Can Riggs Spelling Camps Help Students Who Struggle?

After I used the Riggs Institute’s methods and materials to teach my daughter the basics of written English, I became fascinated with the possibility of helping some of the children in my community, many of whom seemed to be struggling. Since summer was coming on, I decided to follow [Riggs Institute Founder] Myrna McCulloch’s advice to set up a Spelling Camp that would introduce children (and their parents) to the structure of English words and sentences, giving them a crash course in the basics of Riggs.

Since we had a backyard pool at the time, and since I was an avid gardener, I invited children in 2nd grade through high school to come to my home at 8:00 a.m. and stay until early afternoon, and we spent the next four weeks alternating between highly-focused desk work and gardening and swim time. We even added gardening words to the high-frequency, core vocabulary words in the Riggs Institute’s lesson plans whenever that seemed appropriate, making the most of each day.

Working steadily, we arrived at Lesson 45 in the Riggs Institute’s Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking manual by the end of camp, and the children wrote and read a wide variety of correctly-spelled sentences about their garden spaces. Everyone was happy and proud.

Since the way I organized our days meant that working super hard did not prevent us from also having a great deal of fun together, I would probably recommend this kind of summer camp to everyone (skills plus art and recreation). But not everyone can organize a full-day summer camp, and a full day camp, and the Riggs program can be used effectively in a variety of settings.

If you need to differentiate instruction for older children with mixed ability levels, you can use the Riggs Institute’s Summer Spelling Camp model as an intervention program to address the needs of struggling students.

You can use this model to create After-School Spelling and Writing Camps for children who are struggling.

Spelling Camps can take place every Saturday or Sunday to meet the needs of adults who wish to improve their basic spelling, reading, and writing skills.

And I have heard of the Spelling Camp model being used in hospitals, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities to address the educational needs of those who are suffering.

Regardless of what you call the Riggs Spelling Camp, 60 hours of hands-on learning is what makes it so powerful. These hours introduce students to the basic elements of the Riggs Institute’s highly effective Language Arts program, which teaches students how to study the structure of English words and sentences in a focused and satisfying way. The name is not important.

Whether you choose to call it a Super Summer Spelling Camp, a Riggs Spelling Camp, a Spelling and Reading Camp, a Summer Academy, an English Language Detective Camp, a Riggs Jumpstart Program, a Riggs Intervention Program, an After-School Spelling and Reading Camp, a Spelling and Writing Boot Camp, or something else entirely, it’s basically a crash course to get students on track.

As they build personal reference notebooks to illustrate key concepts, campers participate in brain based learning activities and work with a variety of graphic organizers, all of which they create for themselves to help them study the elements of written English. Here, for example, are some of the organizers (and concepts) that might be introduced in a Spelling Camp for older students.

Week 1

  • Manuscript printing review
  • Spelling patterns 1 – 55
  • Consonant and Vowel Chart
  • Spellings of “er” Chart
  • Spelling Patterns 32 – 55 Chart
  • Intro to encoding
  • Intro to marking system
  • Silent Final e Chart
  • Plural Chart
  • Core vocabulary words 1 – 50 (encoding, decoding, blending, analysis, and fluency practice)

Week 2

  • Long Vowel Chart
  • Noun Chart
  • Verb Chart
  • Adverb Chart
  • Sentence Diagram Chart (introduction to syntax study)
  • Sentence writing
  • Core vocabulary words 51-100

Week 3

  • Spelling Patterns 56 – 71 Chart
  • Spellings of the Sound “sh” Chart
  • The ei and ie Spelling Chart
  • Prefix Chart
  • Suffix Chart
  • Adjective Chart
  • Adding Vowel Suffixes Chart
  • Core vocab words 101 - 150

Week 4

  • Contractions Chart
  • Punctuation Chart
  • Properties of Nouns Chart
  • Parsing Nouns and Pronouns Chart
  • Adjective Chart
  • Paragraph outlines
  • Greek and Latin Roots 1-10
  • Core vocabulary words 151-200

Although it’s not the norm, said Myrna McCulloch (founder of the Riggs Institute), "Riggs teachers have been known to bring the reading comprehension scores of 13- and 14-year-olds up four grade levels in these 60-hour camps," and the feedback we get from parents is that all children benefit from them. McCulloch said "We think the outstanding success rate is due to the method, and also due to the intensive, uninterrupted work on nothing but explicitly taught complete phonetics, spelling (with rules) and the rudiments of English grammar and syntax for four full weeks.”

All students succeed in these camps, because multi-sensory instruction addresses all learning styles (tactile/kinesthetic, auditory, verbal, and visual) as students focus on learning:

In four short weeks campers are helped enormously as they learn the commonly used English spelling patterns (simultaneously establishing phonemic and graphemic awareness), clean up their penmanship habits, learn the encoding process of at least 150 words, come to see that reliable rules govern the spelling of most English words, and master a diacritical marking system that will function as a lifetime memory aid.

Teachers and parents tell us that these camps give children a foundation upon which to continue learning and a basis for understanding their reading and spelling problems, infusing them with hope and inspiring them to the further study that will lead to a long term cure.

