In this column, Touch and Go reviewer MaryAnn Scheuer takes a look at three apps that offer children opportunities to experiment “with the way letters combine to form words” while helping them “identify common sight words and predict spelling patterns.” How do they rate? Find out below.
The classic hangman game receives an update in HangArt (Literary Safari; iOS, $1.99; Android, $0.99; Gr 1-3), an app that weaves in several learning opportunities. Children can play a version of the game, draw pictures of the target words, and record their own stories. Visual clues set this version of hangman apart from others. As players guess a letter correctly, the drawing pad gradually reveals a picture of the word—providing visual clues. The illustrations feature a diverse cast, and the coloring options notably offer a wide range of skin tones. In a child-friendly twist, the chalkboard draws a stick figure hanging from a monkey bar when players make an incorrect guess,
Easily accessed options reveal first and last letter help, use uppercase or lowercase letters, and switch music and sound effects off and on. The “Word Gallery” allows readers to review terms and add their own drawings. The app is likely to appeal most to children who are already reading, can guess spelling patterns successfully, and build a collection of words. The “Story Studio” selects six picture cards of unlocked words, and lets children record their own short stories using these images. While the letter tracing activity offers fine-motor skill practice, it may not interest children who can already read proficiently enough to guess many of these words. However, recent app updates improve the ability to select or skip this feature.
The multilingual Planet Lettra (Studio Goojaji; iOS; $1.99; Gr 2-5) encourages open-ended creativity and fun as children build words, choosing English, Spanish, or French. Appsters combine letter bubbles to create terms—play reminiscent of the game Boggle, without the competition. Letters fuse together to create silly combinations, invented terms, or actual words. The bubbles can be tricky to manipulate—-children will need to experiment with them to develop the best way to control them.
If the new word bubble is among the more than 100,000 words recognized by the app, it will be read aloud by the narrator and chomped on by the planet’s monsters. Children will be delighted to discover that double tapping on a bubble triggers the narrator to pronounce it, even if it is an invented word. This app supports word recognition as “smart” letter bubbles (when users hold down a bubble) hint at combinations that lead to real terms. The real joy here is in playfully discovering what letters can do. Viewing is best on the iPad screen.
Mystery Word Town (Artgig Studio; iOS, $2.99; Android, $2,99; Gr 1-3) provides a more focused word-building approach. Players exercise their spelling skills by filling in the blanks to complete terms from letters that they have collected. A Wild West theme sets the tone. Players choose an avatar to hunt for crooks to apprehend and hidden gold treasure to locate. In order to move from room to room, viewers must spell the target words correctly. Players can choose to play the game with or without audio hints as they try to solve the mystery words. Preset spelling lists allow for easy gameplay, and customizable lists are a useful feature encouraging flexible play. (Adults and children could easily enter weekly spelling lists for a twist on spelling drills.) Unfortunately, one of the avatar headgear choices is a Native American headdress, an item of spiritual significance earned by the wearer. Its use in this context is inappropriate, and mars an otherwise well-designed educational game.–Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley Unified School District,CA, and Great Kid Books
For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.
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