Frequently Asked Questions about Spell to Write and Read


What do all the initials stand for?

BHIBack Home Industries
Gary & Wanda Sanseri's Publishing company
SWRSpell to Write and Read
by Wanda Sanseri
TRHSTeaching Reading at Home & School
by Wanda Sanseri
WISEThe WISE GUIDE - Words, Instructions, and Spelling Enrichments
by Wanda Sanseri
WRRThe Writing Road to Reading
by Romalda Spalding
LITHBTH"Elizabeth" with a lisp
When my growing home business needed a name, I borrowed it from the personalized license plate I still have because of my degree in Speech Pathology.

Students and SWR

Who can benefit?

Spell to Write and Read works for one student or for many. It is suitable for

  • all ages (young or old)
  • all ability levels (struggling, average, gifted)
  • all learners (visual, auditory, vocal, tactile)
  • all backgrounds (native English speakers or English as a second language)

How young of a child can I teach using SWR?

Please read the Developmental Considerations article on this site for more on this topic.


How can I lay a foundation with very young children eager to learn?

It is ideal to set the stage at a young age. Many parents repeat phonogram sounds or play the Phonogram CD for a baby. As a child grows, show him how to segment the sounds of words, and blend them back together: Say it slow /m-o-m/. Say it fast “mom.”

In time, start showing the phonogram cards. Say the sounds(s) and teach him how to make the letter(s) for himself. Start with big motor skills. Expose him to the tools that he will need later to successfully write and read. Create the desire. Read aloud to children daily. Plant seeds. When  they start to sprout, water them.

For more on preparing pre-readers read the Developmental Considerations handout on this site.


Can this program be used with older students or to teach English as a Second Language?

SWR can make a tremendous difference for teens, adults, or foreigners studying English. Diagnostic tools are provided to place a person in the program at their level of challenge, not wading them down with material too easy or discouraging for them.

Taking this SWR class as a senior was something I did not think I needed. As I look back at the first semester in September, I learned the different phonogram sounds and easier ways to spell difficult words. Having English as my second language, it was harder for me to understand the grammatical structure of the English language. My teacher makes each class time enjoyable with games and little tricks to help us remember and understand how to spell correctly. I am so glad I took this class especially before college. — Liza, 12th grader, CA

If my child already knows how to read, why would I want to use SWR?

SWR is a complete spelling course for grades K-college level. This time-tested method is not only excellent for beginning readers, but also for remedial students behind in reading and/or spelling. The integration of all areas of language arts simplifies your teaching. When working with younger elementary students, there is no need for separate curricula for penmanship, grammar, composition, vocabulary, and spelling. SWR covers it all!

How can I teach SWR with a child who has writing delays?

Exposing good penmanship instruction can be especially helpful. We recommend cursive. Start with big muscle movements. The student can write on a chalkboard, which provides better tactile feedback than a smooth white board. For now, he can practice spelling at the board instead of using small motor skills.

Can SWR help a struggling middle or high school student?


I want to thank you for such a wonderful program. I can’t begin to express how much it has helped my struggling ten-year-old. My son has gone up two grade levels this year with the program, and his reading has made a drastic improvement. Your program is the best I have EVER seen! Meanwhile, I am learning much more than I had ever dreamed.

It is easier to mold the mind to this type of thinking with a young student, and that is why we like to use it from the beginning. The older we are the more likely we will first think the way we were taught as children and use these techniques to self correct. That means we have an added step in the way of our “processor.” The beginner who learns this way will instinctively think this way. My sons are so much faster than I am because the language is internalized in a reliable way that they can retrieve instantly. While it is best to use from the beginning, it is valuable for all ages to do this program. We believe the sooner you teach this the better, but don’t hesitate even if it’s later. A 12-year-old is three times more likely to be able to master this to an instant level than someone in his thirties or forties, but even senior citizens can make dramatic improvement. — Wanda Sanseri

Does the Spell to Write and Read program contain religious content?

This is a common question, especially from teachers in the public schools who want to use the materials but are not permitted to use “religious” materials.

The SWR method teaches the student how to read and write the English language. The Wise Spelling List is merely a list of 2,000 high frequency and commonly misspelled words in the language.

