Teaching Intensive Phonics

by | Intensive Phonics | 2 comments

I was wondering if you would post this so I could get some opinions on the different programs that use the Spalding method. I have the book The Writing Road to Reading by Romalda Spalding. I also have TATRAS by Frank Rogers. I am interested in knowing if anyone has used Phonics for Reading and Spelling by Bonnie Dettmer or Reading Works by Jay Patterson. I am wanting something to help me understand and implement The Writing Road to Reading with daily lesson plans. Thanks! Kim

Responses from our readers — please note, there are different opinions on the details of teaching intensive phonics:

I had purchased The Writing Road to Reading initially when my oldest was in Kindergarten. We dove in with two feet finding myself drowning. I stumbled upon Wanda Sanseri’s Teaching Reading at Home and School. I bought it and found my struggling learner (and overtaxed mom) enjoying reading lessons and absorbing material. Wanda wrote her program to go along with The Writing Road to Reading initially. Then she revamped and revised it to come up with another set of teachers books called Spell to Write and Read and The Wise Guide. Spell to Write and Read teaches the phonograms and the spelling rules applied to reading with lots of suggestions for grammar usage. The Wise Guide is similar to Spalding’s usage of the Ayres’ list. Dawn in IL
This post is in regards to opinions of various vertical phonics programs. I am currently using TATRAS with my 2nd grade daughter who has many symptoms of dyslexia. I started using it about a year ago. It is working very well for her. I have found TATRAS to be very simple to implement and that it works in much the same way as Spalding. My cousin is a teacher in a school district near Houston, TX. Their district has implemented Spalding. When we compared the two, we found that the approach was very similar. The main difference I saw was that she had to attend a week of workshops in order to be trained to use Spalding. I just read the manual and called the author Frank Rogers to see how to adapt it to my particular student. For more information regarding phonics instruction and various programs you might look at Don Potter’s web site. He has reviewed MANY phonics programs and has some interesting articles. In my opinion, Mr. Rogers is a key benefit to the TATRAS program. He is so helpful and friendly gives you all the details you need to teach reading. Besides, his price can’t be beat.

Mary from Texas
Here are our resources for phonics instruction:

TATRAS, supplemented by
Recipes for Reading by Nina Traub (for review and presenting phonograms in a new way)
Blend Phonics approach on the Don Potter site


McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader
Various ABEKA readers
Bob Books
Poetry of all kinds, especially Robert Louis Stevenson and from old Childcraft Encylopedia

Jammie in TX
I did a lot of research on Spalding phonics starting last spring. I ended up ordering Reading Works. It was very interesting and informative. When I had completed Reading Works, I decided that I did not want to use it. I had really wanted help in devising lesson plans, and Reading Works provides that help. However, once I started sketching out the lesson plans Reading Works provided, I kept thinking of ways to do The Writing Road to Reading that I thought would work better for me and my children. So, Reading Works gave me a nice kick in the pants (well, the back of the skirt, I guess) to make me just start doing it and the correct course as I went. I have found that I can’t plan too far in advance with my younger children. Sometimes we just have to stay on one topic for a while. Reading Works was helpful in helping me see which phonograms or concepts needed to be taught before a particular spelling list was begun. However, the dictation method scripted in Reading Works differs from that described in the Spalding materials. Clearly some people think the difference isn’t significant, but I concluded that it was. The Writing Road to Reading isn’t the most user-friendly text, to be sure. However, I have found it to be usable and to become more so as I continue. I did buy the Sanseri materials after all. It actually seems more real Spalding to me than Reading Works. I am using Spell to Write and Read as a reference text while going through the Spalding book. I am adding some reference pages that are described in Spell to Write and Read to those done in The Writing Road to Reading, and I prefer the marking system in Spell to Write and Read, and it uses the Spalding dictation procedure. Maybe in a subsequent year I’ll go through the Wise Guide lists themselves.

