Zaner-Bloser Spelling Connections
There are two distinct characteristics of this well-constructed spelling program: word sorts and connections. Word Sorts is a review and reinforcement technique used throughout the series that illustrates the patterns in words and their relationship to each other. Connections emphasize the idea that spelling skills are interrelated to other language arts thinking, phonics/vocabulary, reading, and writing. The weekly lessons (units) are organized around the connections. Connections to Thinking (Day 1) covers one or more spelling concepts/constructs: for instance, specific consonant sounds /k/ or /s/. Weekly word lists are presented two ways in print and in cursive. The words are also given in a sentence. Word Sorts are used right on Day 1 dividing the word list into groupings within the concept. For instance, write words with /k/ spelled c, ck, or ch. Or, write the words with /s/ spelled c + e or c + i. You can see how the student is encouraged to remember the words by noting these patterns. Day 2 is Connections to Vocabulary (or Phonics in the early grades). These activities involve categorizing words or identifying their meanings. The student is asked to write the dictionary phonetic spellings for some words. Connections to Reading (Day 3) shows the relationship of good spelling skills to reading comprehension. Sentence completion and other activities involve making inferences or using context clues. Other activities might include analogies, understanding idioms, or synonyms. Day 4 covers Connections to Writing. Proofreading/editing exercises ferret out misspelled words and a weekly writing prompt gives the student experience in using spelling words in a variety of writing assignments. Extension activities include more word sorting, building new words, identifying words from clues, or hunting for new words with similar spelling patterns (in articles from other subject areas). Assessment (i.e. weekly spelling test) completes the lesson week.
Every sixth lesson is a review of the previous five units. Students are expected to sort a list of words into the various categories that have been studied in the previous weeks with a series of review exercises for each weeks words as well. A nice feature of these review units is the standardized test practice thats included which replicates vocabulary segments from standardized tests. The review lessons conclude with a Writers Workshop that includes grammar, usage, and mechanics and writing process activities.
The Student Edition is a consumable worktext that provides all the Connections exercises. I like the advantage offered by their side column space for writing answers. In a school setting it means the column can be cut off and taken home for study. In a homeschool setting, it means easy correcting and review. The books are colorful with color-coding for review segments. Appendices include some general writing helps, handwriting models, a list of high frequency writing words, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.
The spiral-bound Teacher Editions, while not really needed for answers, are quite helpful. In wraparound format (reduced student pages with answers surrounded by teaching tips and instructions), they provide detailed daily lesson plans for each unit, lots of ideas for differentiated instruction, teaching tips for all levels of English acquisition (ELL), integrated daily word sorts, embedded professional development that includes current research, and integration with Spelling Connections Online. Spelling Center Activities which include the game mats and additional word sort activities are listed for each unit. Suggested sentences for end of week tests are found only in the TEs. The grade level Game Mats, designed for learning centers, are light-weight, laminated fold-over (11" x 17") game "boards" that provide reinforcing games. The three games vary with the grade level but are usually for two players and often require a dry-erase marker. Please note that the Game Mats are available as a separate purchase for the 2012 edition, but are not available for the 2016 edition at this time.
The 2016 edition added a QR code to each weekly lesson. Scanning this code takes the student to an online spelling practice test that includes word repetition, letter-by-letter spelling, and sentences. While this online resource is readily available to all users of the Student Text, other online resources are not. Spelling Connections Online is a website that offers reinforcement activities and eResources Center provides material that was formerly available on a CD-ROM included with the TE, specifically printable word sort cards. Unfortunately, registration through a school is required for both of these so their material is not currently available for homeschool students. While it can be frustrating to know there is material that is unavailable, the program is very robust without the extra activities and frankly, I doubt it will ever be missed.
Spelling Connections is a traditional spelling program emphasizes the interrelationship of spelling with reading, writing, and vocabulary. A valuable program using just the student books, it is full-bodied and multi-faceted when using the TEs. The Game Mats provide an interesting reinforcement option. The series is organized primarily around phonics constructs but while this predominates in the younger grades, other categories are added in the upper levels commonly confused words, frequently misspelled words, Greek and Latin roots, etc. The Kindergarten and First Grade student books differ in appearance from the older levels. The emphasis is largely on phonics, word families, and sounds/letters. The orientation is horizontal with more handwriting practice incorporated. There are no weekly word lists in the K book and it is much smaller 54 pgs. Grade 1 has six words per week; Grade 2 has 10; Grade 3 has 15; and Grades 4-8 have 20. Homeschool Bundles include both the Student and the Teacher Editions. Student books 330 pg, pb; Teacher 382 pg, spiralbound with hard back cover. ~ Janice