In the spelling dictation, the teacher uses the word in the context of a sentence. Sample sentences include famous quotes from a wide spectrum of sources. Lines from literature include works from classical Greece and Rome, Euro-Asia, a large selection of which come from Britain and America. Since the Bible strongly influences British and American literature, a number of these quotes reflect that world view. A few Bible verses are also included. Other quotes come from famous statesmen, presidents, scientists, and musicians. Some sentences are humorous, some serious, and some give a lyrical, poetic quality. However, the teacher is always encouraged to substitute sentences to fit her needs. If using a sentence that alludes to a Christian world view is a problem, the teacher can always use a different sentence.

The ER phonograms in SWR are introduced with the guide words, “Her church first worships early.” A teacher is able to exchange these for other words, and alternative sentences are offered in the SWR text.

As far as other religious content, there is reference to Jesus in the dedication of the SWR book, and periodically in the instructions the author makes reference to the Christian faith. This is all for the teacher, however, not a part of the teaching with the student.

As long as you personally are not offended by occasional reference to the Christian faith in your teacher texts, you will not have any problem at all.

Teaching with Spell to Write and Read

Why has SWR won so many awards?

This time-tested method is not only excellent for beginning readers, but also for remedial students behind in reading and/or spelling. It has produced amazing breakthroughs with students who had been declared unteachable. It has given talented and gifted readers a confidence in their language and the tools to better expand their vocabulary.

The integration of all areas of language arts simplifies your teaching. When working with younger elementary students, there is no need for separate curricula for penmanship, grammar, composition, vocabulary and spelling. SWR covers it all!

SWR teaches to all the language centers of the brain simultaneously. This method trains the brain to retain what you’re teaching.

Thrilled teachers spread the word about SWR so that others can enjoy the same benefits they experienced. A second generation teacher recently contacted Mrs. Sanseri. Her family ran a curriculum consulting business when the daughter was growing up. She tagged along at multiple homeschool conventions. Now she teaches her own children at home in Atlanta. SWR is the only curriculum that she plans to never replace.

SWR equips you to become an exceptional teacher of the most important educational subject you can teach. Language instruction is the foundation on which all other academic disciplines rest. Even a student’s spiritual growth is hindered if he cannot read the Bible with ease.

Why should I teach with SWR?

The heart of literacy is the word. SWR presents early the keys to unlocking English words. Phonograms and reliable spelling rules are introduced quickly but mastered through repetition and application over time. The instruction given to the youngest child holds up to the most advanced levels of the language.

What is taught in this program?

SWR is an historically successful, award-winning, comprehensive K-12 spelling-first approach that leads a student into writing and reading in the most natural way.

The program delivers early, direct, systematic, intensive phonics.

  • Early – first and fast exposure to the “essential” keys that unlock written words.
  • Direct – straightforward, precise instruction
  • Systematic – scientifically ordered, not incidental
  • Intensive – one or more times a day
  • Phonics – links together written symbols with their sound(s)

For a more complete picture of all the subjects that SWR covers besides phonics, take a look at the chart we’ve put together for you.

How does SWR teach reading?

  • Sounds of speech – We teach the child to begin identifying the letters and letter combinations that represent the 45 sounds in our language.
  • Penmanship –  We train him to say, write, and then recognize the phonograms. With younger children, big motor skills set the stage for later work with paper and pencil.
  • Spelling – We show the student how to blend the phonograms to create words sight unseen from teacher dictation.
  • Logic – We repeat together rules and analyze how they are being used in the words under study.
  • Composition – Each student composes oral and written sentences using new and review words. Writing skills are developed as the student’s skill and vocabulary grows.
  • Reading – We start by having him read his spelling words and the sentences he has written. This sets the stage for reading simple books.
  • Grammar and Vocabulary – As the student moves through the spelling list, he studies how the words work together and are built in the English language.

SWR teaches the mechanics of reading before expecting a student to comprehend what other authors have written. It moves from high frequency, beginning words to high school level vocabulary. Ideally, these words are covered by the end of fourth grade and reviewed in fifth. This establishes the foundation for a lifetime of an expanding vocabulary.

For more information on how we teach at the beginning (K-2) and advanced levels (3rd grade and above), see those pages on this site.

How do SWR lessons work through the week?

All students start the year with phonogram work and two reference pages described in the SWR general teacher’s manual. The rest of the year, the spelling list in Wise Guide drives what to do and when.

