Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2018
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Ink Blott Underground

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Strategic vocab game gets students digging into roots and affixes

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
5–8
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Pros: Learning progression feels natural, and the challenge is just right.

Cons: Slow-paced, and students might guess their way through; there's no way to ensure students are learning the meanings of morphemes or words.

Bottom Line: This is a win for building vocabulary and word attack skills, but teachers need to provide context and additional instruction to make learning last.

If it's implemented simply (i.e., by just having students play through the game), teachers can use Ink Blott Underground to introduce or reinforce word stems: roots, prefixes, and suffixes. English language learners may particularly benefit from the game, since Latin and Greek roots form the basis of many languages, and familiarity with these roots and affixes could help them to build vocabulary more quickly. All of this is done in a way that will keep students engaged; however, the game's slow progression may discourage teachers from giving up too much class time to let students play. That's OK, as many students will go home and play on their own time -- definitely a plus!

Teachers can also take things up a notch and help students delve into word etymology, refine their word attack skills, and even analyze plot structure. To add a few layers of fun to the game's cavern-themed setting, savvy teachers could incorporate readings on spelunking and underground exploration, compare the conditions that miners faced in the past versus today,  or even pair with science or social studies colleagues to discuss rocks and minerals.

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Ink Blott Underground is an iPad vocabulary game. While it's free to download, the paid version gives students access to 30 levels and growing challenges. The game relies on morphemes to teach students roots, affixes, vocabulary, and word attack skills. Students guide the character Blott through an underground cavern and accompanying storyline, drilling different paths through the rock and dirt to try to reach and fix incorrectly paired roots and affixes. Players solve the puzzles by rearranging different roots and affixes so that all of the words make sense. Sometimes students even have to break up good words to form new ones. With each correctly formed word, a blast opens up previously blocked areas to allow access to the crystals, but students must keep an eye on Blott's energy reserves.

While it's a fun experience, there is one major frustration that slows things down: having to follow tunnels back to words. It'd be nice if you could transport Blott back to other words -- maybe a portal feature that could be unlocked in a bonus round.

Ink Blott Underground helps students learn how to construct words from their most basic parts as well as determine the meaning of words by deconstructing them into morphemes. If students take the time to do more than guess during play, they'll build their word attack, spelling, and vocabulary skills. The puzzles encourage some critical-thinking skills, such as problem-solving, strategy, and even some creativity. Students can also learn how different affixes can be paired with roots; this provides an exciting way to meet some Common Core standards. The time-consuming nature of the levels can hold instruction back, however. While it's fun to be rewarded for solving the puzzles, teachers may not want to take up so much classroom time for what might be viewed as little return. As with any independent activity, teachers will want to monitor students and teach explicit word attack and meaning-making strategies to ensure that students are getting the most out of the time spent playing.

Overall Rating

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

Students will love the opportunity to learn stems and vocabulary through this leveled game, but some might be frustrated by the amount of time it takes to run back and forth.

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

Although this game addresses only one part of vocabulary instruction, with teacher guidance and reinforcement of skills, students will find enjoyment in learning the building blocks of language.

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

A scaffolded approach to the game might seem slow for older students, but there's a decent balance of hints and opportunities for students to figure things out on their own.


Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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