The official Spalding website describes the Spalding Method as ‘a total language arts approach because it provides explicit, sequential, multisensory instruction in spelling (including phonics and handwriting), writing, and listening/reading comprehension’.

The Spalding Method is a research validated total Language arts approach encompassing the following elements:


  • phonemic awareness
  • phonics with handwriting
  • dictation of high frequency words
  • rule acquisition and application


  • simple, compound, complex sentences
  • narrative, informative, and informative-narrative paragraphs/passages


  • literary appreciation
  • passage structure
  • mental actions

How does the Spalding Method work?

1) Phonograms

The program begins by teaching a set of phoneme (or sound)-letter units that Spalding calls phonograms. There are seventy of these, the letters of the alphabet plus some multiple-letter units like ea and ng.

Learning the phonograms is a straightforward paired-associates learning task that forms tight neural links between particular phonemes, particular letters, and particular motor (writing) movements. When a child masters the set, he or she has, in effect, stocked his or hers long-term memory with a working sample of the orthographic units of English.

2) Spelling rules and lists

After the phonograms have been learned, instruction in spelling begins. Spalding uses a list of words compiled by frequency. Eight standardized tests that sample from this list are administered, and instruction is keyed to the threshold of a child’s ability.

The spelling lesson “script” is exact. The teacher says a word and calls on the children to say the first syllable, or first sound of a one-syllable word. The children write it, then the teacher writes it on the board. The child progresses systematically through the word. If there is any difficulty, the class discusses the rule involved.

Over the course of spelling, children learn by example twenty-nine second order rules, such as the five reasons why a silent e is attached to the end of a word. Given seventy phonograms and twenty-nine rules, you can spell about 80 percent of English words, and a higher percentage of the most frequent ones. The spelling words are written in notebooks. Each child thus accumulates a personal list of hundreds of words for which the spelling has been worked out and repeatedly practiced. First graders and many kindergartners go at a pace of thirty words a week.

In conjunction with the spelling, a simple marking system is taught. For example, both letters of a two-letter phonogram are underlined. This shows that they go together to form a unit. As another example, little numbers are used to indicate which sound is being used, if there is more than one. Thus, mother is marked as



showing that th and er are units, and that the second (in order of frequency) th sound is active. There are about five of these marking conventions. As soon as the class learns them (which is almost immediately), the students take turns marking the word they have just produced. In this way, spelling and marking works like a problem-solving exercise.

3) Reading

When about 150 words are in the spelling notebooks, reading begins. A major shock for new Spalding teachers is that reading is never taught. It just begins. After hours of phonogram learning, sequential word analysis, and graphic marking, children can read. From the very first day of reading, the emphasis can be on ideas, information, forming inferences, tracing implications, and the like, because the emphasis doesn’t have to be on word-attack. Stage 2 skills have been mastered. Attention is now available for mastering comprehension skills.

Using the Spalding Method in Individual Therapy

The Spalding Method is a classroom based intervention program and sometimes not suitable to be implemented in its entirety in 1:1 intervention. Parts of the program are often used in individual therapy in conjunction with many other intervention resources. Your therapist will inform you of this during the discussion of the intervention plan and therapy goals.