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Posts Tagged ‘educational games’


Finding something that really can teach the very basics of reading and not be boring or time consuming can be a problem. Students who are not captivated by learning tend to become slow learners regardless of their intellectual abilities. I have reviewed many reading products in the past. Many of them were great and certainly did prove to be useful and motivating. Most of them were not for the true beginner, though. A parent would have to have started with a good bit of rote learning with flash cards and such. A product I was sent recently might be a little closer. It is simply called “The Reading Game” and is produced by the same author, Kenneth Hodkinson, who created the popular, Wordly Wise series. Learning to read can now be as simple as playing a game.

The game play is simple. It is played in quick rounds in the Memory Game fashion. You lay out cards with colored backs, a printed number 1 to 6, and an animal image on them and the other side is white with a perfectly centered printed word with each black letter clearly printed about 3/8” high. The font used is very similar to actual print handwriting, but properly sized and spaced for modeling of proper manuscript which I think is a plus. After laying the shuffled cards for each game group face down, you and your student each take turns flipping over two. If the cards match, you say the word several times in a clear voice. You keep the cards you matched for later scoring. Obviously, the one with the most matched sets wins. In the beginning, the tutor prompts the student in reading the correctly matched pairs. Use excited voices having a little celebration every time either you or the student makes a match.  A fun, but slightly disappointed voice saying, “oh, no,” or something similar should be used when there isn’t a match to help encourage fun game play.

That is all there is to play, but the learning begins immediately. The cards in the game are divided into card decks of about sixty each with two copies of the thirty words used to make each story book. The book has a matching colored cover and animal image because the story is about that animal. Book 1 is about a skunk. Book 2 is about a snake. Books 3, 4, and 5 are about a bear, a penguin, and a unicorn respectively. Book 6 is about a zebra. The card set for each book is also divided into six groups of five words. The back of each card shows the number of the group it is in. The numbers stand for games dividing the words of the book into smaller chunks to play with at a time making it easier to learn and remember the smaller group of words. When the student has mastered the words in game one, you move to game two words. After mastering the words for games 1 and 2, there are two test sentences using all of the words from the two sets. If the student can read these sentences, he is ready to move to game 3. There are test sentences after game 4 and again after game 6. After mastering the words and test sentences for game 6, the student is ready to read story book 1. You can print the test sentences out on paper individually or in groups, but I think the best way is to use the cards themselves placing them in sentence order. Later, the student can be asked to create the sentences with the cards themselves in preparation for writing. Each book and word sets repeats the same game play and increases in word difficulty. Each round is quick and fun, but the words are already being etched into memory. You can play as many rounds as the student’s attention span allows knowing that every little bit is useful. Follow the student’s leading. As the student learns the five words in a set, they naturally want to play the next set which leads to perfect pace of continued learning.

In addition to fun learning, the educational aspects go beyond word recognition even though that alone is great. By the time all six books have been learned with thirty new words per book, the student has learned a hundred and eighty words. That is a lot of words, but because the words have also been carefully chosen to be predominantly the most common English words (forty-two out of the fifty most common) the ability to recognize more words out of other reading sources increases. The confidence that brings to a beginning reader is very motivating.

The most unusual feature found in this product and perhaps the best almost goes against the convention that modeling of proper grammar is a must. The author has chosen to write his story without the use of capitals and punctuation. However, his chosen technique might do better for the preparation of learning grammar and reading fluency than all the modeling and lessons on larger capital shapes and squiggly lines and dots do in repeated instruction. The story is written without the conventions of grammar and punctuation as just the words they have learned on the cards, but with breaks in the printing where pauses should be teaching the student naturally the proper phrasing of reading and purposes of commas and end punctuation without having those confusing marks to distract from the natural process. After the book has been successfully mastered, tutor and student can explore the concepts of inflections and lead into the learning of the simplest punctuation. The natural pauses they discover in the reading leads naturally to the use and purpose of commas. Students can then be taught how to write in their own capitals to show the beginning of a sentence and place appropriate punctuation in their own books. As would be expected, the use of breaks to show more in-sentence commas is used more and more as the student progresses through the six story books.

With these features leading to a natural priming of the brain for learning to read, you may wonder about phonics. The author has addressed the initial teaching of phonics as well by introducing it after successful completion of game six of each series, you can use cards of the series to show the patterns throughout the series and introduce new words that follow those patterns. For example, three patterns can be found in the book 1 series: (-ay), (-un), and (-o). The words using the (-ay) pattern in book 1 are day, play, and stay. The teacher can use those cards to demonstrate how the first letter changes to create a new word and to help the student create more new words by using other initial letter sounds. The author details all of the books’ patterns in Rules and Teacher’s Guide that comes with the set. This is the simplest method to begin the teaching of phonics, but the best for setting the stage for a true and deep understanding of the mechanics of reading and spelling.

