LITHBTH Educational Services
Getting Started 101

This page will give you the TOP TEN TIPS for getting started with SWR.


1. Make sure you have all the materials you need.

You need all five items in the Core Teacher's Kit and learning logs for you, the teacher, and for your student(s). That's it! We have other supplemental materials that will aid you on your journey and make your teaching fun and lively. In fact, we have some time- and money-saving suggestions based on students' skill levels.

The following materials are on my "must have" list for teaching this program. If you don't have these yet, then you will want to order them asap. For the items we carry, see the Materials pages for a more complete explanation.

* a good pencil sharpener

* regular lead pencils OR mechanical pencils

* red pencils Ticonderoga, Erasable Checking Pencils

* a good eraser Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers

* a 6" ruler, one for each student and teacher

* a writing journal for each K-1 child and a story journal for any student with a flair for illustrating his writing

* regular white notebook paper or a spiral notebook with regular notebook paper for students grades 2 and above

* lined writing paper for K/1 students (I prefer the "Red Baseline Ruled Newsprint" for grade 3. This has a nice, narrow rule which is best for all beginning writers [more on this later]. You can order this from Lakeshore. A ream of this paper costs around $6 and is a LOT of paper.)

Following are those materials that I would suggest if your budget allows. Save money by purchasing your materials in one of our specially priced Combo Packages.

Cursive First
The Clock Stamp
The New England Primer of 1777
McCall-Harby Primary Lessons for Reading Comprehension (K-1)
McCall-Crabbs Tests of Reading Comprehension & Answer Key (2nd grade and above)
The Alpha List
One of our SWR DVDs
Phonogram Bingo
Quick Response Sleeve Set
Phonogram Fun Packet

[Back to Top]

2. Prepare your materials.

  • Cut the cards first; then laminate. Your phonogram and rule cards come in sheets with four cards to a page. You'll want to cut or tear these perforated pages apart and laminate them for added durability. When you cut apart the carts after laminating them, you open the seal intended to keep dirt and liquids out.

  • Before laminating the Spelling Rule cards, look at the back of the cover sheet in this packet. Follow the instructions for adding red highlights to some of the cards. Use a sharp red pencil for the effect you want. If you've already laminated your cards, simply use a fine point permanent red marker over the laminate.

  • Can't laminate anything right now? Don't let this bog you down. Just cut or tear your cards apart, add the red highlights to the rule cards, and move on. This is not a major issue, but it's a step you'll want to get to when you have time.

  • Tab your Teacher Texts Put self-adhesive divider tabs at appropriate places on teacher texts:

    for Spell to Write and Read

      Scope & Sequence, p. 13
      Think to Spell, p. 79
      Diagnostic Spelling Test, p. 197
      Sample Log Pages, p. 207
      Phonograms & Markings, p. 221
      Rules & Prefixes, p. 223

    for The WISE Guide

      Sections A-C, p. 1
      Sections D-F, p. 9
      Sections G-H, p. 17
      Section I, p. 25
      one tab for each of the following: Sections J...U, pp. 35, 53, 69, 83, 99, 117, 131, 147, 161, 175, 189, 201
      Sections V-Z, p. 213
      Helps, p. 239

[Back to Top]

3. Know what you need to read and what can wait.

  • Put aside Wise Guide for now; you'll start in Spell to Write and Read.

  • Don't try to read the entire SWR book! Many people get bogged down thinking they have to read the entire book before starting to teach their students. Doing this will only overwhelm you. The SWR book is designed for you to read a little and then practice that. Read a little more and then do that. This models the way we will teach it to our students.

  • How much you need to read at the beginning will depend entirely on the age of your students:
    • Preschool or Kindergarten: Steps 1-6
    • Beginning reader in 1st or 2nd grades: Steps 1-12
    • Advanced student 3rd grade or above: Steps 1-12

  • Read, don't skim! We live in a quick-fix society. Everything has to be fast, or we move on to the next and newest thing. We're losing the art of contemplation and deeper thought. SWR is loaded with amazing instruction and tips. Merely skim through, and you'll be confused. You're not reading everything, so take some time to focus on carefully reading one step at a time.

[Back to Top]

4. Get the big picture and then work through the baby steps.

Take a look at An SWR Road Map, a file we have on our web site which will help you understand a bit better about the layout of the SWR book, what needs your attention at the beginning, and what you can wait to review later.

The steps in SWR are arranged in sequential order. As you follow along with each step, you are setting a frame of reference that prepares you for what comes next. Once a concept is in play, it will repeat as needed depending on the word list. Ours is not a "learn today or suffer forever" approach. Take a deep breath. Relax. If you miss something today, you will have a chance to pick it up again later.

