Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2019

Starfall

Early literacy site shines best when using its support materials

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Math

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.
Pre-K–2
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Pros: Between the interactives and offline extras, this is an extensive program focused on the fun of reading.

Cons: Younger kids might need help, as many activities require mouse skills. Kids with vision or hearing issues might struggle.

Bottom Line: It has the potential to be a great learn-to-read program for teachers who make use of the extension materials for classwork or homework.

Students from a variety of learning backgrounds (ELLs, those with language delays, etc.) can use Starfall to explore literacy concepts at their own pace. The earliest readers can explore well-paced videos that introduce each letter and can actively discover letter sounds and usages, while more advanced readers can enjoy the "I'm Reading" section, with short books on subjects from comics to Greek mythology and Chinese fables. The "It's Fun to Read" section, in which kids learn about how reading can help them investigate anything that interests them, offers a nice way to tie together different classroom subjects under the overarching theme of reading and literacy. Teachers can also project the site on an interactive whiteboard to introduce new concepts (letters, letter sounds, phonemes, blending sounds, and more) to the whole class. For teachers who are ready to go all in, the Parent-Teacher Center is a must. It offers an impressive amount of additional ideas, printable worksheets, and pre-K and kindergarten curricula. Beware, however, that a lot of these extras will cost you.

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Starfall is an early learning website featuring interactives, games, songs, and supporting resources. The heart of the site is its reading program, categorized into four sections: ABCs, which introduces letter sounds through videos and interactive games; Learn to Read, which teaches some of the more common sounds through interactive games, books, and videos; It's Fun to Read, in which kids learn to read in context; and I'm Reading, in which kids read short books, comics, and plays. Kids can progress through these four sections however they like and move on to other sections as their reading skills improve and mature. In addition to these interactives and activities, there's a Parent-Teacher Center that has printable worksheets, pre-K and kindergarten curricula, detailed lists of Common Core State Standards alignments, and other resources for teachers. There's also a store with extras like books and stuffed animals for purchase.

A limited amount of Starfall's large content base is available for free. To unlock all content, teachers need to purchase a subscription. The full, paid version also includes some math content, seasonal activities, and more. There are also several associated Starfall apps, including Starfall Learn to Read and Starfall ABCs, some of which are entirely free and some of which offer limited content for free.

Though at times the user experience can feel a bit slow and outdated, Starfall still does a good job of offering clear and useful early literacy lessons. The effective sound-it-out approach helps kids identify each individual phoneme, or sound, in words. When they see the word "bat," kids hear it sounded out ("b-a-t") several times, faster and faster, until they hear the whole word. Another great feature is that the experience personalizes as a kid's reading skills progress. For example, kids choose words to insert into sentences, and their choices influence the direction of the activity. 

While the activities aren't that interactive, kids do engage with the site. Kids can make simple choices, click on words to hear them read aloud, or click to advance videos. There's often a mixture of text and audio, and activities are well paced. Unfortunately, there's not an option to hear an entire passage read fluently, and some things, like songs, are missing captions. Young kids or kids with special learning needs may also face a few challenges. Many of the activities require a lot of mouse navigation, and a lot of the site isn't accessible to screen readers or keyboard navigation. And, for better or worse, kids are free to access any of the site's content at any time. Kids are very much in charge of directing their own journey through the learning material. This may work well for some kids, whereas others may need some supervision to keep them on track. Ultimately, the best implementation will involve diving into the Parent-Teacher Center and using the curricular guides, downloadables, and extras like books. With these, a clear plan, and a nice mixture of work on and off the website, Starfall could be a relied-upon tool in your classroom.

Starfall's strength lies in its literacy program, but teachers should note that there is some content focused on basic math concepts and other subjects.

Overall Rating

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

Game graphics aren't very gripping or interactive, but there's a good mix of video/audio, games, and stories to keep kids interested.

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

Effectively introduces reading basics from letter recognition to beginner-level ebooks. The interactivity is limited, but the presentation is clear and well-paced and has lots of extras. Light coverage of other subjects.

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

Lots of free printouts to support offline instruction. A Parent-Teacher Center offers impressive curriculum guides for limited grade levels. No progress-tracking and some accessibility limitations for screen readers and deaf students.


Teacher Reviews

(See all 76 reviews) (76 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Melissa Z. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Liberty
Springfield, United States
It is easy as ABC.
This tool is an excellent tool. They have really though out how to teach these concepts to the students. There is a mini lesson, a book that they can read, and than a song or activity afterward. If you are looking for a great online resource to use in your classroom I would start with this site.
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