Parents and teachers of young literacy-learners are faced with a confusopoly of available computer-based phonic games – software and apps – for teaching/learning early literacy skills.
Some of them are really great, but lots more are pretty awful, and more likely to confuse learners than help them. The ratio seems to be about one good game for every two or three worth avoiding.
Before you can choose phonic games that will help beginners learn literacy, you have to know what you're looking for, and what to avoid. Plus, you have to have time to check them all out properly, which we're all a bit short on these days.
New, big list of quality phonic games
I have been going through all the early phonics apps available for the iPad (sorry, I don't have an Android device) as well as free phonic games on the internet, looking for good stuff for my clients and schools to use, and have found some really very nice ones, many of them free.
I'm now listing anything good I find under this site's Phonics Resources menu, and if I can get my hands on an Android I will list their apps there too.
The lists are now getting a bit out of hand (nice problem to have!), so I will reorganise them shortly, separating out the ones for really tiny kids from the ones that teach vowel spellings and other, harder stuff for older learners.
I will also go back through the list and highlight the ones that are suitable for older, catch-up or adult learners. Thanks for your patience, and in the meantime I hope these lists reduce the amount of sifting you have to do yourself.
At present I really only have time to list, not review in detail, all the good software that's out there, though I did write this earlier post about free apps, and this one about free internet games).
Guidelines for choosing good phonic games for yourself
Here are a few suggestions of what to look for in phonic games for computers and tablets, and things to avoid:
- Avoid anything that says letter names, rather than sounds. See this earlier blog post for why.
- Avoid anything that teaches "sight words" or otherwise encourages children to memorise words as whole chunks, rather than building them from sounds and letters. Here's another earlier blog post about why.
- Avoid anything that contains sounds that are not crisp, for example sounding out the word "bat' out as "buh", "a", tuh" (not "b" "a" "t", with "t' being a soft, crisp, voiceless sound). "Buh" plus "a" plus "tuh" gives you "batter". The following sounds should all be soft, crisp and voiceless, with no vowel sounds hanging off the back of them: "p", "t", "k" (or "c" or "q"), "th" as in thin, "f", "s", "sh", "ch" and "h". There is a video on YouTube about this, which is from the UK so sounds a bit posh to Australians, and is organised by letter not sound so doubles up on some sounds, but it's still probably useful to watch if you're not sure what I'm talking about here.
- Avoid initial-sound-only phonics – anything that runs along "a is for apple, aardvark, aeroplane, autumn, apron, asleep, any, Aesop and aikido" lines. Think of how long and complex some of these words are, and how many different first sounds they contain. Every word on this list starts with a different sound. This sort of software runs the risk of teaching learners that the relationship between letters and sounds is at best weak, and at worst random, which is the exact opposite of what they need to learn.
- Look for software that systematically teaches sounds and their spellings, rather than just the "sounds of letters". We want learners to get to know all 44 sounds and their main spellings, not just one sound for each of the 26 letters. Beginners should start off with just a few sounds/letters, practice reading little words made out of them and building words out of them themselves. Then more sounds and/or letters/spellings should be introduced.
- Look for software that teaches children to blend and segment individual sounds, not just work with larger chunks like "str" or "bl" or "ung". This earlier post explains why this applies to consonants, and the same logic applies to rimes. It won't harm your child to learn blends and rimes as chunks, but if they can pull them completely apart into sounds, they'll have a more compact, flexible, reusable system.
- I hope it goes without saying that you should avoid anything that looks worthy but boring, unless you're prepared to sit with your child and provide praise and rewards to get them to keep using it.
Please share your good phonic game finds too
Please let me know about any really great synthetic phonics games for computers or tablets which are not currently on my lists, and I'll add them. Then we'll all know.