[Back to Top]

5. Understand the two levels of instruction.

SWR divides students into two levels of instruction. A beginning student is one who is new to the journey of learning to read and write (Kindergarten through 2nd grade). He will use the Primary Learning Log for building his own spelling text during the year. On the other hand, an advanced student (third grade through adult) uses the Black Learning Log and is more likely to be working at a higher level in the Wise Spelling List. Other than which log to use, the main differences are the (1) the vocabulary level increases with each Wise List, and (2) the depth of instruction on the Reference Pages is greater for the black log.

With SWR a teacher can jump right into the program and teach at a level appropriate for her students. There is no need to start an older student at the beginning of the Wise List with easy words; the concepts will be covered when it is appropriate for that student.

The SWR book is arranged sequentially but also so that all the instructions pertaining to a topic are in one place. This is where knowing your student's level is imperative. If you're working with a Kindergarten beginning reader, you can ignore everything that addresses an advanced student. Just skip it! Don't try to read or understand everything at once. Your learning will grow in increments just like that of your students! When you're ready to deal with a concept at a deeper level, you'll know right where to come back later. If you're starting with an advanced student only, then you'll want to read the sections pertaining to both levels.

6. Build your own learning log.

There have been questions as to what this is, how to do it, and why you should do it at all. First, let me say that unless you were taught with this method and built these notebooks as a student, YOU NEED TO BUILD ONE! (Yes, I'm speaking loudly and emphatically.) The Sanseri method is different than other reading/spelling programs on the market. If you have not had a good, solid phonics background, this way of thinking is different than what you've done in the past. You can read the manuals, you can watch someone do it, you can even watch a video, but unless you actually dig in and do it yourself, you will not master it. It is said that we learn best by doing. You cannot learn to play the piano by reading a music book; you have to touch the keys. Likewise, the absolute best way to learn to teach SWR is to build your own Master Teacher's Log.

When I took my first seminar, Wanda encouraged us to build our own Master Teacher's Log, and much of the class was spent starting this. I went home, promptly put mine on the shelf, and bumbled my way through the program making tons of extra work for myself because I hadn't done my homework. At my second seminar, Wanda again recommended the idea of continuing to build the Master Teacher's Log at home. This time I decided to follow through with the suggestion. It took me several evenings and some concentration, but when I had finished through Section Z, I had a solid grasp of the program. I was able to understand and explain things that had seemed strange at first but which now seemed very simple to me.

As a rule, you should always be about 2-3 weeks ahead of where your students are in the program. This will give you the chance to think through and process challenging words, new rules, and new Reference Pages, without having to do so in front of your student(s) while teaching. If you are starting with a non-reader at Section A, then you will have the luxury of learning along with your student, and you will be able to keep a good pace. However, if you're starting with an older student who already has some understanding of the language and can read, then you had better get moving!

Which log should you use? Start building the log that matches your student's log.

  • When teaching a K-2 student, begin with a Primary Learning Log and aim to complete Sections A-Q with the related Reference Pages at the primary level. When you have finished that, you can start a Black Learning Log, starting with List P-1 and finishing to List Z-2, while also completing the Reference Pages at the advanced level. You'll then have two Master Logs which will include the entire Wise List. (This will take 5-6 years to accomplish.)

  • When teaching a 3rd grader or above only, start a Black Learning Log where your student will start in the Wise List, completing the Reference Pages at the advanced level, and continue through List Z-2.

  • When teaching a K-2 and an advanced student, start by working through the preliminary steps for your youngest student, building your Primary Master Log through List G. Then go back and re-read Steps #1-11 with your advanced student in mind, starting your Black Master Log where he will start in the Wise List. Focus on one level at a time while you read. Now that our Black Learning Log is formatted for you, working between the two books is easier than ever for the teacher. Continue to build in both books, always keeping ahead of your students.

Completing your Master Teacher's Log is your goal regardless of when you start teaching. Hear me on this. I am a busy homeschooling mom with three kids of my own. I understand what it is like not having much time. I understand having laundry piling up, dishes in the sink, and afternoon swim and piano lessons. I also understand that I find time for the things that I want to do or that are priorities for me. The way I completed my log the first time was to set aside time each evening once the children were in bed to work on it. Maybe for you this will be just 30 minutes; maybe you have more time. Whatever you can set aside, do it consistently. Make the appointment with your books and stick to it. I sat at my kitchen table with a cup of nice tea in my prettiest china (always helps me kick into the industrious gear), and I'd build my log. In all honesty, it does not take long and can actually be fun!