Heather in New England
Total Reading, Alpha-Phonics by Sam Blumenfeld, and Riggs Reading are also based on The Writing Road to Reading. There are probably more. The Writing Road to Reading was based on Dr. Orton’s research. He began the program to be used in his reading clinic. Mrs. Spalding was the teacher who worked with him. Dr. Amy Dillingham was a clinical technician who also worked with Dr. Orton. There is a Dillingham-Orton method also. I am a reading teacher with 180 hours in Spalding. Mrs. Spalding was my friend. I teach workshops to homeschoolers and their parents and to teachers, too. This summer I taught a teachers’ group. I have all the old Spalding books. These are the ones from which I teach. This teachers group had purchased the new Spalding book, so I got one also. The Spalding people have amplified the book so much that it has become an exhaustive study in teaching reading. Most people do not need or have any use for an exhaustive study. The teachers in my summer group looked at the old books and sighed and replied, “This looks so much simpler than the new book. It (the new book) looks so complicated.” This is what so many reading technicians do to reading to the point that teaching reading becomes a priesthood that only they can teach. Reading is quite simple. My suggestion is to get old or used copies of The Writing Road to Reading and use that. It is still the best.

Gail Busby
Review of TATRAS by Frank Rogers
reviewed by Lorrie Flem of TEACH Magazine

Taking the Phobia out of Phonics and Language Arts

Let me preface this with two comments. First, almost any program will work if you use it. But most importantly, know that the best way to insure they become excellent readers is how much they are read to when they are young. Curling up with them and reading will stir up a desire in them that can only be quenched by them learning to read. There is no better motivator than your reading to them!

TATRAS is an acronym for Teach America To Read and Spell. When you talk to this “Mr. Rogers” you meet a jewel of a person who you immediately know actively cares if you are successful in teaching reading and spelling. His enthusiasm is contagious! This curriculum is all you need to begin learning vertical phonics with your children. Vertical phonics is learning all the sounds that each phonogram makes at the outset rather than at some future point bringing up the fact that ‘a’ also says its name and the “ah” sound. Isn’t this logical? You learn that ‘a’ says three sounds from the beginning so that when decoding words, if the short sound of a doesn’t make sense then you try the second most common sound for ‘a.’ Through timed drills, improvement is rejoiced in daily and within one week my six-year-old son, Drew was sounding out words. You would have thought he hit a home run he was so tickled! My four-year-old Dessaly is happily working on the first set of 8 phonograms and two-year-old, Kiley already knows the sounds of ‘a.’ In order to make this a family affair we also took Mr. Rogers up on his challenge that TATRAS was a remedial spelling program. My oldest two (12 and 9) have been working on timed drills learning the sounds of 34 single-sound phonograms. I was amazed and pleased that I could see almost immediate improvement in their spelling.

If you are interested in trying TATRAS without purchasing the complete program they have a beginning set for 1 year of kindergarten which comes with what they call the “Penny Primer” and Dessaly calls with pride, her reading book. This lets you get your feet wet without diving in.

Mr. Rogers is just a phone call away. No one else has ever offered anything close to this support in all my years of homeschooling! I equate this program to Levi’s versus Guess jeans. Here is what you need to learn to read and spell in an enjoyable, time-efficient manner. No fancy frills to raise the price. My daddy’s business card said, Price + Quality = Value and TATRAS gives you more quality for your dollar than any other phonics program out there!
Regarding the discussion about phonics programs: I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my 5-year-old daughter with great success. It is not exciting, but it works, and it works rather quickly. By the time we reached Lesson 60 she was reading well enough to stop the lessons and start reading on her own. I’ve always thought the strength of this program is the early blending. They do not learn all the phonogram and all the sounds first for many weeks before learning to put words and sentences together. I sometimes feel timid recommending this book because it is definitely not the full-scale, all-the-rules, in-depth phonics program like the Spalding method, for example. However, in our experience it’s 1) very easy on mom, 2) very short lessons, 3) inexpensive, 4) good review and retention, 5) child-friendly stories, 6) we’re done inside 3-4 months, and best of all 7) leads to early fluency and joy of reading! When we finish 100 EZ Lessons I let ’em loose with easy readers for a few months to build fluency, and then go back with some phonogram review just to pick up the more unusual phonics, and we’ve also used Explode the Code books to supplement around that time.

