking down a lesson into smaller parts is a good way to cover the material but in a way that is pleasant for both mother and child. I have had to scale my expectations to my child's ability and rejoice in a child who is learning with a bit of challenge but is still happy.

Regardless of the curriculum one uses, all mothers will spend a great deal of time teaching it. At the end of the year, for some curricula, it can be very disheartening to have put in hours teaching a child to have them forget what was taught. So if I am going to invest the time teaching, I really want to see the results; and I do with SWR.

Support: There are several videos to help a home educator get started. There is an active forum to post questions. There is also Basic and Advanced training classes taught nationwide.

Older students: SWR should be considered for older students who are struggling with language acquisition. An older student can be placed at a higher list and will surely improve in their reading and spelling mastery.

Learning differences: SWR's multisensory approach and clean presentation of the code is ideal for students who struggle with other methods. It would be highly beneficial for students with dyslexic tendencies. My oldest son is dyslexic and this is how I came to teach this curriculum. My son can read at the adult level today, yet I can recall a time when he threw a book across the room in frustration. SWR helped him to learn the language when other methods did not.

I wish any family the very best as they make the important choices in creating their home school plan.

Anne-Marie Jordan
Teaching SWR for 6 years
teaching ages 3- 15

teaching my boys

  • Reviewed on Friday, December 7, 2012
  • Grades Used: K - 5th
  • Dates used: 2007 to present
I LOVE the results of this program.

This is my sixth year teaching SWR to my 10 year old son. My eight year old boy and I have been using SWR for four years. My older son is spelling at an eleventh grade level and his younger brother is spelling at a seventh grade level. Their writing is excellent and their reading levels are higher than their spelling levels. Awesome results and we are not yet done.

Is SWR the easiest spelling program out there? NO. Is it the best? YES. When I started SWR my hope was to make my life as their teacher easier "someday". I wanted them to be independent in whatever written work they needed to do by the time we were done with SWR. It has worked. Whether it is Bible study, grammar, science or anything else that involves writing, they can do it on their own. Do I still have to correct spelling? Yes, a little. They make foolish mistakes and when I point it out to them they usually tell me what they did wrong without me having to tell them.

We knew when we chose to homeschool our children that it wouldn't be easy. I don't choose curriculum based on being easy for me or them. I choose what my research leads me to believe is the most effective use of out time. SWR is teacher intensive. You have to do it with them. This is not an independent program. You also have to learn it too. The learning curve is steep but not very long. After the first year you will be amazed at how much both you and your child(ren) have learned. There is so much repetition that a lot is learned in a short period of time. Do the program one year and you will be amazed at how much all of you learn. Do it two years and it will become so easy. The preparation time involved does lessen as you continue with the program. I did my learning log one lesson at a time. On Sunday night I would teach myself the new words that I would be teaching the next day to my son. As you progress everything becomes easier.

I highly recommend taking a class. Yes, they cost money but the program itself is not expensive when you realize it is a six year program. The classes for me were vital. I went in on the first day of class not understanding a thing (after I had read the book three times). When I left at the end of the class I felt confident and sure I had purchased the best spelling program out there.

If you cannot attend a class then try to find someone in your area that has been doing it for a while that can help show you how to do it. "Dictation" is the most important step. I have worked with moms that are new to the program and others that have been doing it a year or more and I am amazed at the mistakes they make in dictation. Once you understand the how and the why of dictation you will soar.

I understand there is a DVD you can purchase that shows Wanda Sanseri teaching SWR. I have not seen this DVD but I can only assume it would be helpful. Somehow, seeing it done was the key for me. It sounds like a wise investment if you can't make it to a class or you need some help sooner than a class if offered.

If you want the best spelling program for you kids, this one is it.


  • Reviewed on Monday, August 8, 2011
  • Grades Used: pre-K/ kindergarten
  • Dates used: present
I HIGHLY recommend this program if you are willing to put in the little bit of extra time it takes to figure it out. If not, I can see how people would be frustrated with this program. There are multiple resources available to help you. If you do not have a linguistics background, I would recommend going to one of the training seminars which are extremely helpful, you will walk away 100% confident that you can DO this and that this program is BRILLIANT! There were moms in my training who had been homeschooling for 20+ years and were blown away by the knowledge they received and WISHED they would have had this program years ago!

Yes, it is a bit tricky at first, but this program basically takes all of the guess work out of the English language and is extremely comprehensive, giving your child a solid foundation. I can not be happier with this program! I feel like it has saved our family a lot of money by combining skills. I no longer need a separate handwriting program, reading program, and I will save tons of money on primary readers as many children soar in reading and end up using the Bible as their beginning reader. LOVE IT!!