Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2018
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W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap

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Mashup of Boggle and Candy Crush gets kids forming new words

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • 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.
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Pros: Built-in scaffolding adds new goals to keep students playing.

Cons: It's easy to form words you didn't intend; might be tough to incorporate into standards-based curriculum.

Bottom Line: Students, especially word geeks, will dig this strategic game, but it's unclear how much it'll impact learning.

Teachers can suggest W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap to students who have completed their class work early, but beware: It's so fun it'll be tough getting students' attention back! As a group activity, students can compete to see which group can come up with the most new words, perhaps building in some vocabulary requirements to meet curricular objectives. Teachers can also present students with challenges to create words using certain roots, prefixes, or suffixes, maybe even stepping it up a notch by having a bingo card of sorts where students can check off words as they form them in the game. Teachers can also use W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap to encourage students to think critically. For example, pair students up to discuss strategies with each other and then see which ones yield the best results.

While it's likely that students will form quite a few words during play that don't feel relevant to them, teachers can have students note these unfamiliar words and then use the Oxford dictionary (which has examples of actual word usage) to see how these words pop up in the context of science, literature, history, and more.

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W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap is a word game in which students swap letter tiles to form new words and view their definitions. In this Candy Crush-meets-Boggle mashup, students switch adjacent letters on a board to form words of four or more letters. Once students form a word, it disappears, and new letters drop down, changing the board. Each level starts with a set number of swaps, but students earn points (and more swaps) by forming words -- longer words earn higher point values and badges. Each new round brings new challenges such as "Create two six-letter words" or "Look up the definitions for three words," and new strategies, such as the ability to lock the board or replace all tiles. Often, when tiles drop down, the new tiles automatically form new words, helping players meet the goal for the round. Along the way, special effects and sounds add excitement and encouragement.

Students will learn quickly that strategy matters here, as some words are unintentionally built and disappear while they're trying to form others. Although there are many uncommon words, students can tap on the panel at the bottom to look up definitions for the last three words formed. Students should note that swaps and features don't carry over from previous rounds, so it's better to use them as needed. Also, there are hints and tutorials for most things before and during gameplay, but if students forget how to use a Smash, Jump, or Reverse, they'll have to play around to figure it out. 

Teachers may struggle to find long-term learning value in W.E.L.D.E.R. Swap. While it can be good for vocabulary acquisition, linking the game to many other standards will require some creativity and additional guidance and structure on the teacher's part. Also, the game has some missing pieces, especially when it comes to the in-app dictionary. Of course, students can easily look up words online, but they might get more than their teachers bargained for. For example, a Google search of the word "rotl" (which was missing an in-app definition) turned up a legitimate definition from Merriam-Webster but also brought up an inappropriate acronym from Urban Dictionary. Plus, some of the words formed in play seem like words that many students would never use, and it's easy to form words by accident unless you're using the Board Lock feature.

Students who struggle with spelling or decoding skills might become frustrated by this game, especially since the game forms and disappears words students don't intend. Strategic thinking skills might be the best use-case for a game like this, teaching students to be deliberate about their choices and to look before they leap, so to speak. Despite its potential drawbacks, students and teachers who enjoy word games will find this one addictive.

Overall Rating

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

Level-ups, special game moves (called swaps), and challenges will keep students engaged long past the bell.

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

While it's a decent tool for learning new vocabulary, students are unlikely to spend much time engaged in learning definitions, and it would be tough for teachers to monitor.

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

Hints and instructions at each level guide the user into more difficult and strategic play, but more support for classroom use would help.

Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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