How I Use It
The app is organized by phoneme, that is, users choose to focus on a particular letter or letter sound combination. Therefore, this app could easily be assigned as an in-classroom individual activity, or as homework to reinforce reading concepts, or even to introduce new phonemes. Students just learning the alphabet can explore the different sounds each letter makes and how it is used in words. For instance, after learning about the letter “B” in the classroom, students can listen to the pre-recorded list of words like bag, bubble, boat, and bib as they see the words on the screen with the b highlighted in red. Students who are a bit more advanced in their reading skills can play a “b” game in which they hear, e.g., the word “beetle” and must tap on the correct word from among other words beginning with the letter B. Students can also focus on particular problem letters or letter combinations, e.g., students having trouble with the sound “ear” can gain more experience with words like pear, wear, and unbearable. Furthermore, students can also explore the different ways that one combination of letters can be pronounced. For example, “ear” can also be found in words like year, tear, and earring. Early readers will also benefit by exploring words that rhyme.
In addition, users can record their own voice pronouncing different phonemes and then play back the recording. This could be particularly helpful for students with learning delays and English language learners. Students can first hear how to correctly pronounce a word, practice pronouncing the word themselves, and get immediate feedback by playing back their own voice.
Phonics Genius is a great app for exploring a wide variety of phonemes: both how they sound when spoken aloud and how they look when written. Phonemes are the building blocks for the sounds in a particular language and are made up by a single letter (e.g., “b”) or a combination of letters (e.g., “th”). A strong point of this app is its flexibility in allowing an endless number of phonemes and phoneme combinations; in fact, as a user, you can even make your own additions and record your own voice. There are two modes: "learn" mode (in which the user hears words spoken and sees them in print on the screen with the phoneme of interest highlighted in red), and "game" mode (in which the user hears a word spoken and must choose that word from among a list of 2 to 6 different words, again with the phoneme of interest highlighted in red).
Unfortunately, switching between the two modes, accessing the other options on the settings menu, and finding the 226 pre-loaded phonemes and phoneme combinations takes a bit of hunting around. For example, the app opens on a screen showing a blackboard with 30 phonemes to choose from and there is a small, barely visible indicator on the bottom of the screen showing that there are 10 additional screens with more phonemes. There is also a settings button in the upper right-hand corner and an information button in the upper left-hand corner, which turns out to be a guide to figuring out how to use the settings menu. This app could be more user-friendly if it included a simple introduction screen with basic instructions on how to use the app and what it offers, and/or had numbered screens so that users could easily and quickly recognize that there are many more phonemes available and know exactly where they are in the app when scrolling through the screens and/or if the information for how to use the app and play with the settings was included together with the settings menu.
The simplicity with which the app presents the sounds of the English language is great for students learning to read, students with special needs or language/reading delays, and students learning to speak English. However, the app’s simple layout and presentation mean there is nothing to distract users from the learning content, but also means that using it can quickly get repetitive and monotonous. Because there is nothing exciting about this very simple flash card-like style, some students may quickly lose interest.