What Parents Say about the Riggs Method:

"My child was frustrated with school and would call himself stupid. Now, thanks to Riggs, he knows he can succeed." Debra, Beaverton, OR

"We have observed a radical improvement in our son's handwriting, spelling, reading, and academic self-confidence. The Riggs method is a no-nonsense systematic approach to literacy." Mark, Portland, OR

"My son was behind his peers; it was affecting his behavior. Now, thanks to Riggs, he is more confident, does his homework, and has a better attitude." Cindy

"The program includes the use of all learning styles. It has dramatic impact on the learner." Danae Miller, Aloha, OR

"Within two weeks, Austin's letter formation improved dramatically and his 'dyslexia' had all but disappeared. Over the next six months his improvement was steady. It wasn't until we started the Riggs program and taught him the phonograms and spelling rules that he made any real progress." K. M., Portland, OR

"The multi-sensory and logical approach really appealed to my child, who is strong in math, but very weak in reading and spelling." Cathy, Portland, OR

"If you've lost all hope and are sick of the labels, go to Riggs." Peggy Haskins, Portland, OR

"Riggs has proven to be the most effective spelling and reading program we have tried." Tammarie, Portland, OR

What Parents Say about Riggs Spelling Camps:

I recall one special case of a "learning disabled" adult, age 49.  The son of a physician and five siblings all of whom had advanced degrees, this man came to us at grade one levels in reading; he could not write or spell at all. In six weeks (in a summer spelling camp with children, ages 7 and up), he was reading the newspaper fluently and understanding every word. In the 4th week, he was doing so well he enrolled in a teacher training seminar in which we were training 41 professional teachers.  At the end of the class he addressed them to tell of his experiences as an adult illiterate.  He began by saying, "This summer I have learned that letters have sounds.  I never knew that before." - Myrna McCulloch, founder of the Riggs Institute

My [15-Year-old Special Ed. Student] reluctantly attended Spelling Camp. Within six months her reading scores jumped from 4th to 8th grade level. Her spelling scores increased from 3rd to 6th grade level. I have invested money in countless programs to help my daughter overcome her learning disabilities and this program has offered the most success with a small investment. My daughter is thrilled she attended Spelling Camp. For the first time in ten years, I now believe that she will graduate from high school with at least a 12th grade reading level. D.M.

Our adopted daughter came to America eight months ago with no English skills. She excelled amazingly with this program learning pure sounds. She now receives 100% on most spelling tests and is making amazing progress in learning to read. I think learning pure sounds and phonograms is a huge stepping stone when coming from another language. V.K.

My 5th Grade daughter went from a 3rd grade spelling level to a 5th grade level in 4 weeks at Spelling Camp. Her reading also improved! This school year she has received 100% on most of her spelling tests; she has studied and prepared for them on her own! Her other grades have also improved since she can now sound out words that before she was just guessing at. She has gained new confidence and has done the best in school that she has ever done. It was worth all the sacrifice, money, and time we put into it and more. This past year at Thanksgiving she wrote, "I am thankful for spelling camp." Thank you! A. K.

My 4th Grade son wasn't having trouble in school. I just wanted something educational with good structure for him to do during the summer break. The Spelling Camp program and teaching style were very engaging and he started learning new things right away. It was a real bonus for me to be allowed and encouraged to attend the classes with him—I learned a lot and can now continue helping him. It was a great experience for him -he even wants to go back again this summer! B.A.

"Yesterday during our 15 minute reading time, suddenly, [my daughter] was reading like some other child! Something is definitely clicking in the oral reading confidence department. For the first time, I could truly praise her for excellent reading. I'm thrilled and so is she." Ruth, Agawam, MA

"Great program the way you have it with fun and learning." Lynn, W. Springfield, MA

"My son has been blessed by Mrs. Heady's dedication to the program and her students... Not just I but his father has noticed an incredible improvement. The program, to me, is priceless and your methods of teaching more so." Yolanda, Chicopee, MA

"The clues you gave helped L. figure out things better, even with her dyslexia... I definitely see improvement in all of my kids." Maryanne, Holyoke, MA

“All three children are finding spelling easier than before... J's handwriting is neat for the first time... Lately, they have been writing letters to their friend for fun... they have been improving in following directions... J has been struggling for so long, it's great to see him finally getting it... We still have a long way to go but ... the children feel comfortable in your classes and have learned a lot." Pat, Westfield, MA

After I used the Riggs Institute’s materials to create a Summer Spelling Camp for some of the struggling children in my neighborhood, I started helping other parents and teachers who were interested in using this highly-effective, inexpensive model to help the struggling students in their communities. Twenty years later, I’m still doing that. And the children continue to learn.

Spelling Camps that use the Riggs Institute’s methods and materials are far more than just spelling camps. Like regular classrooms that are organized by teachers who use the Riggs Institute’s Language Arts program, they are places where children go to become confident and competent readers; they are places where children go to acquire an understanding of English spelling patterns (and the rules by which they are governed); they are places where children go to study the structure of English words and sentences; and they are places where children go to get their hope back.

For more information about the Riggs Institute’s Spelling Camps, see and

To see an outline of an intense camp that includes less grammar and syntax study but more structured writing lessons (a perfect boot camp for older students who are transferring to a classical Riggs school), click here:


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