The ability to make the connection between a letter (or group of letters) and a particular sound is the foundation for decoding. If your child (ages 5-9) is struggling in this area, or if you just want to reinforce your child’s phonics skills, Word Builder will help you accomplish your goal.
Word Builder was developed by ReadingDoctor Pty, Ltd. for the iPad. The founder of the company, Bartek Rajkowski, PhD., is also the director of a reading & speech clinic in Australia. The premise of this app is that children need practice creating words using the sounds in the language.
The opening screen of Word Builder provides the user with numerous choices. There is a tutorial for using the app as well as a description of the philosophy behind the program; there are also buttons for loading premade tile sets or creating custom tile sets. The tile sets are collections of sounds that correspond to published phonics programs commonly used in Australia (Jolly Phonics, MULTILIT, and SSP). Using “drag and drop,” children bring down letter tiles to the strip at the bottom. Touching each sound activates an animation that shows the way it looks and sounds on a real person’s face. Sets vary in the number of tiles and the variety of sounds (long and short vowels, for example). The best advice is to start simple to insure success and then advance to higher levels as your child masters the easier ones.
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I am very strict when it comes to reviewing apps that claim to work on phonemic awareness. Many apps that make the claim are, in fact, working on spelling. Word Builder is one of the few that provides valid phonemic awareness instruction using well-recorded sound clips. It has a well-designed user interface that I found extremely intuitive. Using Word Builder helps strengthen the connection between the auditory input (the sounds) and the visual input (the letters). I was also impressed by the number of color-coded tiles available:
- 29 single sounds (f, t, m, n)
- 24 vowel patterns (ee, ea, igh, au, oy)
- 15 consonant patterns (sh, th, dge)
- 14 r-controlled vowels (ar, or, oor)
- 9 word endings (-ing, -able, -tion)
I found some drawbacks to Word Builder as well. It is at the very highest price point of apps in the educational category ($19.99); also, it doesn’t provide any suggestions for the words that should be sounded out. Parents need guidance in this area; otherwise, they choose words that may not fit the particular tile sets they are using. The choice of preset tiles is limited to programs familiar in British and Australian schools, although they seemed to me to have roughly the same phonemic elements as programs with which I am more familiar. Finally, swiping across the tiles at the bottom quickly results in a garbled version of the word that is difficult to understand, so I didn’t find that capability useful. Still, for parents who need a comprehensive phonics program for their child, Word Builder is one to consider.
WordBuilder : Learn Letter Sound Patterns for Reading and Spelling Australian, American and British English is availabe for download via the iTunes App Store - iPad
RRP - $19.99/£13.99/€12.99
Review by Julie Peterson, a speech/language pathologist (SLP) currently working in a school setting, serving children with special needs ages 6-14.