The only prerequisite for starting Essentials is basic spoken English. (Essentials can be used with ELL students once they have enough conversational English skills to understand the lessons).
Students do not need to know any phonograms, or be able to read or spell, before starting Essentials lessons. While the lessons include advanced levels of application for use with strong readers or spellers, the Level A spelling words and practice activities are designed with older struggling readers and spellers in mind. Essentials is designed for any student age eight to adult who would like to learn why English words are spelled the way they are and improve his or her reading and spelling skills.
Several foundational skills are needed before starting Essentials Unit 1. If needed, use the ten optional Pre-Lessons in the Essentials 1-7 Teacher's Guide to strengthen these foundational skills - which include knowledge of the sounds of A-Z, phonemic awareness, and handwriting - before starting Unit 1. There is a Placement Test to help you determine the right starting point for each student. If the student needs handwriting instruction, use The Rhythm of Handwriting to teach how to write lowercase A-Z as you move through the Essentials Pre-Lessons, following the suggested schedule and practice ideas provided.
Students are not required to complete Foundations before starting Essentials. Foundations does provide a great introduction, in a style appropriate for young children, to concepts Essentials covers more deeply, and Foundations students often skip the beginning level of application in Essentials and go straight to Level B or Level C spelling words. However, Foundations is not a prerequisite. With students age nine and up, even if they are struggling readers, we always recommend that you begin with Essentials. Essentials was designed to teach these foundational reading and spelling skills in a way that respects the older learner.