Each day the student will review phonograms by both reading and writing them from dictation. Over the week, a teacher will dictate the new words and assign some generic ways for students to practice using them. The Wise Guide suggests specific reinforcement activities with these particular words. The enrichment activities vary, making the program more enjoyable and bringing the English language to life. The primary focus is spelling, which this program covers in a comprehensive manner. However, the spelling work plants seeds for all other aspects of language arts, introduces grammar, expands vocabulary, and sets the stage for building great reading comprehension and writing composition skills.

Teachers who have taught SWR to many children, over a period of years, confess to still delighting in new discoveries each time they teach the program.

What does a typical lesson look like?

One of the best ways to understand SWR is to see it in action. Here’s a video of Julie Wagenmaker, one of our Endorsed SWR Trainers, dictating new spelling words to her class.

How long will a lesson take? Is instruction required daily?

SWR has built-in flexibility. On average, you should allot about thirty minutes a day for direct teacher/student interaction. Teachers can easily adapt a plan with more concentrated work on some days and light review on others. The younger the child, the more likely you’ll need to break up your work into short, multiple sessions over the day. For example, a kindergartener just learning his penmanship, may work for about fifteen minutes before needing a break.

It is helpful to do some phonogram work daily at every level of the program even if only for a minute or two. A student experienced with the program can review the full deck of phonogram cards in that time. A new learner could do a fast drill on a selected number of cards.

Most weeks will involve new spelling dictation and application work with the new words. SWR gives you the pool of information to teach and recommends the quantity of words per level, per week. You build the actual schedule to fit your needs.

How do the two teacher books work together for building lesson plans?

The overall SWR manual gives the big picture with detailed instructions for topics such as how to start the year, teach penmanship and phonograms, evaluate skip levels, dictate new words, and introduce the various reference pages. Most lesson plans for the year are organized around the new words being covered that week in The Wise Guide. If the preliminaries in the Wise Guide say to introduce a specific reference page, you would turn to the SWR manual for details on that concept. The two books work together to help the teacher adapt the principles to a large range of abilities. With these two books, teachers of any age can start where the student needs to and work from there.


Getting Started with SWR

What materials would I need to teach this program?


How do I place my older student who is new to the program?

You don’t have to start at the lowest level words if the student has mastered these already. The principles keep coming up over and over as the spelling levels increase. SWR rules are consistent with the language as a whole, which is why the Core Kit can cover from Kindergarten to 12th grade in one non-consumable package. Understanding grows with the vocabulary.

Diagnostic tests help place older students at the appropriate starting point in the Wise List and help monitor their progress as they work through the program. See Tip #5 in our Getting Started series for more on this test and to download the first of eight interchangeable tests, all of which are located in the SWR text.


Do I need to take a seminar to teach this program?

Spell to Write and Read is actually very easy to use…once you understand the methodology and get started teaching it. Some initial studying and work needs to be done on the teacher’s part to be prepared. However, once she starts using it with her students, the program falls into place and makes a lot of sense.

A brand new user may not feel like this, but that is only because she is in the learning phase. Some teachers must also “unlearn” the misconceptions about our language with which they were taught. Unlike adults, young children are not cluttered with this erroneous teaching and consequently are able to breeze through the concepts. The teacher then must keep up with her students.

The seminars are not necessary for teaching the program, but they really help! The classes are intended to help bring the program to life for you, walk you through the steps, model the teaching, and answer your questions as you learn. Many people have attended the seminars only to say they don’t know how others teach SWR without the class. On the other hand, many do very well just by picking up the book and doing their homework. The SWR text explains the program so well, everyone should catch on if they will just read the book carefully and follow instructions. Being able to ask questions on the Yahoo Support Group is also a big help.


Why does SWR take teacher time up front to learn?

There are two basic reasons that our approach requires some start-up work for the teacher.

  • Most programs teach only a partial list of the tools of the language in a pokey fashion. The material they teach is presently slowly over a long period of time, concentrating on one small concept at a time. These programs are easier for the teacher at first. She has one lesson with a focus on one idea. She does not have to do much studying or thinking.
  • We expose students in a non-threatening way to the essentials within the first six weeks. From there on out they learn to apply these concepts to specific words until the process becomes second nature. With SWR the teacher is very likely learning an entirely new way to understand the English language so that she can then teach it to her students.

