SOUND and SPELL: A Scaffolded, Systematic Approach to Early Decoding and Spelling


I love collaboration, because the best ideas sprout from them. I was talking to my principal about my student mentioned in a previous post, Andy, and how he finally made his first breakthrough. My principal showed me a few things to help encourage Andy’s progress. From that conversation, I came up with a totally new and different approach that I call Sound and Spell.

The idea behind Sound and Spell is to build in scaffolding into the structure of the lessons. Students are compelled to segment beginning, middle, and end sounds. They develop spelling fluency through repetitive application of common spelling conventions. The wonderful thing is, as their spelling improves, their decoding ability improves.

I tried to teach Andy how to segment CVC words for months. I modeled, prompted, used every strategy I knew, but no dice. After about 5 Sound and Spell lessons, I suddenly heard Andy segment CVC words. I did not prompt him to do so– he did it completely spontaneously, on his own. When I praised him, he said, “This is my favorite new strategy. I’m going to use this for all of 3rd grade. Mrs. Lee, why did you just teach me this like 3 days ago?”

Since then, I used this with 1st grade through 3rd grade, kids with IEPs, kids without IEPs, and ELL students. What I hear the most from them is that it’s FUN, it makes spelling “sooooo easy,” and it turns them into great spellers.

I have been using Words Their Way word sorts since the beginning of the year. Because of that, I designed Sound and Spell to work in conjunction with Words Their Way. You can use it as a companion or alternative to Words Their Way, both for whole group and small intervention groups. I highly recommend it for special education or ESL.

Check out the process below. It’s very quick and easy. Each lesson takes 10-15 minutes, depending on things like the students, if you do error analysis, or extension activities.


First, give each student their own copy of the lesson. You should have a copy of the lesson word list.


Then, read aloud the word. Sometimes I say the word in a sentence to make it clear. I also repeatedly say, “Circle what you hear, then write what you circle.”Slide02

We approach learning through a systematic, organized approach to spelling. The letter choices are grouped in such a way to challenge the students. The beginning and end letters might be together for those students who get the beginning and end mixed up. B and D is often together because I have students who mix them up.

You should start to hear students whisper the beginning, middle, and end sounds to themselves. Encourage this, because that’s exactly why this system will help them as they learn more sounds and more complex words. This also helps struggling learners and ELLs, because they listen to their peers and copy what they hear.Slide03

After calling out all 10 words in the lesson, the students unfold the right side and check their own work.


I suggest doing error analysis. First, discuss how important it is to learn from errors. Children often get discouraged when they are wrong rather than seeing mistakes as another opportunity to learn. If you’re doing this as a whole group, ask students to volunteer their mistakes and keep track of common ones. That way, kids know what to be careful of. If a student has all his errors in the middle, then he knows he has to think twice with the vowel sounds. If a student keeps writing D instead of B, then he knows to pay extra attention to those letters.









Simple, right? It only takes 15 minutes, a few days a week!



Look at how much they can grow from the first lesson to the last lesson! They CAN spell all these words if they practice using this system.


Can’t get enough?

You can do extension activities for an extra challenge.

  • Play a “Boggle” type game and see how many words you can come up with from the options given on a lesson.
  • Create-a-Lesson: Kids make their own Sound and Spell lesson and give it to their classmate. Templates provided.

If you are interested in trying this yourself, check out SOUND and SPELL at my Teachers Pay Teachers store! I also have a FREE sampler with 4 lessons for you to try.


Slide2  Logo  Slide1


  1. Hi,
    I really like the idea of Sound and Spell. My ELLs are doing well with it — it forces them to really listen to the vowel sounds, which is often quite difficult for them to hear. I’ve noticed them segmenting the sounds, and trying to determine which sound they heard. Thank you for creating such a wonderful resource. I did, however, run into a snag today: on Sound and Spell Lesson 3-3, word #7 is bake, but there is no ‘b’ in the beginning consonant spot. Word #8 is mice, but there is no ‘m’ in the beginning consonant spot, and Word #9 is hike, but there is no ‘h’ in the beginning consonant spot.
    Thanks again for a terrific resource!

    1. I also emailed you, but just in case you don’t get it, I wanted to thank you for your comment! Also, I did catch that mistake on Lesson 3-3 (actually, my students found it) and I fixed it last week. So please go back and re-download it so you have the latest version. Thanks again!

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