NAPLAN results were published recently and it seems that, in the seven years since the tests were implemented, overall results remain practically unchanged (www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-05/naplan-results-show-limited-improvement-in-students-skills). Christophe Pyne, Australia’s federal minister for Education and Training stressed the “need to focus on the basics of school education.” Children forge a love of learning in the early years and it is therefore critical to engage them and give them a sense that they can be successful learners. Below are five engaging and effective literacy resources that, in my experience, support children's literacy skills and keep them motivated. They are designed to provide plenty of scaffolding and progressive steps, which in turn, allows children to experience success at any level and maintain a positive approach to learning. But before you go further, take the time to reflect on your Top 5 literacy resources. What are they? Share them by posting a comment below.
1. Reading Doctor’s Reading Sounds 1 Pro software (http://www.readingdoctor.com.au).
This software has been developed by Australian speech pathologist and literacy specialist Dr. Bartek Rajkowski, PhD., and teaches the basics of sound/letter recognition, blending and segmenting skills as well as early sight words. In order to learn to read, children need to “crack the code” of written language, i.e. understand that words are made out of sounds (e.g. the word “cat” contains the sounds c-a-t) and that these sounds have corresponding written representations (graphemes). This can be particularly difficult for emerging and struggling readers, however, this programme targets those skills effectively through simple activities. There is a clear progression, from letter/sound recognition to early blending and segmenting of three to four letter words such as pot, stop and jump. This progression is motivating for children, parents and clinicians alike, as you can clearly see the child move from one level to the next. The activities can be adjusted and adapted to each student and custom activities can be created. I strongly recommend this programme: it is easy to use, engaging and simplifies the work of planning and organising your sessions, something no busy speech pathologist or teacher could resist. And IT WORKS! I have used it successfully with emerging and struggling readers but also with children who speak English as a second language.
Speech pathologists and teachers can use the PC software, which allows them to create files for several students and keep track of their progress. However, for parents who may want something simpler, there is good news. The Reading Doctor also has a range of apps based on their programme. Each app is a component of the above software. They are Letter Sound 1 Pro, Blending Sounds 1 Pro, Spelling Sounds 1 Pro, and Sight Word Pro. Check also the apps Letter Sounds 2 Pro which takes things a level further and targets longer letter-sound patterns such as ch, sh, oy, ou, etc., and Word Builder, which allows children to “build” words by selecting tiles containing letters and letter-sound patterns such as oy, igh, ck, etc. I like to use Letter Sounds Pro 2 and Word Builder in tandem: a little warm-up with Letter Sounds 2 Pro before writing and building words on Word Builder.
2. Little Learners Love Literacy decodable readers set (http://www.learninglogic.com.au).
Another Australian resource, The Little Learners Love Literacy decodable readers target simple, easy to decode early words and the stories are fun. The books are bright, attractive and the kids actually want to read them! At the end of each book, there is an extension page featuring “heart words” i.e. sight words or words you have to know “by heart”, “speed sounds” (to revise letter/sound knowledge), some questions, vocabulary notes and an explanation about some special elements, e.g. exclamation marks, commas, consonant clusters. There are seven levels, allowing children to progress at their own pace and build their skills as they go along. This progression is clearly motivating for the children and they have a sense of achievement every time they reach a new level. These books are a must and I am delighted to see the series expanding. Hopefully, the team at Learning Logic have more in store for us. The readers are also available in electronic format suitable for iPad and iPhone. This could be perfect for parents or for those who want a clutter-free clinic… although, I do like the paper books as I lend them to Now You’re Talking Speech Pathology’s families. So far, they have all come back. In the words of one parent: “They are too precious not to be returned!”
3. Sound Check: Sequencing Sounds for Spelling Success
Sound Check 2: Sequencing Sounds for Spelling Success (http://www.learninglogic.com.au).
This is another resource by Learning Logic, this time for spelling. It is a set of two A4 books with reproducible worksheets. Each book consists of a series of units to teach students to blend sounds in order to spell words. The units are progressive, beginning with short medial sounds, consonant blends and digraphs (Sound Check) and moving towards more complex phonic patterns (Sound Check 2). Each unit has a phonological awareness “warm-up” and a spelling activity (practice + testing) for 10 words. The phonological awareness warm-ups are fun to do and are a smart way of “priming” the brain for the spelling activity that follows. For the spelling activity, students are given a word, say its sounds and circle the appropriate letter on a worksheet before writing the word in a space provided next to the letters. When all the words are done, the sheet can be folded along a dotted line and the students are prompted to write the words again, this time without a visual prompt. Easy, simple and effective and a resource that encourages children to sound out as they write, something they can find hard to do. There is a clear progression from one step to the next and the visual clues provide essential scaffolding, which makes spelling easier. Another good aspect of this resource is that it encourages children to put pencil to paper and WRITE. It is essential that children continue to write, not just use a keyboard, as this is also an important pathway to store information about a word. See below, an example by Jacob, aged 6 years:
4. Spellosaur by Stimulant.
This is an App to practise spelling words and which promises to pep up those after school homework sessions! Do you find that some children are more likely to take instructions from an iPad or computer than from a person? This app will make them do their homework when all else has failed! Children can enter their own spelling words and play 4 different activities. In Listen and Choose, children tap a word as it is read out, in Complete the Word, children add missing letters to their words, in Unscramble the Word, they put the letters in the right order and in Spell the Word, they spell it as it is read out.
The activities progress from simpler to harder and provide essential scaffolding, which makes success more likely. The lists can be updated and edited to accommodate children’s progress and, as such, can be used at any age, not just in early primary school (providing the kids still enjoy the dinosaur graphics). Children can record their own voice for the words or use the default voice on the app. The beauty of the recording, apart from the fact that the kids like it, is that they can practise their words in any language! “Now You’re Talking Speech Pathology” is a bilingual speech pathology practice and it is great to have a resource that parents can use in French, Spanish or any other language. The same company (Stimulant) also have Spellosaur First 400 Words which targets the first 400 sight words and works on the same principle.
5. Phonological Awareness Fun Park Game by Super Duper Publications (www.superduperinc.com.)
This is a game that targets phonological awareness skills such as rhyming, blending, segmenting, identification and manipulation. Phonological awareness is the ability to recognise that words are made out of sounds e.g. the word “cat” contains the sounds c-a-t. It is a strong predictor of reading success and an important set of skills to master. Like many games by Super Duper, this game is very simple but has a little twist which keeps the kids interested. It is a board game featuring a fair with bumper cars, a haunted house, and ice-cream stand etc. Instead of a dice, children press an electronic spinner with flashing lights and a buzzing sound. Thankfully, the buzzing sound can be muted! The board has special “Prize Time” spaces, where the children have a chance to win a token or prize. The person with the most prizes wins the game. As the children progress on the board, they pick a card and practice a skill as determined by the therapist, teacher or parent. Each card has four levels of difficulty for each skill, so the activity can be adapted to each student’s individual needs. This makes it a game that is suitable for individual but also small group work. I find it an excellent way to start a session on a playful note and one that is sure to entertain the kids whilst they learn.
These are my Top 5 early literacy resources. Do you use them already? Do you have your own must have resources? Let us know what they are and share them in the comment box below!
Looking for language tips, activities and ideas? This blog is for parents, speech pathologists, teachers, educators and anyone with an interest in speech and language.