When you're adding words from The WISE Guide, first look at the words on the left side of each two-page spread and notice where the syllable breaks are. Write them in your log with those syllable breaks. Then, figure out on your own how to mark the words. Next, look at the right side of the two-page spread to verify if you marked the words accurately. You will learn much better if you actively think rather than just passively copy. I believe the absolute best way to complete your book would be to find a partner with whom you can maintain accountability and work together in completing various sections. Write down your questions as you go through the lists and brainstorm with your partner answers to your questions. When you are both are stumped by a question, ask on the Yahoo Group.

Remember that the whole idea of the Master Teacher's Log is for you to understand the process. This means that you only need to build one log at each level you're teaching, not one each year. Also, you don't need to finish your log to get started. Just keep ahead of your students and you'll be doing great!

[Back to Top]

7. Practice the dictation process before teaching your students.

Part of what makes SWR so effective is the spelling dictation process. The teacher dictates each spelling word syllable-by-syllable, phonogram sound-by-phonogram sound while the student hears, says, writes, and sees the words. All of the learning modalities are engaged. The student then dictates the word back to the teacher.

It's essential that you learn to correctly teach this process. If you have one of the newer copies of SWR (©2009), there is a one-page overview of this process on the inside of the back cover. If you don't have a copy of this Spelling Dictation outline in your book, you can download it from our web site. We also have a fantastic bookmark, which puts the dictation outline at your fingertips while teaching.

As you build your own log, always staying ahead of where your students are in the program, be sure to practice dictating the words. Use a mirror and watch yourself. Practice forming the fingergrams with your hands, always making sure you're teaching from the student's perspective of left to right. Not sure about how to teach a word? Ask about it on the SWR Yahoo Group before you need to teach it. Before long you will be a pro at the spelling dictation, and your students will be actively involved and learning.

8. Get started using SWR, not just reading about it.

All too often we hear about teachers who are faithfully reading and studying, but their fear or their perfectionism keeps them from jumping in. Be prepared to learn along with your students and to make a few mistakes along the way. SWR is very forgiving! You cannot bless your children if you don't start.

Starting with a K-1 Student:
Download and read our handout Developmental Considerations to determine if your youngster is ready to start SWR, or whether you need to do some more reading readiness with him. When he is demonstrating readiness and interest, work your way step by step through the Scope & Sequence Steps #1-11.
  • Step #1 - For the teacher
  • Step #2 - An important place to spend time with a beginner.
  • Step #3 - An on-going step; start a read aloud habit if you haven't already.
  • Step #4 - Skip this for a K-1 student.
  • Step #5 & #6 - These steps go together when teaching a beginner the phonograms and penmanship; start Cursive First here if you're using it.
  • Step #7 - Being able to write the first few numerals is necessary for our marking system; Cursive First includes tips and helps.
  • Step #8 - This is a quick step when using the Primary Learning Log.
  • Step #9 - This may be taught in two lessons to a young student. If the student's penmanship is not ready for this page, teach this on the board with the student dialoguing with you rather than writing in his book. Come back later and re-teach this with the student entering it in his log. NEVER write this for the student in his log.
  • Step #10 - Start teaching the first multiletter phonograms and get ready to transition to the Wise Guide. Use Cursive First for penmanship practice as you teach the multiletter phonograms.
  • Step #11 - Skip this step for a K-1 student; he will start at Wise List A.
  • Step #12 - Start spelling with Wise List A in Wise Guide.
  • Continue - Follow the instructions in the Wise Guide for the rest of your teaching; it will refer you back to SWR when necessary and guide you through the rest of the steps.

