Learn about Dyslexia in my new book Now YOU See It: The Heart of Dyslexia – by Karin R. Merkle

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The Barton Reading and Spelling System

We use the very well known, and extremely successful system called the Barton Reading and Spelling System for our dyslexia tutoring services. The 10-level Barton Reading and Spelling System trains students in phonemic awareness (the awareness that spoken words are made up of sounds, and that sounds can be added, removed, or changed to make new words), and then brings them through a sequential set of lessons that teach reading and spelling simultaneously and add logic to the reading and spelling of our language.

Students learn how to read and spell without having to guess or memorize. My students can tell you when to use a c, a ck, or a k when spelling a word with the /k/ sound. Also, most people know that there are double letters in the middle of words like kitten and happy. My students can tell you why those words have to have that double letter.

Good news: Once students get the type of teaching that is designed for their brains, they excel.

End of level 4: Students are reading and spelling words such as represent, confident, indignant, and pendulum.

End of Level 5: Unfrequented, noncommissioned, incontestable, preexisting, misconstrue, and overwhelmingly.

End of Level 6: Hypnosis, petroglyphs, outrageous, procrastination, inadequate, and scandalous.

End of Level 9: Attaché, protégé, ricochet, bureau, and grotesque.

End of Level 10: Students are reading and understanding the meaning of words like osteoporosis, thyroidectomy, physiotherapy, phonocardiography and hypercholesterolemia.

The Barton System Program Levels

The following levels do not correspond with grade-level. Every person (no matter what age or how severe/mild the dyslexia) should start at Level 1. By skipping levels or steps in a level, a person misses parts that are very essential and foundational! For a person with average dyslexia and average attention span, who is consistently getting two 50-min lessons per week, it will take about 3 to 4 years to complete all ten levels.

Level 1: Phonemic Awareness

The first book is all about building phonemic awareness.

The kids learn to listen for phonemes and break a variety of words (VC, CV, CVC, VCC, then CCV) into their individual sounds, using colored tiles. They learn that by manipulating the sounds (adding, deleting, or changing sounds), new words are created. Students also learn to listen to and compare the sounds (no letters yet) in two different words, and be able to tell which sound is different (Example: “zat, zan….Is it the first, middle, or last sound that is different?”). Most of the first book is comprised of nonsense words, but toward the end, students are given the sounds of several real words.


They are asked to blend the sounds together and then be able to say them together; fast, like a word. For example, “These tiles say, ‘/m/…/o/…/p/’… Tap each sound (tile), slowly blend them together, and then say it fast like a word.” The last lesson of this book is rhyming with real words. Kids can see that when creating words that rhyme, all you’re doing is taking off the first sound (tile) and putting a different sound in its place.

Level 2: Consonants and Short Vowels

The second book is about matching the sound with the symbol. It teaches the short vowel sounds, the consonants, and the five most common digraphs. The students learn the vowel sounds, and remember them through stories that help them visualize key words. Each lesson begins with a phonemic awareness warm-up, and throughout the book are opportunities for review, practice, and new learning. Students “read” and “spell” sounds, and read and spell both nonsense and real words using tiles and also by writing the words on paper. There’s an activity in this book that helps students start seeing that the nonsense words that they’ve been reading and writing can actually be syllables of longer words (Example: “fam” could be a nonsense word, or it could be the first syllable of words like family or famished).

Dyslexics often see words as a whole piece, and don’t realize that they are made up of phonemes, syllables, blends, etc., so I think that this exercise also helps students see that if they can read and spell 3- or 4-letter words, then they can read and spell long words, by taking them a syllable at a time. As students move into reading sentences, they are also taught how to read with phrasing. I know that good readers naturally read with phrasing, and I knew to tell struggling readers to read in phrases, but I never actually knew HOW to teach kids to read with phrasing until this book!

Level 3: Closed and Unit Syllables

The third book continues to review and practice the first two levels, while also exposing the students to longer one-syllable words. Students learn the difference between a digraph and a blend. They also learn what a closed syllable looks like and how that can help to decode/pronounce words. There is continued review and practice, and students are soon reading and spelling words with up to six sounds in them.

