The Purpose of Foundations Spelling Lists

Each lesson in LOE Foundations includes a spelling list. The process of teaching students how to read and spell words is the heart of Foundations lessons, the place where all the skills they are learning come together.

However, sometimes students struggle with this portion of the lessons when their parent or teacher misinterprets the goal. Traditional spelling lists, which many of us are more used to, present words to be copied and memorized. Foundations spelling lists have an entirely different purpose: developing reading fluency through a process called spelling analysis.

Read on, and discover with us how—and why—to teach spelling analysis in Foundations.

What is spelling analysis?

Spelling analysis - also called spelling dictation - is the process of teaching students how written language works. The spelling lists in each lesson (starting halfway through Foundations A) provide the words that you dictate to the students, guide students in sounding out and writing, and analyze together. With your guidance, students use their phonemic awareness skills and phonics tools to spell and read each new word, practicing the phonograms and rules in context.

It is multi-sensory; students hear the word, verbally segment it, physically write it, see you write it, analyze it together, and finally sound it out and read it. With each word, students’ understanding of the relationship between spoken and written language grows as they experience and practice how spelling works. This lays the groundwork for becoming strong spellers in the future, but more importantly it aids children in becoming fluent readers.

What spelling analysis is not

The first important thing to understand about the Foundations spelling lists is that they are not spelling tests. They are reading and spelling instruction!

The reason: Since we have multiple ways to spell many sounds in English, and the spelling rules clarify but do not always eliminate options, knowing the phonograms does not equal knowing which one is used in every word. In addition, applying the phonograms in words is harder than identifying them in isolation and requires practice of its own, and applying them for spelling is much harder than applying them for reading. Spelling analysis is a powerful teaching tool to help students learn these things and grow into skillful readers and spellers. Do not expect them to be able to write the words correctly without instruction from you.

The second important thing to understand is that the lists are not even designed as preparation for a spelling test. (Later, in Essentials, spelling mastery becomes a much greater focus of the lessons and practice—but even then, the first purpose of the spelling list is to learn how spelling works rather than to memorize the words taught.) Do not require students to memorize the words, and do not worry if they later misspell a word they have learned.

The reason: The point is for children to discover how to spell words and why they are spelled the way they are, and practice applying the tools they are learning, so that they can read well and develop a strong understanding of how written English works. As students do spelling analysis, they develop skills that will enable them to read, and eventually spell, all of the words in the lists and thousands of others. Those skills are the goal, not the memorization of a couple hundred words for a test.

Now, on to how to do it!

Teaching the Spelling List

The steps for teaching spelling words are modeled in some of the early lessons (for example, Foundations A lessons 21 and 33, and Foundations B lesson 45). They are also provided for your reference on the Spelling Analysis Quick Reference, explained in our spelling dictation video here, and modeled in this series of videos.

We recommend checking out these resources if you haven't already. However, we also thought you might find it helpful to have an overview of the most important pieces you’ll want to remember when teaching spelling analysis in Foundations here on the blog.

  1. Follow the steps with each word. All of them work together to strengthen phonemic awareness, phonics, and critical thinking skills, so don't skip! The Spelling Analysis Quick Reference is a great reference for this (and a good bookmark for your teacher's manual).
  2. Say-to-Spell: Make sure you dictate the word as written in the say-to-spell column. Say-to-spell involves clearly articulating any sounds that may be obscured, distorted, or silent in everyday speech in order to give students an auditory picture of the word as a memory aid. Have students repeat the say-to-spell before segmenting.
  3. Make sure you Finger Spell. As students segment the word, hold up fingers for each sound to give a clue about the kind of phonogram that is used: one finger for single-letter phonograms, two for two-letter phonograms, and so on. Finger spelling helps to visually separate each sound in the word, and it also gives students an important clarification on how each sound is spelled.
    For example, “Red”:

    “Read” (the past tense verb pronounced the same way):

    The two fingers let the student know that the two-letter phonogram EA, not the phonogram E, is saying short /e/.
  4. Whenever an additional clarification besides finger spelling is needed to let students know which spelling of a sound to use, verbally cue the phonogram by saying its sounds. For example, "speed" (students segmenting, you finger spelling and cuing):
    /s/ - one finger (“use /s-z/”)
    /p/ - one finger
    /ē/ - two fingers (“use /ē/ double /ē/“)
    /d/ - one finger
    Since /s/ can be spelled by two different single-letter phonograms, and long /ē/ can be spelled by a number of different two-letter phonograms, a further clarification of those sounds is needed for students to know how to spell the word correctly. The other sounds can only be spelled one way, so no cue is needed. Let your kids know you will do this, and encourage them to ask you for phonogram clarification if you forget!
  5. Once you have provided all the information, have students write the word, sounding it out as they go. Then have them sound it out for you as you write the word. Notice that the students see the word first in their own writing, and that they will be spelling it correctly themselves because you have provided all the hints they needed to do so.
  6. Analyze and mark it together. The markings and spelling hints columns are included in the lists to guide you in what needs to be discussed and marked for each word (see below). Analyzing the phonograms used and why the word is spelled and pronounced the way it is not only helps to build spelling skills for this word and other words, but also is especially helpful in learning to decode complex words. Students can increasingly take the lead on marking words as they learn the process and what needs to be marked. Encourage them to do so!

Two guiding principles to keep in the back of your mind as you go:

1) Do NOT do what the student can do independently. For example, do not segment the word for students once they are able to segment alone; provide support by segmenting quietly along with them and finger spelling, but let them do the work. Do not write the word yourself until the student writes it and then segments it again for you.

2) DO provide any information students don’t know on their own, like whether to use EE or EA to spell a long /ē/ sound or whether to use K or C to spell /k/. If a student forgets a phonogram he or she has learned, supply it. It is your job to provide any information the student needs to spell the word perfectly; you are teaching how to use the phonograms to spell this word.

If reading is the focus, does that mean I should not correct children’s spelling at other times when they are writing?

It’s fine to correct Foundations students’ spelling if you want to, but remember that if they made a phonetically accurate guess, they’ve actually done something really good even if it was incorrect. You can simply say “Great guess! Actually, in that word we use the phonogram /k-s/,” or “We actually use a different phonogram in that word. Do you remember another phonogram that says /s/?” Then move on.

Should Foundations students have spelling tests at all?

When in doubt, no. But it is fine to begin incorporating a bit of spelling practice and some spelling assessments at some point in Foundations B or C for some students if you keep in mind a few important things:

If you do give spelling tests: when you assess them, keep an eye out for any spellings that suggest weaknesses in phonemic awareness or understanding of the phonograms or rules. These provide helpful information about where review or practice is needed. Incorrect but phonetically accurate spellings, however, should give little cause for concern at this point.

Give it a try!

If this approach to the spelling lists is different from what you've been doing in your homeschool or classroom, give it a try! Spelling analysis may be the steepest learning curve for you adults who are teaching Foundations lessons—but when you do it well it isn't difficult at all for the kids. Learning about words this way, and learning about spelling for the purpose of reading mastery and understanding, is fun, easy to follow, and empowering for children, because they discover that they have the tools to read and to understand how our language works and they learn skills they can apply to new words in the world around them every day.

Learn more in these training videos with Denise Eide!

Finger Spelling
Spelling Analysis Tutorial: One-Syllable Words