Of course, there is always the problem of how we find the right apps in this area and how we navigate through the huge numbers of phonics/literacy apps available.
I like to use the TOP CHARTS feature within the App store.
When in the App store, I click on the star for the Top charts along the bottom tool bar. I then click the Categories section in the top left of the screen and this allows me to select “EDUCATION”. I can then scroll through the top PAID and FREE and GROSSING apps available within the educational field. I figure if lots of other people have downloaded it, then it must be worthwhile checking out.
Here are some other things I look for:
- I look for apps that have settings that can be adjusted, especially so that I can select “PHONICS” rather than “LETTERS”. This often means that the words will be sounded out, sound by sound, rather than read aloud, letter by letter. For early literacy learners, hearing the sounds in words is much easier and more beneficial for them.
- I also often want to be able to change other settings: Can I use upper case or lower case letters?; Can I have the onscreen letters in a QWERTY order, or ABC order?; Can I make sure letters are dropped in left to right only, and not in any order? All of these features are useful to customise things during your literacy instruction.
- I love apps that let me choose sets of words to work on, e.g. Target words that all have the short ‘a’ sound in it
- I prepare myself that I may not always like the pronunciation and accented voices used within the apps. Apps come from all over the world, and although they may not come with a true-blue, fair-dinkum, beautiful Aussie accent, it does not mean we should discount it as a suitable app. I always use the app with the child and often repeat the words and sounds, to help them be clearer for the child, if necessary. Often we have a laugh at the funny accents and funny words that the app comes up with, and we talk about how people say things in different ways when they come from other countries – it’s all part of the learning!
- Similarly, we are not always going to get the lettering font that we want in the apps – variations on a and y, etc. etc. Again I try to teach the flexibility, so that they can recognise the letter ‘a’ no matter how it looks!
- I look for apps to use, so that the child and I can work together, but I also look for apps that they can play independently at home as follow up. Parents are ALWAYS asking for what apps I would suggest for home, so I always have a list handy for them.
- I also look for apps that have some element of fun or interaction or reward, things that keep the child engaged while learning.
- Once I find an app that I really like from one developer, I will always go and check their ‘Developer Page’, to see if they have released any other apps that I might like.
- I talk to other friends, educators and parents and find out what apps their kids love. Some of my most favourite apps are the ones that people have recommended to me.
- I often try FREE apps, before buying the full version. Most of the apps on my list today are free or inexpensive- we all want a bargain! Ha!
DISCLAIMER: this is a small list of apps I use all the time. I am certain there are hundreds more and lots of really cool ones that I have missed! If you have a favourite phonics app, I sure would like to hear about it, so please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
So, now with all that said, let’s take a look at some of my favourite PHONICS apps.
Playing with letters/sounds/words
Kids like engaging and fun apps and this list of Apps, are simply to allow kids to see letters and hear sounds and words, and have fun getting to learn the alphabet. Most of them have easy touch access and can be used by everyone! I like ones that have interactive features, cool graphics and nice sound.
Early reading/ spelling/ sounding out
There are many apps that allow for early reading and spelling of simple words. Often they target 3 letter (CVC) words and focus on short vowels. I like the apps that have “fair” spelling words, i.e. words that can be sounded out, rather than those “unfair” words that you can’t sound out. All of these apps are great for working on sound to letter links for reading and spelling. Some are easier, as they only have the letters in the words to drop into boxes in the correct order. Others make it a bit harder, as they have the entire alphabet for the child to select the correct letters from. Some of these work on sound identification or filling in a missing sounds. Most of these ones in my list have settings that can be adjusted and allow for phonics (sounding out) rather than just letter names.
Phonics Fun 4 (There are 3 apps in this series – Phonics Fun 4, 5 & 6 – not sure what happened to 1, 2 &3!)
Phonics Genius (A good list of word families to use when generating spelling and reading tasks)
Reading Magic (There are 3 apps in this series – Reading Magic 1, 2 & 3- They are FREE!)
Spelling Magic (There are 3 apps in this series – Spelling Magic 1, 2 & 3- They are FREE!)
I recently discovered these apps and they are NO FRILLS apps (i.e. no bells and whistles) but they are absolutely fantastic for moving kids onto more complex spelling patterns and long vowels. Yup – definitely my new favourites.
Letter recognition and writing
Again there are many apps that allow for learning letter names and their sound, AND also for tracing these letters. I like to suggest these ones to parents to work on at home.
LetterSchool (Thanks Margie, from Queensland!)
Alternative pencil and paper
Sometimes kids just want to do literacy activities with an alternative to pencils and paper, so rather than get out their spelling book, worksheets and pencil, I get out the iPad and let them do their work on it. I use Pages, with Speak Selection on, so they the child can hear their word being spoken back to them to check how it sounds. I also often use Text-to-Speech apps, ones that have been developed as communication tools for people who are not able to speak (e.g. Assistive chat or many more like it), and again this allows the child to spell their words and listen to them back.
Word wizard (using the Movable Alphabet)
There are many Spelling test apps out there, and again they are an alternative way of helping children learn words on a spelling list. These ones allow us to create our own list of words, by typing them in and recording our voice. Kids often have fun putting their own words in and especially recording their voice to create their very own spelling test. The great thing is once the list is saved, the spelling test can be used over and over again, by different students as well! Plus you get data about how many were correct and which words were difficult to spell.
Sight words are important to work on so that children have fast and instant recognition of common words, and this will improve their overall reading fluency. I often call sight words “unfair”, because we can’t always sound them out using the phonics rules we have just worked so hard on learning!
Learning rhyming words is an important early literacy skill. Here are a few apps… but you know what? I need more – Can anyone suggest some great apps for working on rhyme skills for me?
Mixture of Phonics activities
Here are an extra couple of apps that move kids through a series of different phonics activities.
Like anything, keeping your finger on the pulse is important. I check my favourite developers regularly, follow them on Facebook, and look at the Top Charts regularly, all in an effort to find the latest and greatest Phonics and Literacy Apps.
And I really look forward to hearing all of your suggestions too!