What is Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write?

Giving a Friday spelling test does not guarantee that students will become good spellers. Learning the letters of the alphabet does not mean that students will become good readers. Underlining nouns in sentences does not mean that students know what a noun is. Writing daily in journals does not automatically develop good writers.

So what does?... Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write!

Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write, an integrated and connected approach for teaching, learning, and using English, develops a knowledge and skill base for success in reading and writing.

General Overview

Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write integrate instruction and practice in phonemic awareness, phonetics, penmanship, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and reading.

Although designed for kindergarten through fourth grade, this approach is modified easily for any grade or age, preschool through adult.

Johnny Can Spell & Write is structured by its systematic sequence of information and daily application and review strategies.

Instruction, application, and practice of language skills integrate easily with core curriculum subjects when using Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write.

Instruction moves from whole to parts to whole using both analysis and synthesis. Repetition, rehearsal, and review build for automaticity that is so necessary for success in reading and writing. Instructional strategies provide for multi-sensory and learning styles. Higher order thinking skills and problem solving strategies develop as students reason through possible options related to the English code.

Teacher instructional materials consist of nongraded, nonconsumable teacher support materials: a teacher guides, lesson planners, phonogram flash cards, and audio CDs.

Student materials consist of notebook, paper, and pencils. It is recommended that students also have a dictionary and thesaurus. There are no consumables to purchase year after year and no worksheets to copy lesson after lesson.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness, a critical first step in learning to read and write, is not the same as phonics. In fact, phonemic awareness, the awareness of individual sounds and sound groupings of a language, can be taught or practiced with one's eyes closed. The kindergarten level of Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write offers many phonemic awareness activities. Phonemic awareness alone does not move a student into reading and writing. Instruction must move students into phonetics (phonics). The Johnny Can Spell & Write way provides a strong link between phonemic awareness and phonetics. Thus, even students with low phonemic awareness experience a high level of success.


Johnny Can Spell & Johnny Can Write provides daily practice of phonetics through independent and isolated practice of phonograms and through word analysis. Students are presented the entire phonetic code of English during the first twelve weeks of the school year (at a slower pace in kindergarten): 26 letters, 70 common phonograms, 44 sounds. The information is presented in frequency order so students are always learning the most common elements first.

Students learn to associate letters of the alphabet either singly or in multi-letter combinations with the 44 speech sounds. Practices provide opportunity to focus on the articulation and discrimination of these sounds. They learn how to use the phonograms to write the words they say and hear or to read the words they see in print.

The design of the direct instruction is both explicit and systematic. Instructional strategies incorporate multi-sensory practice, involve daily repetition, and provide for learning styles. Initial presentation and practice of the phonograms is strongly linked with penmanship instruction


Johnny Can Spell & Write supports a renewed focus on the teaching and practice of penmanship. In our workshops, teachers are trained to teach handwriting addressing correct habits of posture as well as letter formation. They are shown how to teach students to slant the paper, hold the pencils, and sit while writing. They are shown very simple ways to teach letter formation. These techniques and strategies can easily be applied to any manuscript style. Thus, implementation of JCSpell/Write does not require a school to change its adopted manuscript style.

Platt Rogers Spencer, author of Spencerian Penmanship, 1874, wrote, "Writing is a secondary power of speech, and they who cannot write are in part dumb. Scrawls that cannot be read may be compared to talking that cannot be understood; and writing difficult to decipher, to stammering speech."


Spelling words are selected from the Ayres List, a high-frequency word list. that begins with easy words and moves progressively to more difficult words. Teachers may customize the spelling list to include content vocabularies from literature, science, math, or social studies. A very valuable part of the Johnny Can Spell & Write daily lesson is a process called Think to Spell. Students apply the phonograms they are learning and practice good handwriting as they spell and read words.

Think to Spell, a unique word analysis strategy, supports syllabication, segmentation and identification of sounds, association of sound to symbol-sound, and application of spelling rules. During this process, students, engaged in the encoding process, write words from oral analysis. Teachers help direct student thinking so students will accurately identify syllables, phonograms, rules, and record correct spelling of the word.

The spelling words are coded to visually aid students as they Think to Spell. Then as students are engaged in the decoding process, they direct the teacher as he/she writes the word on the board. Students check their work against the board and practice standard pronunciation of the word. After this explicit introduction of a spelling word in both oral and written form, instruction moves into basic vocabulary activities.


Instruction in word meaning and usage flows naturally as students use spelling words in oral and written sentences. The spelling words become springboards to engage students in activities and discussions that expand vocabulary. When appropriate, homophones, antonyms, and synonyms for a given word are examined.

Spelling words are inflected, e.g., nouns are made plural, verbs receive -ing and -ed endings. The study of morphemes -- roots and affixes -- through word families and the use of a dictionary and thesaurus serve as a basis for vocabulary expansion. For example, word families are webbed around a root and multi-syllable words are dismantled to identify their morphemes and meanings.


Instructional strategies address multi-sensory and learning styles as students act out parts of speech, rules of grammar, and functions of sentence elements. Parsing, an old strategy with a new twist, provides for quick and easy grammar reviews. Diagramming is used as a visual map during sentence analysis and composition. A question guide enables students to effectively elaborate sentences through the appropriate use of modifiers and through structural changes in the sentence.


Does Johnny Can Spell & Write align with reading research? The answer is yes. Consider the key elements of effective reading instruction as identified by reading research.

Teach phonemic awareness directly at an early age
Research shows that the "lack of phonemic awareness seems to be a major obstacle to reading acquisition. Children who are not phonemically aware are not able to segment words and syllables into phonemes. . . . Foorman et al. found that the greatest gains occurred when the explicit instruction moved into teaching the sound-spelling relationships concurrently with the instruction in phonemic awareness.

With Johnny Can Spell / Write, students are daily engaged in phonemic awareness tasks as they learn and use sound-spelling correspondences.

Teach children how to sound out words
Research quite clearly shows that overemphasizing prediction from context for word recognition can be counterproductive, possibly delaying reading acquisition. . . . Recent eye movement research indicates that good readers do not sample the text and predict to recognize words efficiently, but rather see every single letter on the page. . . . [T]eaching children to use context and prediction as strategies for word recognition resulted in greater numbers of reading disabilities than instruction that taught children to use their sound-spelling knowledge as the primary strategy for word recognition.

With Johnny Can Spell / Write, students are taught how to sound out words -- for both reading and spelling. Think to Spell, the word analysis process used in Johnny Can Spell, uses both encoding and decoding processes to write a word.

Teach decoding skills and comprehension skills separately
[The] mixture of decoding and comprehension instruction in the same instructional activity is clearly less effective, even when the decoding instruction is fairly structured. The inferiority of instructional activities with mixed goals (embedded phonics) has been demonstrated in several studies.

With Johnny Can Spell, spelling and vocabulary studies are used to develop decoding skills. Teachers are free to use interesting, authentic literature to develop comprehension.

Teach comprehension with interesting stories read by the teacher until reading is fluent
During early stages of reading, beginning readers benefit from stories that the teacher reads to them. Reading to children plays an important role in building their oral language comprehension, which ultimately affects their reading comprehension. Such story activities should be structured to build comprehension skills rather than decoding skills.

With Johnny Can Spell / Write, decoding skills are taught and practiced with isolated words during spelling and vocabulary studies. Teachers are free to use interesting, authentic literature to develop comprehension.