April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ Reviews Tiggly Words: An early literacy product mashes physical letter toys and tablet apps


Tiggly Words mixes touch-screen apps with real-world manipulatives to deliver a hybrid learning experience focused on long and short vowels.

Geared for ages four to eight, the product ships as a set of five sizable vowel toys, with a pouch for storage ($29.99), and downloads for three apps (iOS and Android): Tiggly Submarine, Tiggly Tales, and Tiggly Doctor (included with the toys or available separately for $8.97). To play the apps, young users tap or hold their vowel toys against their tablet screens. Playing Tiggly Words is kind of like playing with refrigerator magnets if your refrigerator door had a tablet built into it.


Tiggly Words’ vowel toys feel sturdy, but also slightly squishy. They are big enough to work well as manipulatives without overwhelming the screen during use or triggering mis-taps. Each app can be played without the toys as well, but the manipulatives enhance the experience by asking users to choose which letter should go where instead of tapping through the apps. The silicone pads on the bottom of each vowel are arranged in a unique pattern, which lets the software recognize the letters by touch. It’s nice to see that the focus of the apps is getting kids to play with words, rather than maintaining control of which accessories they use.


Each Tiggly Words app approaches vowel-sound recognition in a different way.

Submarine lets kids pilot a submersible to different undersea areas with unique levels of interaction. For example, at the underwater elevator, users tap a vowel against the elevator, which opens to play a short, narrated animation about an animal or thing that begins with that vowel. At a cave, you press and hold a vowel against the scene to vacuum up a similarly corresponding animal or object. Kids can also tap their letters in the open sea to generate vowel fish that sound out each letter, then swim away. These physical interactions with the app enable young children to experience vowel sounds in different ways.

1509-Tech_Tiggly-WordsTiggly Tales presents users with consonant pairs separated by a blank space. Learners tap a vowel between the consonants to make a word. For example, a kid might tap “o” between “h” and “g” to generate a hog that wanders across the screen. Tapping “a” in the same place summons a hag. There are a limited number of consonant pairs, but each allows users to spell several words (except inappropriate ones). A new word generates a corresponding sprite, with a related action. So, for instance, if you spell “fan” and then tap the fan, it blows and sweeps other sprites off the screen.

What makes Tiggly Tales especially interesting is that players can take screenshots of their work or video record a session while narrating over it. That means that kids can use their vowel toys and consonant pairs to tell stories and share them from their tablets. This mix of physical and digital storytelling is compelling and not often provided for in educational technology.

In Tiggly Doctor, use your vowel toys to treat three different patients who are waiting in your office. One patient just needs help spelling the big words in your waiting room’s magazines. Treat another’s broken bone by completing words like “set” and “pin.” The infections and wounds are funny-gross, but not graphic. Doctor crashed on me a few times after I had treated several patients in a row.


Tiggly Words is a user-friendly learning tool for young children. The apps all possess a similar aesthetic that combines cartoon-like characters with real-world objects and textures. A small set of Tiggly Words kits and tablets would make for an engaging, student-directed vowel practice station, and future apps or updates to existing apps (like adding more letter combinations to Tiggly Tales) would help extend the life of the product. The audio and video capture features of Tiggly Tales, in particular, bring replay value and interdisciplinary possibilities to this app set. I’m encouraged by Tiggly’s attention to media creation and look forward to seeing what teachers and students do with it.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Chad Sansing About Chad Sansing

Chad Sansing (csansing@gmail.com) teaches middle school language arts in Staunton, VA.

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  1. I love seeing kids excited about learning and it seems that technology is a great way to achieve that.