More and more educators are using intuitive apps to reach a variety of different learning styles and to keep students engaged across all subjects, including phonics.
Not too long ago, teaching your students to read and write required just the basic classroom materials such as pencil and paper and instructional books. Following this era, the inception of mobile devices began to change the learning landscape.
Currently, with the introduction of tablets and other portable devices, there is a host of educational apps teachers can use to make learning to read and write fun and engaging.
In this article, we will focus on ten of the best phonics apps for teaching and learning at the primary school level.
1. Mr. Thorne Does Phonics: Letters and Sounds
Mr. Thorne’s Letters and Sounds is a phonics app developed by a UK teacher. Mr Thorne not only teaches and creates apps, he also maintains a website and a regularly updated YouTube channel with hours of excellent content featuring a reoccurring puppet character called Geraldine the Giraffe.
Definitely check out his YouTube channel after this blog post. Children will warm to his personality instantly.
Back to the app – it consists of a group of videos which include trick words, sounds of the alphabet, digraphs, and trigraphs. Trick words are those that don’t sound the way they are spelt. Digraphs are two letters of the alphabet combined such as “ch” to produce a specific sound. Trigraphs combine three letters of the alphabet such as “ear” to create a single sound. The video lessons are interactive and excellent for keeping students attention.
The Mr. Thorne phonics app is geared toward learning these specific sounds, including words categorised into sounds that are slightly more complex. The series of videos included in the app allow the student to hear the word sounds which are pronounced by Mr. Thorne. The students then have the opportunity to try to pronounce the sound. Following the videos, the app contains one dozen challenge quizzes that test the phonics skills the student has learned. I think the fact that he has personalised the app so much and it’s him doing the lessons in every video is what makes this app stand out from the rest.
I also like this for the reason that it’s not centred on childish games. A lot of apps aimed at helping the user improve on phonics are aimed at younger children. Older students that struggle don’t want to play games that younger students would find fun. And this is where Mr. Thorne Does Phonics comes in.
2. Dr. Suess’s ABC
Dr. Seuss’s ABC is an interactive book app geared toward Pre-K phonics. The app is designed with 3 different levels of difficulty which allows young students to gradually advance their phonics skills. The three levels include Read to Me, Read it Myself, and Auto Play. Dr. Seuss is a household name so automatically children are going to be interested in this educational app.
In the first level, the app highlights words which are read out loud each time you tap on a word. The second level allows students to read the text by narrating it. The third level automatically allows you to record your own narration to share with other students. Students can easily choose a scenario with each one offering user-friendly navigation. The app also allows them to learn new words, select images, and then create their own narration to personalise the storyline.
It’s simple, intuitive navigation means that toddlers won’t have a problem using it on their own once you set it up for them. To turn the page you just swipe, to hear a word or any object be pronounced you just need to tap on it. In terms of learning, it’s certainly not less valuable than other phonics apps, but it is less structured as it follows the books and not lessons. However, as it’s aimed at preschool children so it can afford to be more fun and relaxed. It will make children smile for sure!
3. Simplex Spelling with Reverse Phonics: Lite
Free – Compatible with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch
Simplex Spelling Lite is an intuitive app which uses reverse phonics to help students improve their reading and spelling skills. The Lite version enables students to build on more than 50 words before the words are pronounced and then applied to a sentence. The app focuses on learning high frequency words and they are learnt using a method that is more effective than simply memorising each word.
The Simplex Spelling app features a full approach to reverse phonics which includes a comprehensive selection of letter combinations with sounds. Additionally, the initial spelling list easily walks the student through each application using spoken narrations while requesting the student to try and spell new words. This app does not rely on the memorisation of words as the built in spelling rule hint explains why words are spelt the way they are. For this reason Simplex Spelling is one of my favourite apps as it means children can learn from the app themselves without any adult assistance.
This app is particularly good for helping students with dyslexia as the method of teaching left to right reading of sounds rather than whole words is a lot easier for them to pick up.
A nice plus is that you can pick up where you left off after a session, instead of having to start from the beginning again!
4. Phonics Genius
Free – Compatible with the iPad and iPhone
Phonics Genius provides more than six thousand words which are categorised according to their sounds. The app is a flash card style app and is designed to increase the student’s awareness of phonics using interactive methods that teach them how to read, pronounce, and identify words.
Phonics Genius provides three different modes of learning, in addition to multiple quiz modes designed as fun and interactive games. The quizzes are designed according to different levels of learning beginning with two words and range from easy to challenging. You can also add your own flash cards and customise them according to lists, as well as record your own voice and add new words.
The app is fully customisable in terms of spelling, font size, font colour, and more. It makes a great follow up app for students who have previously learned phonics basics.
It is a no frills educational app, yet students will still enjoy using it. I think this is perfect for the slightly older student that has previous reading experience, and the amount of words in this app means that it would be a challenge for students to get bored or run out of material! It makes children pay attention and think about the individual sounds in a word.
5. Kids ABC Letter Phonics
£1.99 – Compatible with Android
Kids ABC Letter Phonics app is an educational tool that provides a wide variety of phonics activities that keep students engaged and make learning fun. It is the second app in a Reading Curriculum series of reading apps by Intellijoy. Students can engage in four different activities which help them strengthen their skills in phonics.
The first activity, Learn Letter Sounds, involves (you guessed it!) learning how to pronounce letter sounds. The activity provides the student with a letter building block which contains an image. When you tap on the block, you can hear the pronunciation for each ABC letter.
