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Author Julie Crimmins-Crocker with her teaching resource books. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Author intent on spelling out success

When it comes to spelling and reading, Thames author Julie Crimmins-Crocker is the most passionate person around.

The former teacher and deputy principal spent her career developing strategies to help her students with the fundamental learning skills, culminating in a series of Learn to Spell puzzle resource books for teachers.

“A particular passion of mine was spelling and literacy,” she said. “Every subject is easier when you can read – science, maths, everything.”

Julie said she initially designed the resources for use in her own classroom.

“[When you work with children] you know what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

Puzzles proved to be an excellent way to motivate her students to learn, she said.

“You like them to really get enthused about reading. And spelling can be tedious for some students, you do it out of context. This was a fun way of learning.”

She said the puzzles added relatable context, by using real sentences and examples. The flexible nature of the worksheets allowed her to cater to each child’s individual needs without a lot of extra work for herself. One child could be given an accompanying word
list or have some starter words filled out, while another group would be able to work collaboratively to help each other read the clues, for example.

“They can tell if they’ve got the answer right or wrong and then they can mark it themselves as well,” she said. “Anecdotally, I’d say that it did improve their spelling and their reading, and their motivation, their engagement.”

Each book is aimed at an age ranging from four to eleven, although they also are useful for older learners, including adults. Julie based her resources around the method of phonics – teaching the relationship between the written letters and their sounds.

“I think this idea of teaching phonics systematically but in context is the way to go.”

She published her first few books with Folens Publishing, which is now Harper-Collins, while living in England. She later emigrated to New Zealand, and now she is retired, hopes to gain some interest for the newly modernised series here in New Zealand schools.

The Learn to Spell series has been designed with teachers’ needs in mind, with spiral-bound spines for easier photocopying, and PDFs versions available, she said.

“So these are really user-friendly for teachers,” she said. “And that’s why I did it first of all, to make my life easier, to help them learn and to have fun doing it.”

Julie said she gets a great deal of enjoyment out of knowing others have used and loved her books.

“It’s neat to help the students, help the teachers, for them to enjoy doing it.”

The Learn to Spell books are available in two series called Cross Spell Crosswords – Phonics and spelling and Practice with Puzzles – Phonics and spelling. They are available from Carson’s Bookshop in Thames, or from

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Journalism funded by NZ on Air.