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Curriculum Details for
Zoo-phonics Language Arts Program

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Content Expert Reviewer

Katharine Adams
Katharine Adams is currently a doctoral student in Applied Child Development at Tufts University. She has taught at the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts for over a decade. She has worked on the development and design of literacy curricula including RAVE-O and the Benchmark Word Detectives Program. She has also developed and implemented an afterschool and summer program for at-risk readers. In addition, Katharine has taught in elementary schools and holds a Masters in teaching with an emphasis in special needs.


  • At the pre-school age level, students are taught to recognize the shapes and produce the sounds of the letters first, then taught lower case letters. Initial, middle, and end sounds of words, letter formation, and supported spelling practice when appropriate are also taught.
  • The kindergarten curriculum teaches the same skills as the pre-school level, followed by more complex phonics, such as sounding out and blending.  High frequency words are also taught.
  • The authors argue that by learning the lowercase letters first, children are more able to recognize letters in most of the print around them, and don’t need to “unlearn” the capital letters when they get to first grade.
  • However, lower case letters may be harder for children to form, so they may be reluctant to practice writing names and familiar objects.  
  • The emphasis on sounds of letter names is likely helpful to children.


Academic Skills
  • Identifying letters and letter sounds
  • Sounding out and blending words to read stories
  • Vocabulary development
  • Phonemic awareness
Study Skills
  • Zoo-phonics helps students learn to organize their day and be responsible for the classroom.
Non-Academic Skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Social communication
  • Health and grooming
  • Psycho-motor skills

Alignment to Standards

Included with the manuals are CDs that include the “Head Start Outcomes Framework” and “State Pre-kindergarten Guidelines.” The corresponding standards are listed by each activity.  The authors encourage teachers to use these guidelines as a checklist for the students in their classes to see how Zoo-phonics supports all areas of the curriculum. Zoophonics supports both ELA and ELD standards.


  • Manuals include a basic alphabet assessment to be administered at the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout the rest of the year.
  • These tests are intended to inform the teacher when everyone has mastered a skill and is ready to move on.
  • There are more extensive assessments available for purchase from the company.


  • The curriculum is highly structured, with elaborate sequencing and script. 
  • Content is almost entirely defined by the curriculum, including what letters and sounds to teach and how to teach them.  For example: “The animals, drawn in the shape of the lowercase letters, help children remember the shapes and sounds of the letter. The alliterative names of the animals (e.g., ellie elephant) teach the sound.”
  • This scope and sequence is referred to as “The Essences of Zoo-phonics,” and seem to be reasonable goals and objectives for an introductory phonological program.

Addressing Diverse Student Needs

  • The curriculum encourages teachers to respond to individual needs while guiding them in how to implement instruction. 
  • The emphasis on critical thinking engages more advanced children.
  • The learning centers in preschool curriculum and the rotating groups time in the kindergarten curriculum are well suited to meeting individual needs.
Developmental level
  • At the pre-school level, the developers are marrying early academic skills and discovery play.
  • The curriculum seems to be well-suited to the developmental needs of children.
  • At the kindergarten and first grade level, the curriculum moves a bit faster so that students may be able to do some simple reading and spelling by the end of kindergarten, with more individual attention to spelling, reading, and writing in the first grade. This seems developmentally appropriate.
Learning Styles Addressed
  • Movement/Spatial Learning: Students make the shape of the letters using animals, sound of the letters, and signal with the body, helping students integrate the abstraction of the letters with the concrete reality of their body.
  • Interpersonal Learning: Each lesson includes a “valuing lesson,” including time to talk about what matters to them, and to allow time for children to put their feelings into words.
  • Artistic Learning: The authors encourage art supplies in the writing area and incorporate music into the lessons.
  • Zoo-phonics began in a self-contained special needs classroom, and still seems to be an effective tool for students with autism, mental retardation, and both mental and learning disorders.
  • The authors chose to use animals because they are equally engaging to children and don’t have a cultural bias.
  • The curriculum strongly encourages parent involvement, and the manual provides instructions on how to talk to parents. Families of all backgrounds should feel comfortable with this curriculum.
  • There is also a Spanish Zoo-phonics.  It is intended to give a strong phonological Spanish foundation to Spanish-speaking children or to teach Spanish to non-Spanish speaking children.

Strengths and Challenges

Strongest Features
  • Pedagogy is reflective of a strong understanding of child language development.
  • The program is multi-sensory.
  • Zoo-phonics both teaches to the whole child and informs the “whole teacher,” for example, the curriculum suggests extensive children’s literature to go along with the lessons, and provide mini-lessons for the teacher on language and reading development.
  • Encourages young children get up and move.
  • Students sound out irregular words, helping to boost their reading confidence
  • May be helpful if those who implement the program are organized.

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