Common Sense Review
Updated April 2016

Starfall.com

Well-designed literacy site with great activities for new readers
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Beginner activities are organized by letter with an extra set of vowels to introduce "long" and "short" ones.
  • In a letter C game, kids put puzzle pieces together to construct a four-letter word.
  • Matching different sounds to make new words teaches kids about phonemes and rhyming.
  • It's fun to use new reading skills by constructing stories out of simple sentences.
  • At the end, kids put it all together to read short animated stories.
  • Free content is on the left; paid content is on the right.
Pros
This in-depth exploration of some critical early literacy skills nicely shows kids how much fun it is to read.
Cons
Younger kids might need help, as many activities require a lot of navigation with the mouse.
Bottom Line
This fantastic learn-to-read site has valuable extension materials for classwork or homework.
Mieke VanderBorght
Common Sense Reviewer
Researcher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

The outstanding and free learn-to-read method is based on numerous studies and educational research. Game graphics aren't very gripping, but a good mix of video, interactive games, and stories should keep most kids engaged.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Teaching early letter recognition and providing beginner-level ebooks, the site does a great job of introducing reading basics. The presentation of each topic is clear, and the site sets a good pace with an ample amount of repetition.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

There are lots of free printouts, which is helpful for rounding out lessons offline. However, guidance on the best ways to use the site is minimal, and there's no way to track student progress.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Students from a variety of learning backgrounds (ELL, language-delayed, and more) can use Starfall.com to explore literacy concepts at their own pace. The earliest readers can explore well-designed 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.

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What's It Like?

Starfall.com does an excellent job of offering clear and intriguing early literacy lessons. The site is 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 are in control of their progress through these four sections as their reading skills improve and mature.

Starfall's large content base is divided into two sites: Starfall.com, which focuses on early reading and offers all of its activities at no cost, and MoreStarfall.com which adds more advanced reading as well as math content, and more, and requires a subscription. There are also several associated Starfall apps, some of which are entirely free and some of which offer limited content for free.

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Is It Good For Learning?

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.

Kids can click on every word on the site to hear it read aloud, but, in many cases, there's not an option to hear an entire passage read fluently. Also, many of the activities require a lot of mouse navigation, which may not come naturally to young children right away. 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.

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