Printed from Afterschool Curriculum Choice - Literacy

Curriculum Details for
Zoo-phonics Language Arts Program

Practitioner Expert
Content Expert
Zoo-phonics Language Arts Program
Publication Date: 1984
Grade Level: PreK – 1; Special Education (all ages); ESL (PreK – 3rd grade)
Content Focus: Literacy/Language Arts
Costs: $275.95 for the basic kit, $279 for optional training
The costs shown were accurate at the time of the review. Please check the publisher's web site for current prices.
Developer Contact Information
20950 Ferretti Road
Groveland, CA, 95321
800-622-8104 or 209-962-5030

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Program Description

Design Summary

This school-based curriculum has been adapted for afterschool settings. Zoo-phonics takes a multi-modal approach (using eyes, ears, mouth and body) to teach children how to read, write and spell. The curriculum is targeted toward toddlers through the first grade but can be used as a remedial methodology for upper grades as well. Using animals drawn in the shape of the lowercase letters, Zoo-phonics turns a very abstract, symbolic process into a playful, concrete and memorable process. The curriculum uses the animals as a springboard to reach many other disciplines, including math, art, music, cooking, science, drama, sensory-motor, physical education, and social studies.

Instead of letter names, Zoo-phonics begins with sounds and lowercase letters, which contrasts with most reading programs. Children learn through experiential methods, such as manipulating letters, playing with puppets, and getting out of their seats.  For example, when learning sentence structure, students physically step out the components of a sentence learning capitalization and punctuation at the same time. Children can learn the sounds and shapes of the entire alphabet in days. This curriculum empowers students to be come early readers, spellers and writers through fun activities. Curriculum materials include an easy-to-use CD-ROM, various games, mini books and readers, music, stories, art support (how to draw animals), vowel plush puppets, flash cars, and a video with body movements.

Costs and Staff Training

The basic kit costs $275.95 for each level. The “Zoo-per Kit,” which is the basic kit plus many extras, is $499.95. There are supplemental products that can be purchased that cost between $8.95 and $59.95.  Discounts are available for purchases that include training and more than five basic kits. The developers support schools in obtaining funding.

Training is available but not required and costs $279. The 2-day training sessions, which can qualify for college credit, are hands-on and help instructors become more comfortable with delivering the curriculum.  A toll-free support number is also offered as a resource.

Staff Qualifications

Zoo-phonics can be delivered by anyone: For example, in an afterschool setting, Zoo-phonics has been implemented by teacher’s aides.  Once they become familiar with the material, older students can even teach younger students some of the basic skills. The expert review suggests that instructors who have a solid training and a good grounding in theories and methods of early childhood education would find it easier to teach the curriculum. Practitioner reviews both suggest that instructors should have a basic knowledge of phonics rules.

Standards Alignment

  • National: Zoo-phonics is aligned with Head Start Outcomes Framework and Pre-kindergarten Guidelines. The corresponding standards are listed by each activity. Zoo-phonics supports both ELA and ELD standards.
  • State: Zoo-phonics encourages teachers to map the scope and sequence on to local/state standards to see how Zoo-phonics exceeds those standards.

Research Base

The developers are devoted to keeping up to date with the current research and trends. They base most of their development on research that confirms the effectiveness of pictorial mnemonics and the impact of physical movement and music on memory.

Evaluation Details

Action Research Projects have been completed by those who use Zoo-phonics. The developers hope that a formal evaluation on the effectiveness in comparison with other programs will be completed in the near future.

Overall Strengths/Overall Challenges

  • Pedagogy is reflective of a strong understanding of child language development.
  • The program is multi-sensory, engaging for students, and kid-friendly.
  • Meets the needs of diverse learners.
  • Zoo-phonics both teaches to the whole child and informs the “whole teacher.”
  • Encourages young children to stand up and move around
  • Having students sound out even irregular words can help boost their reading confidence.
  • Parents love it and often want to learn how to use it at home. 
  • Assessments are easy to use and not threatening to children.
  • User-friendly, organized. Not necessary to purchase additional materials to make Zoo-phonics work for your classroom.
  • May be helpful if those who implement the program are organized. 
  • Familiarity with basic phonics rules may also be helpful for the instructor.

Practitioner Expert Review

Practitioner Expert Background

Two practitioners were interviewed about Zoo-phonics.  The first is a kindergarten classroom teacher in a Title 1 school, who started teaching in 1988.  She has taught in her current school for eight years, using Zoo-phonics for four years.  She has also been a Zoo-phonics teacher trainer for two years.  She uses the program successfully every day in the classroom, with a racially and economically diverse group of students of different learning abilities.

The second practitioner has been teaching for 15 years. She currently is a pre-kindergarten classroom teacher and also serves as an early childhood education consultant to other schools.  She started using Zoo-phonics four years ago, and has found it to be incredibly successful with her students, most of whom are from underprivileged backgrounds.  She also has a master’s degree in Administration, Supervision, and Leadership and is working toward her doctorate.


  • Training consisted of a one-day, all-day workshop
  • Both have been satisfied with the company’s customer service.  
  • Most materials are included with the curriculum
  • Initial preparation of materials (laminating cards, etc.) takes an initial investment of time.
  • Preparation before each lesson usually involves deciding what game or activity to play.

Student Engagement

  • Students are enthusiastic about Zoo-phonics, frequently asking: “When are we going to do our animals?”
  • Students seem to be focused and paying attention.
  • Students’ favorite aspects include moving around, singing songs, putting together words. Students often feel successful and motivated to continue.
  • Students love the animals. They spark students’ interest and curiosity not only in the Zoo-phonics curriculum but in learning about the animals themselves.
  • Teaches about the rules of the alphabet by through teaching the relationships between the letters of the alphabet.  This is more appealing to students than talking directly about rules.


Adaptability to instructor needs
  • Can be used with almost any group size – has taught groups of 30 students and 16 students.
  • The order that the signals are taught in is fairly structured, as all students need to be on the same page.  How they are taught is up to the teacher. For example, it can be used as a stand-alone curriculum or as a supplement to other programs.
  • Adaptable. For example, the curriculum can be used differently for each student. Once students learn sounds and letters, they can become independent learners who can take the program in their own direction. 
  • Can be adapted for students of different learning levels
  • Pick and choose activities to use that meet students’ needs.
  • Use to teach cross-curricular material, such as science, music, social studies, etc.
General skills taught
  • Students appear to become more confident in their ability to sound out words and read.
  • Zoo-phonics encourages development of the writing process, by teaching students how to sound out words and write out the letters.
  • Develops team work skills.
  • Develops friendship and relationship skills.
  • Builds self-confidence.
Addressing diverse student needs
  • Teaches to every child, without having to pull in other materials.
  • Content is age-appropriate, playful and enjoyable for students.  They seem to have fun while they are learning.
  • Students of all backgrounds enjoy the curriculum.
  • Effective with different types of learners, especially active students.
  • Has seen it be successful with students who have developmental, speech and hearing disabilities. 
  • Effective with English language learners as well – helps with reading, speech, and language.

Strengths and Challenges

  • Parents love the curriculum, often times they ask to learn the signals, etc. themselves.
  • Assessments are user-friendly and not threatening to children.
  • Teaches sounds and lower case letters first, which seems to be effective.
  • Use of pictures and animals with letters is effective, as students related to this better.  Students learn quickly, and retain what they learned.
  • Incredibly engaging for students, kid-friendly.
  • Meets the needs of diverse learners.
  • Curriculum seems to be well-organized.
  • Familiarity with basic phonics rules may be helpful for the instructor.

Content Expert Review

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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