Ruly Bookshelf: Spelling Works by Jim Halverson

Ruly Bookshelf: Spelling Works by Jim Halverson
Spelling Works by Jim Halverson at
Spelling Works by Jim Halverson at

It was perfect timing when I decided to write about our homeschooling efforts that I received an offer to review the book Spelling Works by Jim Halverson. Most homeschooling parents would love help with spelling strategies for kids.

Mr. Halverson is an experienced teacher and author who clearly has a passion for spelling and the English language. He retired from teaching at St. Ann’s School in New York, an elite private school with a competitive admissions process.

Spelling Works is comprised of 12 lessons. Each lesson has an overview, some introductory material that can be used to design a lesson plan, clever worksheet exercises to practice the underlying concept and a review maze. This book is a great way to inject more fun and interest into the often mundane task of spelling.

Most of us learn spelling by memorizing endless lists of words. Jim Halverson’s approach is different. He attempts to demystify spelling and condense it to a series of logical rules. Some are familiar to us, like “i before e except after c” and some are more obscure. Once you learn Halverson’s rules, you should be able to spell with greater confidence and accuracy.

A few of the rules and ideas that were new to me were the following. I have photographed small sections of the book so that you can also get a sense of the typography and great child-friendly caricatures he includes:

Did you know? If a singular word already ends in -s, like princess, Phyliss, Dallas and Moses, some writers omit the s oafter the apostropher when making a possessive.  For example: Dallas' streets are usually wide.  It is usually claearer and never wrong, however, to double the final s sound: Dallas's streets are usually wide.
Excerpt from Spelling Works by Jim Halverson.

There is a single English word that means correct spelling -- the word orthography.  It's first part--ortho--comes from the Greek word orthos, which means straight or rights.  The last part--graphy--comes from the Greek graphos, something written.  Cacography, the opposite of orthography, is an infrequently used word meaning incorrect spelling.
Excerpt from Spelling Works by Jim Halverson.

Spelling Works is designed for those in Grade 5 and above (approximately 10 and up). However, this book is helpful as a reference manual for younger grades as well. Children begin learning the first aspects of spelling like syllables and suffixes in kindergarten and Halverson’s lessons provide excellent material to work with. I would agree that 10 or so is probably the best age to start using the worksheets and mazes, however. While the concepts can be applied to younger children, much of the vocabulary used is probably going to be too challenging.

This book would also be a great book for adults who struggle with spelling to work through.  In his press release, Halverson writes: “People may accept a few improperly spelled words in email that carries the words ‘Sent from my iPhone’, but if they catch errors repeatedly, it can have a serious effect on professional performance and may even be career threatening.”

Finally, you get the impression from reading the book that Jim Halverson is just a decent human being. I loved this quote from his introduction:

“As a teacher and writer, I would hope that Spelling Works helps students through the seemingly endless thickets of English orthography. Ironically, perhaps, I also hope that teachers refrain from making their students think that good writing depends on perfect spelling. From Jane Austen to John Keats to F. Scott Fitzgerald, some of our greatest writers were poor spellers. The first task of English teachers is to make writing enjoyable and fulfilling, not drudgery, for if students think about writing in a positive way, then they will want to become better spellers.”

–Jim Halverson, Spelling Works

I am using this book as a reference now for our homeschooling efforts and would encourage anyone who needs some spelling help to give it a try.  I also hope we may see more English curricula in the future from Mr. Halverson!

Have any great spelling strategies for kids? Please share in the comments.

*I received a complimentary review copy of Spelling Works.