This book includes a few lists of sight words that don’t follow the rules, for students to see and practice. Students continue to read and spell words, sentences, and phrases, and they begin to read stories. Book 3 also teaches several reading and spelling techniques and rules (along with catchy ways to remember them) that help the child know things like:

  • when to double a letter at the end of a word (like floss)
  • how to tell whether a “c” at the beginning of a word is pronounced /k/ or /s/
  • when to spell a /k/ at the beginning of a word with a “c”, and when to use a “k”
  • how to know when to use a “k” or a “ck” to spell /k/ at the end of a word
  • when to use “tch” or “ch”
  • contractions
  • spelling units (pronounced and spelled as a unit, rather than by individual sounds), like ing, ink, all, ang, ong, ung, ank, onk, and unk

Level 4: Syllable Division and Vowel Teams

In Book 4, students learn a new type of syllable: the open syllable (has only one vowel, and the vowel is not closed in at the end), and will learn the four ways to divide a word into its syllables. This helps the student to be able to read and spell words with up to four syllables.

Along with continuing to reinforce what has already been learned, students will learn new “tricks”, such as how to spell /k/ (the sound of K) in the middle of multisyllabic word, how to know when to double a letter in the middle of a word, how to pronounce “ex” in a word (exact vs. extent), how to know which syllable is accented, when to read and spell the schwa sound (short u/uh), like in elephant, and how to spell the long I sound at the end of a word like “multiply”.

Students will also work with compound words and will learn about vowel teams (two vowels, side-by-side, that make one sound): ay, ee, ow, oe, ew, ue, ai, and oa. In this book, students will also learn how to use a Franklin Spelling Ace to check the spelling/definition of those words that don’t have a clear rule (blue or blew). By the end of this book, students are reading and spelling words like volunteer, encroach, hospital, appendix, proclaim, represent, confident, indignant, and pendulum. WOW! I’m learning so much, too!

Level 5: Prefixes and Suffixes

Students will expand their vocabulary and improve their comprehension as they work with basewords, prefixes and suffixes. They will not only learn how to read and spell them; they will learn how to take the meaning of the baseword, plus the meaning of the suffix or prefix, to figure out the word’s meaning.

Suffixes: -s, -es, -ful, -ly, -less, -ness, -ment, -ed, -ing, -er (3 different meanings), -est, -ist, -y, -en, ish, -able, -ity

Prefixes: dis-, in-, un-, non-, mis-, sub-, re-, pre-, inter-, mid-, over, up-

Students will learn how to pronounce the -ed ending on different words such as rained (d sound), pinched (t sound), and loaded (ed sound), and will learn the difference between -ist and –est. They will also learn when to change a y to an i when adding a suffix, how to spell and read -tion and –sion (“shun” as in mission, and “zhun” as in vision).

At the end of this book, students will be reading and spelling words such as inconsistently, disqualified, unfrequented, noncommissioned, incontestable, preexisting, misconstrue, and overwhelmingly.

Level 6–Six Reasons for Silent e

I never knew that there were SIX reasons for silent e! But that is exactly what students learn in this level. Students begin by learning that if there is a silent e in a word, it is ALWAYS there for a reason. Sometimes the silent e is doing two jobs (in the word “ice”, it is making the first vowel long, and it is also making the ‘c’ say “/s/”), and sometimes it is not making the vowel say its name, but is just there because some letters refuse to be at the end (in the word “give”, the letter i is still making its short sound, and the e is there because the v refuses to be at the end of American words).

Students learn when to use ‘ge’ or ‘dge’ for the /j/ sound at the end of words, and they learn how to handle whether or not to drop the silent e when adding suffixes. Students learn more suffixes (-al, -ous, -ize and –ic) and more units (pronounced and spelled as a unit, rather than by individual sounds), like -ice (office), -ace (palace), -age (package), -ine (engine), -ite (opposite), -ate (chocolate) and –ture (picture). Students will learn that words that we adopted from the Greek language do not use the letter f (but ph instead) and that they used the letter y instead of i in their basewords (here is an example of a Greek word: physics).

Students will also learn another syllable type: the “consonant L E” syllable”, and certain rules that go along with that, including when to use “kle” or “cle” (like the words sprinkle and vehicle) and the difference between –ible and –able. This is a long book, but by the end, students are reading and spelling words like hypnosis, petroglyphs, outrageous, procrastination, inadequate, and scandalous.

Level 7–Vowel-R Syllables

Students will learn that when a vowel is followed by the letter R, the vowel will not make its normal sound. Students will learn the last of the seven types of syllables: a vowel followed by the letter R is called a “Vowel-R Syllable”. Students will learn the different sounds of ar, er, ir, or, ur, and ear, depending on what comes after the vowel-r and it is accented or not.

