Phonetic Zoo ~ Review

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you probably know that AJ and language arts just do not get along. Writing, spelling, reading – she dislikes them all. Amazingly, the Institute for Excellence in Writing was a hit with her for writing. After years of struggling, their program really helped her. So when I was given the chance to review their spelling program Phonetic Zoo Spelling Level A [Starter Set] I jumped at the chance. I actually begged for this product! We received a set of 5 CDs, lesson cards, personal spelling cards, teacher notes, zoo cards, and online access to a seminar called Spelling and the Brain.

Phonetic Zoo is a different approach to spelling, it uses audio to help your child learn.

What is Phonetic Zoo?

Phonetic Zoo is a different approach to spelling. The normal spelling curriculum has your student work with a word list for a week, then they test on the words on Friday. The student may memorize the words for the test, but the skill doesn’t always translate over to their writing.

Phonetic Zoo gives your kids a spelling rule, or a group of words that are somehow related. Your student goes over the rule and learns a little saying to help them remember how to spell those words.

Phonetic Zoo is a different approach to spelling, it uses audio to help your child learn.

Each day your child goes over the spelling rules and then takes a test. They listen to the words on a CD and simply write down the words. There are 15 words in each lesson. After the test they go to the next track on the CD and write the correct spellings of the words. They hear the word and how it is spelled, so the person would say, “either e-i-t-h-e-r either.”

Then they count how many words they spelled correctly, and spelling is over for the day. It takes about 15 minutes total each day, and should be able to done independently once the new rule is introduced.

Once the student gets all of the words correct twice in a row they move on to the next lesson.

It is incorporating aspects for audio, visual, and kinetic learners.

How we used Phonetic Zoo

While the program didn’t work out as intended, I still think it is a great program. The issues we had with the product were due to cheating, a lack of effort, and a poor attitude, not the program its’ self. Now that the review is over, we will be making slight changes that I think will make a big difference.

We did a simple placement test to see what level AJ should start with. Age wise she should be on level B, but according to the test she should start with level A, the first level. I assumed that AJ would breeze through the first few lessons since the words didn’t look too difficult.

The first day she sat down and we went over the spelling rule. Then she numbered her paper 1 to 15 and we listened to the introduction together. She had a big issue when the speaker on the CD announced that this was the first and lowest level.  I think she felt bad that she was in 7th grade and in the lowest level, but we went on. She listened to the words and corrected them. She was excited that she didn’t have any other work to do.

Phonetic Zoo is a different approach to spelling, it uses audio to help your child learn.

The first lesson took a few days for her to get the words correct twice in a row, but she seemed to enjoy it. Each day we went over the rule and then she would do her spelling at the computer with her headphones.

Then we went on to the second lesson, and frustration hit. The second lesson is on “i before e”, and it includes words that follow the word and those that don’t. The first lesson she only had 6 words right. The next day she had 13 words right, I was impressed. But the following day she only had 6 words right again, and I couldn’t figure out why. It turns out she was cheating! She was just waiting to write the words down until she heard the answers.

spelling zoo 4

At that point I made her write in two different colored pens, one for the first try and one for the corrections and I had the pen she wasn’t using. She still was cheating and changing words so that she had a higher number correct. Obviously this is an issue we have to address, and there is nothing wrong with the curriculum, but if you have a sneaky kid, you might have to keep an eye on them.

After all of the cheating I decided that I would have to be in the room with her when she did the spelling, that made a program that should be independent, more work for me.

After doing lesson 2 for 17 times, and that is not a type-o, she still was getting words wrong. It was crazy, one day she would spell a word right, and the next day she didn’t come close. We worked on the words even more, but it didn’t seem to help.

I tried giving her the words, instead of having her listen to them on the computer, again there has been no change. She has been on lesson 2 for 24 lessons now, and I am convinced that it is an effort and attitude issue. This hasn’t been the only subject where she has not made expected progress in the last few weeks.

What We Thought of Phonetic Zoo

I think this is a solid program that will help struggling spellers. I think it is perfect for students who learn best with audio. It should be fairly independent and a simple part of your day. Yes we are sticking with it even if she is on lesson 2 for 100 days. I think that it could be the program she needs, but for whatever reason she doesn’t want to put in any effort.

These are the changes we will be making. Each day after she takes the test she will be required to do normal spelling activities with all of the words she gets wrong. Things like writing them 10 times each, using them in a sentence, abc order, and pyramid writing. I think that will give her the motivation to get the words right. Also, she will be doing the test and turning it in, and writing the correct spelling of the words on a separate paper.  We  are going to continue with this, and I will have an update with our thoughts on the program after the few changes.

IEW Review



  1. My son used this program in seventh grade and also found ways to cheat. Our biggest issue was that he would copy the words from the previous page in his notebook instead of listening and writing them each day. It’s so frustrating when I have to spend my time supervising products that are meant to be used independently. I feel your pain.

    • It is frustrating, I don’t know why they want to cheat when the daily assignment is so easy. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone!

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