Starting with an Advanced Student
Work your way through Steps #1-11 every year with your student.
  • Step #1 - For the teacher
  • Step #2 - Don't skip this step if you're new to SWR. Some remedial reading students need the skills covered right here.
  • Step #3 - An on-going step; start a read aloud habit if you haven't already.
  • Step #4 - Read carefully and complete the appropriate assessments (see "Diagnostic Test" below).
  • Step #5 - Introduce the A-Z phonograms quickly. Mastery will come with review.
  • Step #6 - If the student needs to work on penmanship, this will be a separate subject. Cursive First can help you transition a student to cursive.
  • Step #7 - Work on numeral writing only if necessary for this student.
  • Step #8 - The new formatted black log makes this step easy!
  • Step #9 - Teach this page to the student, understanding that it is an introduction to ideas and concepts that will be mastered as you work your way through the Wise List.
  • Step #10 - Review all the multiletter phonograms to find out which ones your student knows and which will need more work. Add them all to the Reference Page. Use Cursive First for penmanship practice as you teach the multiletter phonograms. Mastery will come with daily review.
  • Step #11 - Work with the information you gathered at Step #4 to determine your starting place in the Wise List. See SWR pg 64-65.
  • Before starting Step #12 - Look at the preliminaries for your starting Wise List. Are there any other Reference Pages you need to teach before you can teach the words? Teach those now.
  • Step #12 - Start teaching spelling in Wise Guide at your starting point.
  • Continue - Follow the instructions in Wise Guide for the rest of your teaching. It will refer you back to SWR when necessary and guide you through the rest of the steps.

The Diagnostic Spelling Test is part of Step #4. This is to be administered to a student who has some reading and writing skills. If you're starting with a non-reader, you will wait to do this until The WISE Guide instructs you to do so. However, you'll administer a test to your reading student(s) if:

  1. you're starting the program for the very first time,
  2. you've used the program before, but are starting a new year, and
  3. you've been using the program and want a progress report on how your student is doing

Keep in mind there are two distinct pieces of information this test will give you:

  1. Grade Level = total number correct (look across from this number in the first column to the second column)
  2. Spelling Mastery = first error word (look across from this number in the first column to the third column)
    1. where to start the Spelling List each year after working through Steps #1-11
    2. on a monthly basis, where each child needs review and is missing concepts

Consider each half of the chart to have a first, second and third column. Please note, you will NEVER read a number in the first column and look across at both the second and third columns! There are two different scores to be obtained from the test. You want (1) the total correct and (2) the number of the first error. These are two different measures.

See the instructions for administering the Diagnostic Tests (see SWR pp 196-198). Encourage your student's attempts, but never let on that a word has been misspelled. Do not give hints or dictate in a "think to spell" manner. Does the child know the word or not? That's the question.

Many years of standardized testing in both the classroom and in the speech pathology setting has taught me a good rule for these kinds of tests: be sure to administer enough words on the test to exhaust the student's capabilities. A common error people make is to stop administering the test once the student makes a mistake or two. If the student is cooperative, try to get 10 consecutive errors before stopping the test. This will give you useful information about rules not yet mastered and what may need to be focused on in review. Of course, if your student melts into a sea of tears because she is making mistakes (they know, don't they), then don't push it. But try the best you can to encourage your student to give it her best shot. I tell the kids that the test gives me a peak into their brains. I actually want to see what they do with words they don't know. This tells me a lot of useful information about what they DO understand about the written code we call English and what I need to teach. You know your students best, so if you have a good sample of errors, you can call it quits. That means that when you start, you don't know how many words you'll be dictating. Let the kids know that you'll let them know when you're getting close to being done.

For information on how to understand and interpret the information you gather from this test, read the Understand the Dx Test handout on this site.

[Back to Top]

9. Join our SWR Yahoo Group.

We have a fantastic online support group available. If you're not already a member, you're missing out. The author, Endorsed Trainers, and other users of the program answer questions regularly. No question is too small or insignificant. Sign up to receive emails from the group either daily (Digest), every time someone posts (Individual), or not at all (No Email). You have to be a member of the group and signed in to access any of our group files or other features, so sign up today. Once you're a member, start in our "Getting Started" folder in the group files for more help and tips.

10. Look for or host a seminar in your area.

Is a seminar required for teaching SWR? No. Many teachers have been either unable to attend a live class and have done a fine job by reading the books and diving right in, especially with the help of our Yahoo Group. However, if you're a hands-on learner or you want to experience the program in action, then try to attend a live class where an Endorsed and fully experienced Trainer guides you through the foundational steps, models the teaching process, and answers your questions as you go.

The Back Home Industries web site and the SWR Yahoo Group lists Basic and Advanced seminars as they are scheduled in the U.S. and Canada, most of which occur during the summer months. If you want LITHBTH to send you notices of seminars throughout the year, sign up for our email mailing list.

If you want to be sure that there is a seminar available in your area, consider hosting one yourself. Without a seminar hostess and a facility, we cannot bring SWR to your neighborhood. See our web site for more information about how to host a seminar.

We are in the process of translating the life Basic Seminar into the online environment so that SWR teachers can get this invaluable training from the comfort of their own homes. Information will go out on our email mailing list as soon as these mini-classes are available. You can also find out more by checking our Virtual Office web page.