There are many ways of spelling /air/ (pear, pair, parent, parrot, therapy, terrify, and dictionary) and there are many different ways of spelling /er/ (dollar, computer, early, bird, sailor, burn), so this book encourages students to use the spell-checker for these sounds unless they are absolutely certain of the spelling. Students will also learn about the “Bossy W”.

If the letter W or the /w/ sound is followed by a vowel, it can change the sound of the vowel or the vowel-R (want, war, worm, quality, squash, quarter). Three new prefixes are introduced and used in this book: para-, ir-, and trans-. By the end of this book, students are reading and spelling words like quadriceps, courageous, muscularity, irresponsive, interrogate, and irreconcilable.

ALL types of syllables are learned by the end of Level 7:

  • closed syllable (Level 3)
  • unit syllable (Level 3)
  • open syllable (Level 4)
  • vowel-team syllable (Level 4)
  • silent-e syllable (Level 6)
  • consonant-L-E syllable (Level 6)
  • vowel-R syllable (Level 7)

Level 8–Advanced Vowel Teams

The beginning part of Level 8 focuses on the fact that when the letter i followed by a vowel, it is usually not a vowel team and it will say “/ee/” (radio, India, industrial). Students learn that digraphs ci, si, and ti will all say /sh/ when they are followed by a vowel towards the end of a word (musician, patient, controversial). A few more oddities of the letter i are taught, (appreciate, religious) as well as the fact that “tu” says /chew/ (actual).

Advanced vowel teams taught in Level 8: ie, oi, oy, ey, au, aw, oo, ow, ou, ea, igh, augh, eigh, ei, eu

Prefixes taught in Level 8: bi-, tri-, multi-, semi-, anti-, micro-, macro-, co-, auto-, self-, bio-, geo-.

By the end of this book, student is reading and spelling words like neurologist, pasteurize, therapeutic, eucalyptus, perpetual, leukemia, inconspicuous, pharmaceutical, euphoria, microorganism.

Level 9–Influences of Foreign Languages

Much of the English language has been “borrowed” from other languages. In this level, students will learn about very old words and the influences of Greek, French, and other foreign languages.


  • chemistry (ch says /k)
  • physics (ph says /f/, and the letter y in the middle of the word)
  • scene (sc says /s/)
  • psychology (ps says /s/)
  • rhythm (rh says /r/, and a y in the middle)
  • column (mn says /m/)

Very old:

  • wrist (wr says /r/)
  • ghost (gh at the beginning says /g/)
  • knock (kn at the beginning says /n/)
  • gnat, sign (gn says /n/, and if it comes at the end, it makes the preceding vowel long)


  • ski, macaroni (has the letter i at the end)
  • Tahiti, bikini (i, consonant, i pattern at end makes both I’s say
  • /ee/)
  • pasta, pastrami (closed-a says /o/ like olive, plus i at end)
  • trampoline (ine at end says /een/)


  • chef (ch says /sh/)
  • petite, police (silent-e makes the letter i say /ee/)
  • torque (que says /k/)
  • unique (silent e makes the letter I say /ee/, plus que says /k/, so “ique” at end says /eek/)
  • corsage (age at end says /ozh/)
  • towelette, cigarette (-ette suffix means ‘small’)
  • lioness, waitress, princess (-ess suffix means female)
  • café (accented e says /ay/)
  • appliqué (qué says /kay/)
  • depot, Illinois (s and t at the end are silent)
  • chateau (eau at end says /oh/), chateaux (x means plural and says /z/)
  • monologue (/g/ at the end is spelled gue)

By the end of Level 9, students are reading words like hypochondriac, psychiatrist, rhinoceros, rheumatism, amphetamine, critique, grotesque, espionage, communiqué, bureau, ricochet.

Level 10-Greek Words and Latin Roots

The first 5 lessons teach Latin roots and “chameleon prefixes”. Chameleon prefixes change their spelling depending upon the first letter of the root word. An example of a Latin root is tract (tractor, traction, subtract, retract). Another is pulse (impulse, compulsive, repulsive).

The last 5 lessons teach Greek combining forms, which are essentially word parts with specific meanings that can be combined in different ways to make many words. Students learn the meaning of Greek combining forms used in science, math, and social studies.

By the end of this level, students are reading and understanding the meaning of words like ethnohistorian, plutocracy, polyneuritis, gastroenterology, osteoporosis, thyroidectomy, phonocardiography, physiotherapy, and hypercholesterolemia.

Want To Know Even More About The Barton System?

If you’re looking for even more about the Barton System, you’ll find it on Susan Barton’s Website!