The second activity called Build Letter Blocks, allows students to learn how to create their own ABC picture blocks using the skills they learned in the first activity. The blocks are created using letters with corresponding images.
The third activity throws in a little more fun! It’s called Pop Letter Bubbles and provides a fun way to learn phonics by allowing students to pop bubbles which float around the screen. Each bubble is filled with a series of letters to be learned. Students can then test what they have learned by using word puzzles to learn how to blend phonics together.
The fourth activity is Make Words. This is the mode where students learn the basics of phonic blending and put their own word puzzles together.
6. Phonics with Phonzy
Free – Compatible with the iPhone and iPad
Phonics with Phonzy is an app for early literacy that provides a fun and engaging way to practice the sounds of different letters and words.
The reason I like this app is that it’s a comical three dimensional character that demonstrates letter and word sounds using highly animated mouth, teeth, and tongue gestures and then encourages students to try the letters and words aloud.
Rather than simply listening to the sounds, students get involved and speak the sounds themselves as Phonzy reacts to the child’s voice!
One flaw that the app has is that while it encourages children to say the words aloud, it cannot identify wrong pronunciation. Therefore it’s best that children have assistance when practicing with this app. It does however offer teachers and parents the option to listen back to the child’s practice sessions and their pronunciation.
Overall Phonics with Phonzy is a great app that offers a user friendly interface with engaging graphics and artwork.
7. Tiki Bear Phonics
Free – Compatible with the iPad
Tiki Bear Phonics is an app developed by actual classroom teachers with experience teaching phonics. By learning what works the best when teaching students to read and write, the methods taught in Tiki Bear provide a fun and engaging way to learn the sounds of different letters.
Students learn letter sounds and then follow up by doing the practice exercises designed as interactive games.
Tiki Bear Phonics includes three different phonics learning games along with flash cards for the consonant sounds.
Additionally, the app provides students with easy to follow instructions delivered via audio which allow them to play the games on their own to practice the skills learned in the app.
8. Phonics Vowels
Free – Compatible with the iPhone and iPad
Phonics Vowels is an app designed to help young students learn letter combinations and vowel sounds. Its aim is to help students to recognise word patterns and how the placement of vowels in a word affects the pronunciation.
At the start the user chooses which type of vowels they want to practice, the 30 different vowel sound combinations are grouped into the groups – short vowels, two vowels and combinations, and the lessons depend on which group they choose to practice.
For each word, students learn how to spell and pronounce the word and vowel sounds. The lesson itself presents the child with a word that has blank spaces in it. There is also an image that represents the word and a bank of letters, from which the student fills in the blank spaces to complete the word.
If the child spells the words correctly they move onto the next word and if they don’t they are prompted to try it again. If a child struggles there is a “Hint” button that sounds out the words and gives more pictures to encourage the child to keep on trying.
Phonics Vowels is a versatile app and allows you to set up the activities for multiple students, in addition to the ability to switch between upper and lower case letters. The app is designed as a follow up for students who have learned basic phonics. It also provides students with more variety to prevent them from getting bored with the same apps.
It’s ideal for children that want to learn at their own pace, as they can move on or review the lessons they have completed already.
9. abc Pocket Phonics
£4.99 – Compatible with the iPad and iPhone
Pocket Phonics is an app used by many UK primary schools to teach students the sounds of different letters, handwriting skills, and basic words. The app is geared toward the UK curriculum and involves teaching letter sounds in small groups. Once the student understands the sounds, they learn how to combine the sounds to pronounce words.
Using Pocket Phonics, students can learn how to pronounce the entire alphabet in addition to thirty different combination letter sounds common in a lot of words. Students can also learn how to handwrite letters of the alphabet using a stylus pen or their finger. The Pocket Phonics app also supports the cursive writing style as well as upper case and lower case letters.
The app sounds out letters to the student, then the student gets a chance to pronounce the letter themselves, finally they trace the letter with a stylus or their finger. All of these activities ensure that the child gets to practice listening, pronunciation and writing.
After a few lessons like this the student listens to a sound and has to choose the letter that is matches. As the letter is pronounced it grows, it shrinks afterwards, making it difficult for the child to confuse which letter was being sounded out at that point. It progresses onto the child listening to sounds and spelling out the word themselves.
The app keeps record of students’ strengths and weaknesses and allows teachers and parents to access these reports. It also allows adults to a report that outlines the synthetic phonics method which is the framework of the teaching of this app.
In abc Pocket Phonics the letter names are never mentioned, all lessons are done phonetically.
10. Monster Phonics
£1.29 – Compatible with the iPad
Monster Phonics is a unique app that uses colour coding and monster characters to represent each vowel sound in addition to tricky and silent letters. It offers three different educational games; Mix, Trace and Spell.
The use of monster characters and colour coding help to significantly improve student’s skills in reading. Students engage in fun ways to learn handwriting skills by practising the formation of letters in the first one hundred words introduced via colour coding in the app.
The Monster Phonics app is particularly appealing to children due to the reward scheme. As the student plays games and successfully spells words correctly, they earn coins with which they can buy pets and accessories in the pet shop!
There are also two more Monster Phonics apps that follow and are designed to help students learn the first three hundred words. The words introduced in these apps make up more than 65 percent of all words used in reading.
About the Author
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