Levels and Student Placement

With accurate and complete instruction about the structure of written English, Essentials provides the tools students need for a lifetime of reading and spelling success!

The Flexibility of Three Levels

The three levels of instruction within Essentials make it easy to customize and differentiate to meet the needs of each student.

In each lesson, separate sections for levels A, B, and C allow you to provide application and practice appropriate for students' current reading and spelling skill.

Offer the right level of challenge, teach different ability levels simultaneously, and use the curriculum for multiple years, enabling students to master the concepts and go deeper as they apply what they learn to increasingly advanced words!

See Placement Notes for different ages, settings, and ability levels

What parts of the lesson are taught to everyone?

Since the language concepts Essentials teaches apply to 98% of the words in the English language, the spelling and language concepts in each lesson can be taught and practiced with all students. Sections taught to every level include:
  • New Phonograms
  • Phonogram practice
  • Spelling Rules
  • Spelling Journal activities (using level-specific spelling words)
  • Exploring Sounds
  • Games
  • Grammar concepts
  • Most review activities

Take a tour of an Essentials lesson!

What parts of the lesson are divided by level?

Spelling Lists. Differentiated instruction begins when students practice applying the phonograms and spelling rules in new words using the A, B, or C spelling lists. Each list provides 15 words for the teacher to use in Spelling Analysis, guiding and supporting the students as they practice the language concepts they are learning and discover how they work in specific words.

Spelling Practice. For spelling games and practice activities, simply choose words from the lists your student or class has learned.

Grammar Practice. After teaching the core content in each grammar lesson together, use the three levels of activities to apply and practice the concepts with the spelling words each student has learned.

Dictation. Students practice both spelling and composition rules as they write their words in the context of phrases and sentences. Separate dictation phrases for each level allow students to practice with the spelling words they have learned.

Vocabulary. Separate vocabulary instruction is provided for each of the three levels, using concepts in the words from each level's spelling list.

In the Vocabulary section, the three levels also enable you to provide more challenging content for advanced students. Level C vocabulary instruction, designed for students already reading and spelling well, introduces over a hundred Greek and Latin roots!

How do you reuse the curriculum?

After completing all 30 lessons at levels A or B, repeat the curriculum up one level, starting from Lesson 1. This provides students the opportunity to review the core concepts for deeper mastery while applying them to more advanced spelling words and learning new vocabulary concepts. Move as quickly as needed through all parts that are review (which will include significant portions of Part 1 and Part 3 of each lesson); you will likely not need to spend as much time here the second time through. Focus on mastering the new spelling words in part 2 and the new vocabulary concepts in Part 4. If the student starts at Level A, you will be able to use Essentials up to three times.

Grades and Settings: Placement Notes

Essentials is a mastery-based rather than grade-based curriculum. It includes both foundational skills of how written English works and vital linguistic concepts that are unfamiliar to many college-educated adults. So it may be taught to any student age 8 to adult who wants to become a stronger speller and reader, learn more about the structure of our written language, or discover the reasons for English spellings. A Placement Test provides guidance on where to start.

Some specific notes on using Essentials in different settings:

Grades 2-5 Language Arts

Teach Essentials in grades 2-5 as your spelling, reading skills, grammar, basic composition, and vocabulary curriculum. Use the curriculum a second or even a third time in subsequent grades with the advanced levels if students started in Level A or B.

Placement within the levels should always be based on the Placement Test initially and adjusted as needed depending on what works well for the student. Level A is typically appropriate for students reading and spelling at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. Level B is typically a good fit for students at a 3rd or 4th grade level. Level C is typically a good fit for 5th grade.

A suggested five-day lesson breakdown is included in the lessons. However, for many elementary-age students a slower pace, with the lessons divided into smaller chunks, may be more effective. See Scheduling Tips for Essentials.

Grades 6-8 Language Arts

Middle school students who have not studied Essentials previously will benefit greatly from studying the curriculum as an English linguistics and Greek and Latin roots program, typically using level C. Studying Essentials will also reinforce and deepen reading skills, spelling, and basic grammar.

Level C instruction includes not only the 75 basic phonograms and 31 spelling rules that explain the spelling of 98% of English words, but also over a hundred Greek and Latin roots and other morphemes as well as 46 advanced phonograms.

Struggling Readers Age 8 to Adult

Essentials is a powerful and efficient remedial reading program because it provides all the tools needed to sound out 98% of the words in English with meaningful practice that builds fluency and mastery. Activities that build critical thinking skills, vocabulary, and grammar further strengthen comprehension, and a carefully designed progression allows students to build success on success, gaining confidence as well as skill.

While all sections of the lessons, and especially Spelling Analysis, should be completed with struggling readers, the spelling and grammar sections should be taught with an eye to strengthening reading fluency. Mastery in these areas should not be a priority with a developing reader.

For struggling readers, we strongly recommend adding the optional Essentials Reader, a high-interest, phonics-controlled reading comprehension supplement for older students. The Reader is scheduled as an optional activity in Day 4 of each Essentials lesson.

Typically, level A will be the best placement for struggling readers. It may also be helpful to teach some or all of the Spelling Analysis words from the level B list for extra practice. Spelling Analysis is one of the most powerful tools for strengthening reading fluency and decoding skills.

Struggling Spellers Age 8 to Adult

In Essentials, struggling spellers gain the tools to understand why English words are spelled the way they are. They gain fluency in applying the phonograms and rules through a variety of learning activities and games. They also discover how a word's root often shapes the way it is written and how the meaning of a word can give clues about its spelling. Essentials’ grammar and vocabulary sections provide meaningful spelling practice by incorporating each level’s spelling words while expanding students' understanding of how written English works.

The Placement Test (found at the beginning of the first Teacher's Guide) is the most effective way to determine the best starting placement for a struggling speller. Once instruction is underway, you can move between the levels as needed to provide the right level of challenge.

ELL Students

With its logical, complete, and systematic instruction, Essentials is an excellent program for the reading and spelling component of English instruction. Because students learn why words are spelled the way they are rather than memorizing the spelling and pronunciation of thousands of individual words, second language students using Essentials have a far more efficient pathway to success in reading and writing in English and understanding their options for reading or writing a new word. The systematic vocabulary and grammar instruction in Essentials is also very helpful for English language learners, and the lessons can also help to improve pronunciation as students gain a more accurate understanding of English sounds.

Any ELL student who has basic conversational English sufficient to understand the lessons can complete Essentials, starting at whatever level is indicated on the Placement Test.

The Placement Test

The Placement Test in the Essentials 1-7 Teacher's Guide (or the Essentials Teacher's Guide Vol. 1, for those of you with an earlier printing) helps you decide where to start with each student.

This short placement guide, which you can copy for multiple students, enables you to assess students' existing skills, clarify whether it will be helpful to teach the Pre-Lessons before starting Lesson 1, and determine whether the Level A, B, or C spelling lists will be the best initial placement in the lessons.

Click the image to see the Placement Test and a sample Pre-Lesson.

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