What better way to learn to spell (and write) than by copying great authors? Wheeler’s Graded Studies in Great Authors: A Complete Speller by W.H. Wheeler is a fabulous resource for those looking for a more natural way to approach reading, writing, grammar, and spelling — those for whom the stated purpose of the book resonates —
In the preparation of “Graded Studies in Great Authors” the author was guided by the conviction that whatever we wish a child to learn for future use must be attractively presented, and that the child’s mind should be early stored with beautiful and vital truths expressed in choicest language. He first selected a vocabulary which fairly represents the peculiarities of English spelling, and then searched literature for choice sentences which illustrate the use of these words. It is conceded that for a child the best knowledge of a word is to know it as used in a memorable sentence by one of the great masters of expression.
As the child is likely to carry through life what is copied or repeated from school books, the illustrative sentences should present the richest thoughts and choicest gems of expression that can be gathered from literature. In these rambles with the poets the child will hear the carol of the lark, the babbling of the brook, and the music of the sea; he will see the rainbow’s arch, the sumac’s gold and red, and the sunshine and the shadow chasing each other over the billowy fields. The child who is led into the bypaths of nature by these great word painters will learn to look through all “the five windows of the soul”; he will be charmed with the beauty of his surroundings; he will be deeply impressed with the dignity, power, and beauty of our mother tongue, the richest of all languages; he will be inspired to put meaning into his own sentences; he will learn that it is the gift of poetry to hallow every place in which it moves, — to breathe round nature a fragrance more exquisite than the perfume of the rose, and to shed over it a tint more magical than the blush of the morning.
Each lesson begins with a spelling rule — such as “long a as in hate” — that can be copied onto the top of a notebook page. Then follows a full page of sentences from 6 to 9 authors containing italicized words that follow the rule. These sentences can be copied onto the notebook page under the rule. The lesson will also frequently suggest underscoring certain elements (short e sound), writing the sentences from dictation, and having the student use the italicized words in sentences of their own. Frequent reviews are incorporated.
Included are words that sound alike, useful suffixes, useful prefixes, months, and commonly confused words (like accept and except). A few of the lessons include an entire poem or literary selection to be copied, and then written from dictation or memory.
Among the authors featured are Longfellow, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Whittier, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, William Cowper, Shakespeare, and Milton.
Wheeler’s Graded Studies in Great Authors contains 186 lessons. By covering one lesson per week, you can finish the entire book in six years. The first year would take you, for example, through Lesson 31 covering the long and short vowel sounds, including hard and soft c and g, and s as in has. The second year would begin vowel digraphs. The last year would see you covering words which are similar, such as ingenious and ingenuous. Of course, you can work at any pace that is suitable for your child. Be sure your child is comfortable with a pencil before beginning.
It is true that some of the “rules” will be lost on our untrained ears. While “short u as in tub” we know, we might have a hard time distinguishing “the sound of n like ng” (as in thinking or drank). But don’t get hung up on the rules. They make useful guides, if bad taskmasters.
Though copyrighted in 1899, the sentiments of the time ring true today:
Inability to spell correctly is always considered an indication of a lack of culture, although the complaints from our universities, our colleges, our high schools, the press, and the school patrons all indicate that good spelling is rare.
Wheeler’s Graded Studies in Great Authors is in the public domain.