Reading Eggs – Fast Phonics

24 Replies

Reading Eggs is a very popular early literacy program for young children, but to date I have not been much of a fan. Its logic has always seemed too Whole Language/Balanced Literacy. I didn’t include it in my Top Early Literacy Apps list earlier this year.

I was therefore pretty excited to hear that there is now a synthetic phonics version of Reading Eggs called Fast Phonics, and that it includes decodable books. I signed up for their 30-day trial (the sign-in options were “parent” or “teacher” so I tossed a coin and got “parent”), hoping to be able to enthusiastically recommend it.

It doesn’t seem to be available as an iPad app yet, so I logged in from my desktop computer. They have some good information about phonics here, though I wondered about the caption “ABC Reading Eggs uses a synthetic phonics method to teach children how to read” on what looks like an analytic/onset-rime phonics game: a “stamp” bowling ball with lanes labeled “ink”, “ump” and “amp”.

They also say there are “some words that cannot be learned by breaking them into smaller parts. Children must learn them by sight, and these words are known as sight words,” whereas we learnt from David Kilpatrick last year that all words, including irregular ones, are stored in long-term memory for instant retrieval by linking their spoken form (sounds and meanings) to their written form (letter sequences).

Reading Eggs Fast Phonics activities for littlies start with both upper and lower case letter S on the screen and say “Letter Ess” and then the sound /s/. The letters then animate into cartoon snakes, and the words “Super snake and silly snake” are spoken and appear on the screen. Then there are snowballs with various letters on them and you’re meant to throw the one marked “s” into a pile under the “silly snake”, to make a Yeti say “yeah”. It’s actually more fun to get it wrong, as then the Yeti cops it.

The same kind of thing happens for letter A, but the sentence is “Alligator ate an apple”. I’m not sure whether the authors know that “ate” starts with a different sound from “alligator” and “apple”. There’s a “find the sound” activity starting off with lower case embedded picture mnemonics, and fading the mnemonics over time, and introducing more letters. However, the mnemonics don’t seem to come back if you make mistakes. Their embedded picture mnemonic for letter X is “X-ray” (a sound-spelling relationship otherwise only found in the words “X-chromosome” and “X-rated”), but most of them look good and make sense.

“Letter Tee” is produced with a vowel after it: “tuh”, rather than a crisp /t/, and the voiceless sounds /h/, /p/ and /k/ are also incorrectly pronounced “huh”, “puh” and “kuh” at various times later on, and they add unnecessary vowels to /y/ and /w/ sounds. There are critters called “furballs” which made me think of the “hairies” in the high-quality phonics program Nessy. Hm. Kids have to match sounds to letters to put furballs in a catapult, with a ping-and-giggling reward for each correct answer. A furball blows a raspberry if you make a mistake. I wish software developers wouldn’t make it more fun to get things wrong than right.

After six activities introducing three sound-letter relationships, the program says “Letter sounds make words”, and “Words are made up of sounds”. I wish they’d ditched the first statement and completed the second one with “which we write with letters”.

Having taught three “letter sounds”, I expected these would be combined into the word “sat”, but the first word Fast Phonics blends and segments is “cat”. This time their voiceless sounds are nice and crisp, but they’re stop consonants. I wish they’d chosen an easier-to-blend-and-segment continuant for the initial sound.

Next they start segmenting and blending the words “at” and “sat” nicely, but then they introduce the word “as”. They seem not to know that the last sound in “as” is /z/. “As” is not a homophone of “ass”, which is another word for donkey, at least where I come from. If American children use this program I suspect there will be some more giggling at this point.

Next there’s quite a nice activity where one of the three words “at”, “sat” and “as” is spoken and the child has to click on its printed version, with the words repeatedly scrambled. Next they have to repeatedly find the word “at” from an array of five other words written on logs, most with new sounds/spellings and not easy to confuse with “at” (in, dog, along, go, cup, red, pen, man, sit, off, put, my, this, tap, the, did, run, pat, to, mug…) to build a fire for a Yeti. Then there’s a sound-letter matching activity, with /t/ again mispronounced, to make furballs pop out of trees and get a Yeti victory salute.

I nearly fell off my chair when I got to the 15th activity, because it’s exactly like a Nessy activity. There’s a bridge made out of a word, with a Yeti on a sled about to go across, and furballs on the other side, and a star scorecard at the top. Before the Yeti can cross, the bridge-word falls down, and the child has to reassemble it.

Compare this with a longstanding Nessy Hairy Phonics activity, which has a furry critter on a sled trying to cross a word bridge that falls down, and a smiley Yeti on the other side:

So at that point, I just went “nah, I’m out of here”, and turned off my computer and went to bed.


24 thoughts on “Reading Eggs – Fast Phonics

  1. Joyce Shaw

    This is a direct copy of the Nessy program and has caused an international scandal in the dyslexia community. You are wrong to advertise for this company.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Joyce, I am sorry that you think I am advertising Reading Eggs, I’m not, and I don’t and won’t recommend it. If you read the whole post you’ll see that I agree it looks a lot like they’ve copied Nessy, they haven’t done it very well. Maybe I should make that clearer at the top. Thanks for your feedback, I’m thinking about how to make an edit to the post as a result.