Reference your query about the difference between the TATRAS and Alpha-Phonics reading programs.

I can understand why you are perplexed in looking for a reading program! Every mother looking for a reading program should understand that there are four ways that phonics can be taught: Vertical Phonics, Horizontal Phonics, Linguistic Phonics, and Special Symbol Phonics.

To help perplexed mothers TATRAS has prepared a sheet explaining the difference between these four methods, the names of some of the more popular companies that use each and a brief discussion of each method. These are listed in the free four-page TATRAS brochure, “Choose a Phonics Method, Then a Reading Program.” Alpha-Phonics is not basically Horizontal phonics, it is Linguistic Phonics. Linguistic Phonics program are based strongly on rhyming words and word families. The brochure makes the following comments on Linguistic Phonics type programs.

1. Word lists for linguistic reading programs require the use of words that fit into word families. This criteria results in long core word lists and the inclusion of many infrequently used words.
2. Because of this the student is deprived of being able to focus on the Most Often Occurring (MOO) words. For reading and spelling, students should learn to instantly recognize MOO words at the earliest possible time. Limiting the word list being studied to the very essential words allows slower children to quickly start reading text. (Schlafly’s First Reader tosses in about 200 children’s names to further dilute her long word list.)
3. The use of columns of family words lets student use short term memory instead of acquiring the phonics habit i.e. they get the first word on the list and the rest are no challenge. The phonics habit, the ability to go from left to right and sound a word out, is a crucial skill.
4. Not learning the phonograms in isolation may also hinder the child from naturally learning the spelling of words in the course of his reading. (Spelling is enhanced by instantly knowing phonograms.)

I might add at as a postscript that typically Linguistic type programs are boring, boring, boring. (Have you read stuff like, “Sam, the ram took the ham and clams and scrammed.”)

For further information you may get this brochure by asking TATRAS for the “tan sheet.” It also has a chart showing the TATRAS: Six Steps of Reading Progression. The importance of this chart is to stress that no matter what phonics program a child uses, when that program is finished he must read out loud to an adult for a fixed period each school day until he becomes competent. And then he must be required, until he starts reading for pleasure, to read a library book for a fixed period each day. All reasonably able children must get to the point where they read for pleasure. The speed with which a child starts reading for pleasure will depend on the effectiveness of his reading program, the child’s ability and the parent’s motivational ability.

R’spy, Frank Rogers, TATRAS
I would heartily agree with Laurie’s recommendation of the TATRAS program. I have used it for my two oldest, 8 and just 5. They are both very strong readers and the youngest is an outstanding speller. They both loved the Penny Primer and took off into reading chapter books very soon after completing the first 8 phonograms. It is so fun to see them reading for pleasure and reading to their younger brother and sister.



  1. Merry in IL

    Another program people might want to check out is All About Spelling. It’s based on Orton Gillingham, so it has a lot of similarities with Spalding. The lessons are all clearly laid out, so it’s really easy to use. My son was really struggling with spelling and after a couple of weeks told me this was the most effective thing we had ever used. It’s helped both of my kids so much! Their reading scores went up too.

  2. Marilee Senior

    I used Wordy Worm Reading to teach my granddaughter how to read. It teaches the Spaulding phonograms in a very fun, playful manner. Set to song and rhyme, they were easy for me to learn and showed me fun way to teach them while we were out and about. It was amazing for me to learn the logic and order behind written words, rather than see learning to read as confusing and full of exceptions. It gave me the confidence an ability to make sure that my granddaughter not only learn to read, but understand the code behind reading. We put on our detective hats and discovered the code together. When she used the ditties to sound our a particularly long word, with a twinkle in her eye and delight in her voice, she said, “I think I can read anything”.

    I absolutely loved it and so did she.



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