Frequently Asked Questions

What is The Spell of Language?

The Spell of Language consists of curricular material and techniques for teachers to use in instructing the basic skills that underlie the efficient use of written language in regular or remedial education programs, in adult programs, or in instruction of students for whom English is not the language they have been exposed to since birth. The program’s power lies in its use of the most fundamental aspect of language learning, knowing the words of a language. It is a comprehensive, one-of-a-kind program, having two components, Essential Word Knowledge and Spelling and Beyond.

What sets The Spell of Language apart from other research-based programs?

Five aspects of the program set it apart:
  • it teaches the vowel system explicitly and thoroughly;
  • it is appropriate for beginning learners, typically developing learners, remedial students, English language learners, and adults;
  • it is adaptable and meets individual student needs;
  • it teaches application of the alphabetic principle* through phonetic analysis; and
  • it links spelling, the alphabetic principle, word knowledge, and morphology.
* The alphabetic principle – the understanding that letters and letter patterns represent sounds and that use of the relationships between letters and sounds yields the identity of a printed string of letters or the spelling of a word.

What is the research base of The Spell of Language?

The Spell of Language is based on careful study of the behavioral research literature generated between 1965 and 2000 in the United States and in other countries having alphabetic languages. The studies, undertaken by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), explicated, for the first time, how reading is accomplished in alphabetic languages. Moreover, the research identified most of the causes of difficulty in learning to read, and training studies identified techniques proven to help struggling learners in addition to the best ways to instruct learners who do not experience difficulty. More recently, brain research has confirmed the findings of the behavioral research.

What is the content/scope and sequence of skills?

For students of any age and academic ability The Spell of Language:
  • establishes accurate sound/spelling correspondences for English, particularly for vowels;
  • presents spelling, reading and/or vocabulary skill exercises designed to develop ability to successfully apply the alphabetic principle at the level appropriate for the learner; and
  • provides for study and production of grammatical and morphological features of English designed to develop competence at the level of advanced language use.

Why did the authors create the website?

  • The scientific research the authors have studied has reached few teachers.
  • There are many students who would never qualify for special services who do not achieve their academic potential because they are missing the basic components taught in The Spell of Language.
  • The authors have been successful in their teaching and wish to share that success with as many students and educators as possible.
  • The authors have successfully used the Spell of Language in whole-class settings; the website provides the means for easy incorporation of this basic skills program into any instructor’s lesson plans.
  • The website allows for differentiation within classroom settings, as well as, individualized lessons.
  • Once website users learn the vowel system and basics of the program, it can become a self-paced program that meets the needs of any age and skill level of a student as determined by the student’s age and skill level.
  • The authors understand that most children attend public school and that only a few parents have the resources to provide expert tutoring.

Who should use this program? Should a teacher with students who are struggling with reading and spelling use the program?

This program is suitable for students with a wide range of abilities. The program has been used successfully:
  • in a classroom setting with typical first graders, some of whom have difficulty acquiring even the most basic of reading skills;
  • with students whose alphabetic system is different than that of the English language; and
  • with adults who learned to read using a sight-word approach but lacked spelling skills have learned to spell using the alphabetic principle.
Often, students who have trouble learning to read do not internalize the alphabetic principle and sound/spelling correspondence skills that are needed to decode unfamiliar words. Typically, reading programs rely on memorization of words through repeated readings or recognition of patterns when studying word families. The Spell of Language teaches children how to account for the letter sounds in words, even those "rule breakers" which are hard to remember.

How do teachers use The Spell of Language in their classrooms?

Teachers use the program developmentally to teach spelling, vocabulary, and grammar to whole classes as well as individual students. The inherent adaptability of the program gives teachers the tools to construct different reading and spelling lessons for students of varying ability levels. All classroom teachers encounter students who have difficulty learning to read and spell due to weak working memory, poor visual memory, auditory processing difficulties, etc. Teachers can use the instructional techniques of Essential Word Knowledge and Spelling and Beyond to ensure that these students can make sense of words, letters, and sounds.

How do teachers use The Spell of Language in instruction of students for whom English is not the language they have been exposed to since birth?

The adaptability of The Spell of Language makes it ideal for meeting the highly varied needs of students just learning to speak English or those for whom English was not their first language. Since The Spell of Language teaches sensitivity to how English phonetics and written-language learning are interdependent and mutually supporting, it contributes to the ease with which learning can be accomplished.

How can I learn to use The Spell of Language?

Start by exploring vowel sound/spelling correspondences in Essential Word Knowledge (also accessible through sound/spelling correspondences in Spelling and Beyond). There will be an additional link to a three-segment, vowel instructional video available on October 31, 2017.

By following the instructional sequence, teachers are able to internalize the vowel system themselves, thus making instruction of students a straightforward task. Acquaint yourself with the scope and sequence of skills as presented. For example, Teacher Notes, in addition to containing explanations of the phonological and grammatical features of each lesson, provides a sample of a script for teachers to use and adapt. Finally, do not wait until you feel "comfortable" with the program. Dive in, print worksheets, and learn as you teach.

How can baselines for basic skills be set, goals/objectives established, and progress monitored?

The authors of the program posit the following hypotheses:
  • improved vowel sound/spelling correspondence knowledge improves word reading and spelling; and
  • there is a correlation to be found among automaticity (fluency) in the basic skills of letter recognition, vowel sound/spelling correspondences and consonant sound/spelling correspondences.

We use, and recommend using, the normed assessment, the Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE) in addition to informal assessments for letters and sound/spelling correspondences created by Elizabeth Haughton of the Haughton Learning Center. For spelling, we have created The Spell of Language Spelling Assessment, TSOL-Spell. (The informal assessments are available as part of this website.)

For a school-year setting, we recommend three data collection points (beginning, middle, and end) charted on a separate sheet for each student. For individual work, we use a beginning assessment and other data collection points as needed.

If presented to a student in one sitting, the order in which tasks of the assessments are administered is important. Letter Recognition, the easiest task, is presented first; Sight Word Efficiency, the most important aspect of learning, is second followed by Phonemic Decoding Efficiency. Spelling is fourth. Sound/Spelling Correspondences is fifth so as to prevent confusion with letter naming. Alternatively, the tasks can be presented on different days.

Haughton Center Inventory of Recognizing Letters

This test asks students to recognize the letters of the alphabet. In Grade 1, the 26 letters appear on a chart in random order. At the second data point and for older students at the first data point, a timed, random-ordered performance provides a rough measure of processing speed (how quickly students are able to recognize and produce what they know). This assessment may be omitted at data point 2.

The Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE)

This timed test (45 seconds for each subtest) is administered according to the standardized procedures. It measures:
  1. Sight Word Efficiency, and
  2. Phonemic Decoding Efficiency


This test measures the ability to spell words expected to be known at particular grade levels. In addition, a base level is established to that progress can be measured during the course of the school year.

Haughton Center Inventory of Sound/Spelling Correspondences

This test measures the rate at which students can recognize and produce a sound correspondence for a spelling. In the research conducted by practitioners associated with the Standard Celeration Society, there are well-established parameters for the rates at which recognition and production are completed by successful students at their grade levels. While consonants are learned more easily and generally earlier than vowels, students who are efficient readers and spellers achieve the same rate for both.

At the first data point In Grade 1, a 30-second timing is conducted and converted to per-minute score. At the remaining data points and for all other grade levels, one-minute timings are used.

At the first data point in Grades 1 and 2, untimed recognition of 27 vowel spellings is conducted. At data points 2 and 3, one-minute timings are conducted. At later grade levels, one-minute timings are conducted beginning at data point 1.