      1. Ramani

        I think it is quite clear that this is the exact opposite of an advertisement for this program. No editing needed imho.

        1. alison Post author

          Thanks, Ramani, but I know that in our busy world sometimes my posts can be a bit TL:DR, so I might just tweak it a little bit to make sure people don’t just read the first bit, assume it’s an endorsement, go straight to the Reading Eggs site, and not read the rest.

    2. Umm Kulthum

      If one reads the whole article, there is no way they could come to the conclusion that it is advertising the program. No offence.

  2. Louise Fitzpatrick Leach

    Thanks as always for your post. Interesting to get your view – we work on phonological awareness at kinder (Vic) in lots of informal ways, but also do start more focussed initial sound discrimination – one child, who has good language skills in all areas, caught on immediately to this when I introduced it – her mum explained that she does ABC Reading eggs 2 or 3 times a week, so she thought this was why it was easy for her to pick up. They are not pushing it, which sounds good. Another child, very similar skills, that doesn’t do Reading Eggs, also got it immediately. Another child, similar skills but a lot younger, who also does R E, still hasn’t quite got it. So is it different for different children?

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Louise, I’ve never recommended mainstream kids NOT use Reading Eggs, but I’ve always thought there are many better programs for early learners with weak phonemic awareness. I wanted to have a blog post to send to people who ask about Reading Eggs, showing that this new program is shockingly similar to Nessy (nobody likes a ripoff), but not nearly as good.

  3. Sarah Hughes

    I feel dreadful for Nessy…they seem shocked by the obvious plagiarism, but helpless with what to do about it! I love your review and the subtle messages. I hope we can all do something to help Nessy, but with Reading Eggs used in most public schools across Australia, I’m worried it won’t be long until my children are assigned this. I wish we could promote Nessy more within the school system over here! Synthetic phonics teaching feels like a constant battle!

  4. Annemarie

    Hi Alison, I did a PD on Fast Phonics provided by RE as my school uses the program. They say that RE provides learning for those schools that follow an “analytic/analogy/blended approach” and those that follow “systematic synthetic phonics teaching”. They do not talk about reading research and it seems are trying to cover all bases (income streams?). As a teacher in a school that uses the program I am relieved that they have included explicit phonics so that at least my students who can’t access RE usually now can, but I had no idea of the plagiarism involved. I agree that they don’t seem to be 100% confident in their phonics knowledge.

    1. alison Post author

      Yes, it really seemed like a step in the right direction, let’s hope they can quickly fix it to ensure it’s all their original work, and is created in consultation with someone with really good linguistics and science of reading knowledge. It would be great to get the WL/BL stuff out of the rest of RE too, but hey, one step at a time. Till then, my own recommendation regarding RE will remain Nessy and/or something else.

  5. Jo

    Thanks for an excellent review. Top class as usual. You are indeed generous with your time. Much appreciated.

  6. Salomon

    Dear Alison,

    Could you please explain why you consider reading eggs logic a whole language/balanced literacy approach?

    I recently began using it with my 4 year old son to introduce him to reading. He loves using it and asks to play it everyday. I found the program focusses heavily on decoding CVC words. It also uses books containing predominantly CVC words at the end of each level. My son is now able to read CVC and CCVC words in the environment and does show any use of the detrimental strategies of guessing words or looking at pictures to read which are advocated by balanced literacy.

    I would appreciate your thoughts

    1. alison Post author

      Apart from the new Fast Phonics version, I haven’t looked in detail at Reading Eggs for at least a couple of years. I had their apps on my ipad, and tried them out and couldn’t find much in the way of really good phonics, so lost interest, and then the apps all died and required a re-subscription, and I decided I had other priorities. So I’m pleased to hear that you’ve had a more positive experience of the program, perhaps the content has now shifted substantially in the synthetic phonics direction, and perhaps the people writing the phonics content in the activities your child has used were better at their jobs than the ones writing Fast Phonics. If so, I’m not sure why they have added Fast Phonics! Sorry that I don’t have time to investigate and then write about the wider Reading Eggs program right now but perhaps there will be a break in the traffic that permits this later on. I do know that children love the games, but I also know kids love junk food and staying up past their bedtime. What they love isn’t always good for them in other ways.

      PS A few years ago when I was looking at Reading Eggs, I had a conversation in a blog post comment about it, and you can see what my concerns were then if you read it: However perhaps the program has been substantially revised since then.

  7. Pingback: Is Reading Eggs all it’s cracked up to be? (boom tish) | Spelfabet

  8. Susan

    I also didn’t take it that this was promoting ‘Fast Phonics’. I am currently looking for reading program for my 4.9 month old girl. Would you recommend Nessy? I was also sceptical signing up for RE!


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