We have 98 keys that are the foundation to spelling English words from beginning simple words to college level vocabulary. The challenge in the beginning for the teachers new to this program is learning these keys. They are not complicated. I often hear four- and five-year-olds repeating them with ease, even before they have full understanding. The children can learn this rapidly, especially if they have not been confused with other bogus rules or faulty phonics first. The challenge is for us adults. We do not pick up new things as quickly as a child. We gravitate to the comfort zone of what we already know. As for matters of phonics, most of us know very little. Workbooks beckon to us as the easy out.

What are these 98 keys? We have 70 phonograms (letters or combinations of letters that represent the sounds of speech) and 28 spelling rules. This sounds like a lot when you can just pick up a workbook and not have to learn much of anything at all. However, once a teacher experiences teaching our way, she never wants to go back to the workbook or faulty phonics approach. She is now able to answer her students’ “why” questions with knowledge, logic, and confidence.

SWR will equip you to become an exceptional teacher of the most important educational subject you can teach. Language instruction is the foundation on which all other academic disciplines rest. Even a student’s spiritual growth is hindered if he cannot read the Bible with ease. Are you willing to stretch yourself a little in order to help your children have greater success in writing and reading the English language? The time investment will pay off in the long run.

For more information on determining whether your phonics program teaches “pokey,” “phoney” or “fickle” phonics, see Wanda’s Senate Speech.


Here’s a video of one of our SWR users, Janelle Knutson, answering this question. (You’ll want to watch from the beginning through 5:30 for this section of the video.)

How do I get up and started with SWR?

We’ve put together a Getting Started series just for you.


How does SWR compare to other methods?

What is the difference between WRR and SWR?

Both systems draw from

  • the 70 phonograms of the sound-letter system to the written English language organized by Anna Gillingham
  • the Extended Ayres List, a scientifically normed core list of spelling words
  • the method of spelling dictation demonstrated by Dr. Samuel Orton
  • a general core list of spelling rules collected from different writers in the previous century

Using modern computer research, Wanda Sanseri has

  • updated these basic tools
  • organized the Teacher Materials in a user-friendly format
  • rewritten the spelling rules to make them more precise, lyrical, and complete
  • expanded the instruction to create a fuller and integrated Language Arts program


What is the difference between TRHS and SWR?

Wanda Sanseri originally developed Teaching Reading at Home and School as a supplement to The Writing Road to Reading. TRHS provided a step-by-step format to help teachers use the Extended Ayres List in WRR.

Wanda realized the need to update the basic Spelling List, which had been developed ninety years before, and published The Wise Guide in 2000 with Spell to Write and Read, the companion and main teacher’s book, following in 2002. While the core concepts are still in place from the master teacher who mentored Wanda, the most notable improvements are:

  • many key points are now illustrated with graphics
  • teaching objectives are clearly defined
  • teacher instructions have been refined, clarified, and now include powerful reinforcement activities


How does SWR compare with other Reading systems?

Wanda Sanseri’s Oregon Senate Hearing Presentation includes information on how most reading programs fail our nation’s students. She also discusses the way SWR provides students with tools for success in both reading and spelling.

  • SWR starts with spelling SPELL to Write and Read. The first thing a beginning, non-reader reads is what he has already sounded out, spelled, and written!
  • SWR presents the language in a way that has few exceptions. With only 70 phonograms and a few spelling rules we can explain 93-98% of the most frequently used words in our language.
  • SWR covers many levels of language instruction. Words are organized by difficulty ranging from K to 12, and the diagnostic tests provided allow for accurate placement based on ability rather than grade-level.
  • SWR students of varying levels can often work together as the same principles taught with first grade words are used up through the high school level.
  • SWR can be effectively used in any teaching situation, whether homeschooling, tutoring, classroom, or teaching ESL.


How does SWR compare with other Spalding-inspired programs?

Many programs have endeavored to clarify how to use the effective methodology presented in The Writing Road to Reading. Here are some comparisons between Wanda Sanseri’s SWR and other Spalding-inspired programs on the market today.

