Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2014
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abc PocketPhonics: letter sounds & writing + first words

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Strong phoneme development activities; good practice

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Pre-K-1
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Pros: Demonstrates a clear focus on phonemes; sounding them out, spelling them, and using them to form words.

Cons: Graphic representations of words are sometimes confusing.

Bottom Line: An effective tool for phoneme-directed reading, although pictures of words often don't help kids understand word meanings.

abc PocketPhonics is essentially an electronic version of traditional phoneme drills. Use it to give kids extra practice with writing letters, exploring how letters form phonemes, and using phonemes to make words. Kids will likely enjoy abc PocketPhonics more than pencil-and-paper drills, because in the app they can hear the phonemes pronounced as they're working and get immediate feedback. In addition, teachers get customized progress reports. Use them to target off-screen instruction or to assign extra practice exactly where kids need it. Use the printable certificates to recognize the progress kids have made and to communicate with parents. You'll need to supplement learning off-screen with more reading practice (e.g., use books to put the words together into meaningful sentences and stories) and better explanations of word meanings.

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abc PocketPhonics uses a phoneme-centered approach to teaching kids to read. When kids see a phoneme, they say it, write it, and then use it in a word. For example, kids see and hear the word hear, practice saying hear, and trace the e, a, and r. Then they find, among several options, the letter that makes the initial h sound and then the ear sound. Once kids spell a word, they see a picture representing the word's meaning (an ear and some musical notes for hear) and move on to another word or a new phoneme. When they've completed a packet of phonemes and word constructions, they get a number of stars (from one to three) based on how well they traced the letters and how many mistakes they made choosing phonemes to form the words. Teachers can set up multiple accounts for individual students and sign up to receive progress reports for each. 

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The focus on phonemes here is logical and effective. There's good learning progression, from introducing single letters, to the words they can form, to phonemes that require combinations of letters (e.g., "h-e-a-r") and the words they can form. There's also a good amount of repetition and practice with phonemes, the sounds they make, and the words that contain them. The tracking system allows kids to see their progress and teachers to keep tabs on how individual students are doing. Some features could use improvement, however. The most pressing issue is that the very simple graphic representations of words work just fine for demonstrating the meaning of simple nouns (e.g., ear) but get complicated, confusing, and even misleading with more difficult words (e.g., it). Animations could demonstrate verbs, while seeing a word used in a sentence could help with articles. Also, kids can't exit an activity in the middle of a set without losing what progress they've made. It would be helpful to be able to exit at any point. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Besides the inherent fun in learning to read, activities can feel repetitive. Game design and visual presentation are clear and simple but lack inventiveness.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The focus is on learning phonemes and how they form words. Kids sound out a phoneme, trace the letter(s) that form the phoneme, and then put phonemes together to make words. Sometimes the graphic representations of target words are confusing.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Options, such as font and upper- and lowercase letters, are provided for customizing the learning experience. Teachers can get progress reports and information supporting phoneme-directed learning in-app and on the developer's website.


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