Word decoding is an important phonics skill for students to master. Effective teachers combine the use of context or picture clues when they provide instruction in this area. Word Magic applies this pedagogical approach to a skill based iPhone app that provides students of various skill levels to use multiple clues and problem solving strategies to figure out unknown words. This instructional component provides plenty of potential for classroom use.
The Word Magic app challenges emergent and early readers to identify individual letters and letter blends to complete a partially spelled word. In its default setting, this phonics-based game presents children with a visual clue and asks them to identify the letter or blend at the beginning of the word. The child selects the appropriate beginning letter by tapping it on the touch screen. A self-check mechanism let’s students know they are correct or incorrect by providing user feedback in an audio format.
Three different game options are available in Word Magic and users can toggle between the BEGINNING/MIDDLE/END options using the buttons on the bottom of the screen. Each game requires students to use their letter-sound correspondence knowledge and structural analysis to decode words.
A Preferences Menu allows the teacher or student to adjust the level, alphabet type, sound effect and navigation of the game. Two levels of game difficulty are available, with Level 1 being most appropriate for emergent readers and Level 2 for early readers. Alphabet type can be adjusted to present the print letters in either capital or lowercase format. Three settings for the Next Game preference provide the user with the option to shake the device to navigate to the word/picture clue, click the next arrow to continue or auto navigate the user through the game. A restore default settings button is also provided.
It’s report card time. I find that Word Magic is most appropriate for early elementary students from age 4 to grade two. Word Magic could also be used with students in the later elementary grades, especially ESL students, who might require additional practice with the phonics skills it offers.
For Program Functionality I give Word Magic a B. The app is easy to navigate from an interface standpoint, but it loses a mark for its lack of text or audio instructions. Perhaps in future versions of this app, learners will be provided with the option to listen to an auditory cue that corresponds with each picture.
Word Magic for iPhone and iPod Touch reminds me quite a bit of the Digby Mole Word Game that is available on the BBC website. If your students are skilled in using a web based application like Digby Mole, they should have no problem picking up this handheld adaptation and operating the program proficiently.
For Purpose, I give Word Magic an A. While Word Magic has a very specific purpose, it does provide a slightly different approach to the standard phonics teaching techniques like worksheets and flashcards. While these practices have been an effective instructional technique for teaching early reading skills for years, Word Magic offers another way to engage learners in practicing these vital skills. I would not recommend teachers rely solely on the Word Magic app for providing phonics instruction, however, I think it can definitely be used as a supplement and extension of what is taking place in the classroom reading environment.
Word Magic earns a solid B for overall Educational Value. With a sound understanding of learner needs and little creativity, classroom teachers should have no problem finding multiple ways to integrate Word Magic into their classroom instruction. At this time, I would recommend Word Magic for educational use and for parents to use at home with their child.
Grade Level: Early Elementary
Program Functionality: B
The app is easy to navigate from an interface standpoint, but it loses a mark for its lack of text or audio instructions.
Word Magic has a very specific purpose, which challenges emergent and early readers to identify individual letters and letter blends to complete a partially spelled word.
Overall Educational Value: B
Word Magic provides teachers with some opportunity to differentiate instruction by shifting focus from BEGINNING/MIDDLE/END sounds and also LETTER/BLEND based on individual student need.
Recommendation: I recommend this app for personal use and school use at this time. I feel this app would be most appropriate to supplement or enhance reading instruction. Children will benefit from teacher or adult modeling of use, but most early elementary students will be able to operate independently after their first interaction with the app.
brueckei.org Integration Suggestion:
- Partner Activity: Beginning Sounds Game Show
- Materials: 2 students:1 iPod
- Procedure: Students take turns playing the roles of the contestant and game show host. Children can sit on chairs or floor, but should be facing one another. The host holds the iPod out of view of contestant. Play begins with the host declaring either BEGINNING/MIDDLE/END to the contestant, depending on the game setting. The host then names or describes the picture that Word Magic displays. Contestant replies with the letter that is missing from the BEGINNING/MIDDLE/END. Host then reveals the iPod to contestant and taps the contestant answer into the app to check for accuracy. If answer is incorrect, then contestant can use the letter clues that the Word Magic app provides to select a follow-up answer. Host touches in subsequent answers and checks for accuracy. Play continues until contestant collects a reward on the Word Magic app (5 correct answers). At that point, students trade roles and follow the same sequence.
- Limiting factors: Sound. Although there are no verbal cues presented with the picture in the app, both auditory feedback is provided after the student selects a letter.
This app review is cross-posted at the I Education Apps Review website. A special thanks to Scott Meech for all the work he does to make iear.org a great resource for educators who are interested in taking a closer look at the educational value of ITouch / IPhone / IPods in the classroom.