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Teach Your Monster to Read app review

I’m officially smitten with the Usborne Foundation’s phonics and reading game Teach Your Monster to Read (Teach Monster Games Ltd., 2014; iOS, Android, and desktop). Designed in collaboration with leading academics at the U.K.’s University of Roehampton to cover the first two years of literacy learning, this app serves as a nice complement to any phonics program used in schools and at home.

Choose one of three games, each focusing on a particular stage of literacy learning, to begin. “First Steps” is designed “for children just starting to learn letters and sounds,” “Fun with Words” is “for children who are confident with early letter-sound combinations and are starting to read sentences,” and “Champion Reader” is “for children who are confidently reading short sentences and know all of the basic letter-sound combinations.” Each offers an extensive number of levels for developing and practicing the highlighted skills. The first order of business, regardless of which game you select, is to design a monster by choosing its arms, legs, body, head, face, and ears/horns. Your monster then boards a spaceship and embarks on an adventure.

In “First Steps,” the spaceship crash-lands on an island. The island’s king offers a replacement part for the broken spaceship in exchange for finding letter-sound combinations the king has lost. You “find” the letters by playing four activities; once the activities are completed, your monster visits a new island to repeat the process with a different king and different sounds. Over the course of eight islands, each covering four graphemes, you practice matching thirty-one letter-sound combinations (including ck, ff, ll, ss, qu, zz), blending sounds to make simple words, and segmenting words into their sound components. There are also six “tricky” (non-decodable) words to learn by interacting with creatures representing these words. Your monster earns prizes, such as accessories to wear or fruit to eat, for successfully completing the activities.

In “Fun with Words,” your monster escapes from space pirates by completing different tasks involving new letter-sound combinations (ch, sh, ow, er, etc.), more blending and segmenting practice, and reading and comprehension of sentences. You also encounter many additional “tricky” word-creatures (such as the, my, come, so, etc.).

In the most advanced game, “Champion Reader,” a green goblin prince is turning creatures into blocks of ice. The monster must complete activities — focusing on alternative spellings of sounds and alternative pronunciations — to banish the goblin from a series of planets (each covering a different sound). This game requires reading for comprehension as well as mastering more non-decodable words. As an added learning incentive, in both “Fun with Words” and “Champion Reader” games, you earn stars you can exchange for accessories for your monster.

Within an individual game, activities (with different sounds, letters, or words) and characters reappear, establishing familiarity and confidence with both the literacy concepts and the gameplay itself. The rigorous activities are not only educational, but also a lot of fun. Engaging narration by British actor Simon Farnaby adds to the enjoyment.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; $4.99. A free computer version is also available. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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