How do we teach a beginning reader with SWR?


As with all good teaching, we build from the known to the unknown. We concentrate on building a solid foundation for long-term reading and writing success. These procedures are modified for the student who is already reading.

The Foundation = Sounds of Speech

  • Our foundation is what the child already knows, his own language. The average first grader has a vocabulary of 2,000-10,000 words.
  • The challenge is to teach him to read and write what he can already hear and say.

Written Symbol for Sounds = Phonograms

Phonograms in saltbox

  • Words are made up of sounds. The first step is to teach the child to recognize and reproduce from memory the written symbols for these sounds.
  • We must teach more than the 26 letters of the alphabet as English has 45 sounds spelled in over 70 basic ways.
  • Legible handwriting is taught along with the 70 basic phonograms. They are taught in isolation, without any picture cues, as we don’t interfere with the direct response between symbol and sound.
  • The phonogram sounds for the alphabet are taught before introducing phonograms comprised of more than one letter (e.g. sh, th, ee, er)

Combine Sounds Into Spelling

Start Teaching

  • Using the Primary Learning Log, students create their own personalized primer for spelling entirely from guided teacher dictation. As the captain of a ship logs information about his travels, so the student will record information he learns about the English language. He will include the weekly spelling lists and will build reference pages where he practices applying the spelling rules.
  • Next, we teach the child how to combine the sounds to spell words. The term “encoding” describes this well as we’re teaching the child to put his language into the written code.
  • We start with the most frequently used words in our language and group them according to spelling difficulty.
  • The student hears the word, and then, together with the teacher, builds the word by phonogram sounds.
  • Included in this process is the blending of these written letters back into words. This is termed “decoding” as we’re training the child how to take the language out of the written code.
  • At first, the student needs help mastering the trick of blending the letter-sounds smoothly enough to recognize the word. Soon he begins to recognize common words by sight, simply because he has sounded them out successfully enough times in the past to instantly recognize them.
  • The student learns to see each word as a sequential grouping of sounds rather than merely a meaningless string of unrelated letters.
  • The 2,000 spelling words taught in The Wise Guide cover practically every pattern of English spelling and speaking.

The student who masters the basic elements of these words knows the English phonics code and spelling rules so well that he can readily decipher almost any new English word he may hear or read. — Wanda Sanseri

Teach 28 Spelling Rules As Needed

  • We begin to teach the 28 spelling rules as they come up in the spelling words and as they coordinate with the phonograms.
  • The teacher does not need to know all these rules before teaching the program. She can be learning them along with the student.
  • During this process we also stimulate logical thinking as the child learns to use a marking system with the spelling words that helps to reinforce the rules. Our markings teach the student to think, and not guess.
  • When we teach the 70 phonograms and the 28 rules, we can account for the spelling of 93-98% of the most frequently used words in our language.
  • The video below is a demonstration by two first graders saying the SH rule, one of the first and rules they learn. It also happens to be the longest rule. The children memorize it when they first learn this phonogram, and then as we work our way through the Wise List and apply the rule to new words, the meaning and application of the rule takes root.


Compose Oral Sentences

  • The student orally composes his own original sentences as he reads the words he has written.
  • The student learns that the words he can now read and write can be used to build sentences which express his ideas and thoughts.

Write Original Sentences

Two Students In Class Writing With Teacher Helping

  • The student then uses the skills he’s learned to write (encode) these words in his own original sentences.
  • After the student has mastered 150 spelling words, he is ready to write his own sentences.
  • Teaching grammar is a natural part of this process of writing.


Read Original Sentences

  • The student proceeds to read back what he has written.
  • Reading happens as an outworking of the other instruction.

There is a close relationship between [writing and reading] especially in the initial learning stages… Part of the ability to recognize a word develops from the ability to write the word and to read it back; for many people, including adults, the tactile aspect of writing is an indispensable feature of the learning process. When I teach reading, I try, wherever possible, to use the student’s writings to help me teach the skills. When the context is part of their own lives, students’ paragraphs are fertile grounds for building knowledge in reading… Practice in writing is a vital part of practice in reading… Certainly, the youngster needs to read at some time what others write, but in the early stages of language awareness the writing activity is an integral part of reading. — Dr. Harvey Wiener, author of Any Child Can Write

Child reading a book with her teacher


Read Simple Books

  • The natural progression is then to read what others have written, starting with simple books.
  • When the student can read his spelling words fluently, he is ready to read from books.
  • We continue to strengthen both spelling and reading. The skills build upon each other.
  • A student who can read and spell well can work independently for much of his subsequent education.
  • A student of this program can read “living” books and interesting materials from the beginning; he is not limited to boring basal readers.