SWROther Programs
Wanda Sanseri studied directly under Romalda Spalding and Oma Riggs. She has taught in the classroom, has successfully homeschooled her three sons through high school, has tutored children and adults, and has used SWR for teaching ESL. Other authors have never had the same direct opportunities for personal training or who lack the broad spectrum of teaching experiences.
A simple spelling test organized by difficulty effectively targets the best starting point for the student’s instruction.Core words are organized by frequency rather than by difficulty, destroying scientific value of this type of diagnostic spelling.
The Wise List has added 500 words to the Extended Ayres List, including words that reinforce neglected spelling rules and many of the most commonly misspelled words. Derivative work has been planned carefully for ease of use.The core list has been shortened or includes derivative work that prematurely involves rules not yet introduced.
The Wise List indexes all the rules to all spelling words, providing the teacher with all the tools she needs at any placement level.Teacher helps and cues as to markings and spelling rules decrease until no further reference is made to them. This forces a new teacher to either start a student at a lower level, or risk missing important concepts.
SWR uses flash cards and visual aids to help teachers and students learn the spelling rules. To our knowledge, no one else has anything similar to our spelling rule cards.
The SWR Core Materials cover the full range of instruction. The teacher has everything needed to teach any age or skill level. Materials are broken down into different grade levels, limiting the information available to the teacher. A second grade teacher must buy the first grade level book in order to master foundational concepts not repeated in the second book.
SWR presents the system in a sequential, step-by-step format so that the teacher understands how to move the student through the program. The teacher can start a student at any point in the Spelling List, see at a glance the preparatory work the student will need, and easily assess the student’s progress as he moves along. Teacher instructions are presented topically rather than sequentially thereby giving the teacher the challenge to figure out where to go next.
SWR provides the teacher with completed copies of all Reference Pages at both Beginner and Advanced levels with thorough explanations for why and how the pages are to be taught. Instructions include tips for customizing the word samples to the current level of study, thus reinforcing other work. The explanations of the Reference are less clear as to the presentation and purpose of the page, if they are included at all.
SWR treats the phonograms as an aid for “thinking to spell,” thus allowing it to apply to all speakers of this global language.Phonograms have been expanded to include the “schwa”, which severely muddies and confuses the brilliance of the method. A primary focus on geographical pronunciation creates endless variations and detracts from the spelling uniformity within the English language.
The spelling rules have been revised for greater reliability and ease of recitation as well as suitability for older children and foreigners studying English.Rules have been reworded, but often without carefully assessing how the new rules stand up to the language as a whole thus creating further exceptions.
SWR teaches the student to analyze words and note the spelling rules that are being used with a unique marking system. This reinforces spelling rules and teaches logical thinking. Special markings may be used, but are often confused dictionary markings. Students are confused when the same symbols hold different meanings.


How and why does the word list in The WISE Guide differ from that found in WRR?

First, although both WRR and WISE contain the full Extended Ayres List, the overall word lists themselves are not identical. Wanda Sanseri shares how she came to make the changes she did to this profound list of words.

1.  WISE enlarges and updates the word base.

Leonard Ayres published in 1915 a list of 1,000 of the most frequently used words in English. A Measuring Scale for Ability in Spelling by Leonard Ayres describes the research involved in this classic work that has stood the test of time. The Extended Ayres list Mrs. Spalding used has 500 additional words and 250 unnecessary duplicates to make a total of 1750 words. The latest edition of WRR has added a few more.

The WISE Guide includes the original Extended Ayres List minus the needless duplications. WISE updates this list in light of current findings. Computerized studies to discover the 1,000 most frequently used words today include 300 words not in the Ayres list a century ago. I added those words plus 200 additional words to make a total count of 2000 words. The final 200 were selected as example words that would apply spelling rules neglected by the original list and words taken from lists of “most commonly misspelled words.”

2.  WISE reorganizes the word list for added teaching opportunities.

WRR follows the Extended Ayres List in the exact word order that Ayres presented in his study. With a closer look into Ayres’ research and results, Wanda found that it was unnecessary to rigidly keep to his spelling words in the WRR order. The words could be rearranged within each spelling difficulty level without losing any of the scientific support. This gave her the freedom to tailor the list to incorporate powerful spelling enrichment activities. An excellent spelling program became a more complete language arts curriculum.

The WISE Guide gives two pages of lesson plan ideas for each set of 20 words, including follow-up activities that the child may be able to work on with teacher guidance and independently. These optional spelling enrichments help the child master the new words as he uses them to do something engaging. It sure beats just saying, “Now take your words and copy them five times.”


SWR Awards