In terms of accessibility, the series is perfect for many special needs populations including those with processing disorders due to the non-distracting, clear, crisp, and contrasting print of the cards and story books where the words are displayed. The illustrations in the books are reminiscent of pencil sketches found in the textbooks of days gone by. Often times, this kind of drawing is great for attracting autistic and learning disabled students due to the unusual contrast it details for the objects drawn. This is normally even good for low vision readers especially when done on regular book paper. The glossy pages which are great for young beginning readers does make the details of some very involved sketches less crisp for students with acuity and perception issues, though. The tutor will need to verbally describe these illustrations to these low vision students. The size and font of the print for both cards and books are larger than many such reading products, so may be fine for those with milder low vision issues. Teachers of some students who need much larger print may need to create larger word cards and magnifiers or a CCTV for the story books. The kinesthetic use of word cards and the game play are useful tools for tactile learners and those who need multisensory techniques. Adding objects with the cards initially can help those who have receptive language disruptions and other processing disorders. The cards were easily brailled for blind and DeafBlind students. For the blind and DeafBlind teacher such as myself, I brailled the cards with not only the word, but also the game number and the book animal to help me keep the cards properly separated for ease of use and to prevent confusion while teaching. I used clear adhesive brailling plastic to place the sentence strips on the storybook for my reading along with the student. I copied the exact phrasing breaks the author used to provide the same natural fluency features. These braille sentences can be used separately for the blind and DeafBlind student, if necessary. The beginning braille reader benefitted the same from this phrasing technique without the braille punctuation and capital cells as the sighted student to my delight. It is wonderful to see a product that is useful as is or so easily modified to benefit the possible varying abilities of many students.

The Reading Game, along with progress sheets and other teaching suggestions, can be found at http://thereadinggame.com for just $24.95 which is a great price for the gift of literacy. The strategies here are simple and easy to implement, but the foundations for reading, spelling, and writing are etched into the brain ready to take your student fully prepared to become a great reader.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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Recently, I was sent a game product to review. It is kind of a cross between the old Rubik’s Cube from Mattel and the game Scrabble from Hasbro. I am not a big fan of Scrabble, and I did play with a Rubik’s Cube some as a teen, but I only managed to learn how to get one side to one color. When asked about getting this product, I wasn’t overly excited, but I still will give things a try because my readers, especially my DeafBlind Readers of my DeafBlind Hope blog, might find the product useful. My husband, on the other hand, was excited and wanted me to definitely sign up for it. My husband’s vocabulary is also a lot larger than mine, so this product piqued his interest. Scruble Cube turned out to be more of a success than I thought.

The Scruble Cube rotates in different directions and in different layers to allow you to move individual portions of the cube from one face to another. If you remember a Rubik’s Cube, each peg on each face of the cube had one of six colors. By moving the pegs in various movements, you could line one face with all of the pegs of one color. If you were really good maneuvering, you could make each face a different color. Scruble Cube is different in that the variously colored pegs have capital letters on them along with a number in subscript. The numbers are the number of points the letter will give you if you use the letter in a word up, down, or across a face or even scrolled across two faces similar to Scrabble. Words made in diagonal do not count. I can’t begin here to really explain how this works, but fortunately, I don’t have to do that. The game comes with detailed explanations on the rules of the game variations, cube basics of pattern recognition and initial steps, along with details and diagrams of the various ways to manipulate the pegs to spell words. The steps are easy to follow, so before long you will be racking up points with your great word finds. I admit the game might not be a perfect match for everyone especially if you really hate word games, but again, it could spice up spelling practice alittle for those who might need the twist. For others who really love word games, it can be fun. A little disclaimer: Warning! It can be addictive.

Educationally, the game is great for teaching students of all ages to learn pattern recognition and then build good spelling skills. For the youngest of children, you can create two, three, or four letter words and give the cube to your student to find the word you created. This will help build the skills needed to master the basics of the cube. Over time, Scruble Cube can easily improve spelling skills and build a stronger vocabulary as students try to improve their word scores.

Using Scruble Cube with special needs students is a snap, too, since many varying abilities and issues can benefit from the cube in several ways once the student has letter recognition and the beginning understanding that letters build words. Being able to start with two letter combinations to build three letter words allows even young, beginning readers a chance to play. Scruble Cube can even be played alone with or without the use of the scoring system. Being DeafBlind, I had to find a way to be able to play. I simply made adhesive plastic sheets using 2 braille cells: one for the braille letter and one for the number. I didn’t use the number or letter sign to save space. I simply remember the first cell is the letter and the second cell is the number. If you don’t care to use the scoring system or decide to let someone else add the scores for you, you can simply braille the letter for each cube which does fit better on the peg. There are scoring bonus pegs to for two and three times the letter score. You can braille that as the number and the braille letter “X” to identify those pegs or you can leave those cells as blank if you don’t want to use those cells in play. You would just make sure a blank isn’t in the middle of your word, of course. The instruction sheet detailed how many copies of each letter and number I needed to braille. I got sighted help to place the cells on the appropriate peg. The cell didn’t interfere with rotation, and the rotation can be easily done without damaging the braille cells. With this simple addition, even blind and deafblind can practice their spelling skills and have fun trying to improve their word scores. In my case, we don’t use the provided timer. I take a bit longer to play, of course, but the family is used to games taking a little longer when I play. I also play a lot by myself. It is a lot of fun to challenge myself, or even challenge the family to see if they can find my words on the cube. As I mentioned, I don’t really care for word games, but I do like keeping my hands occupied. The combination of rotation and ability to play with three to five letter words did make it a little addictive even for me. There are a lot of ways to enjoy this word game.

You can purchase Scruble Cube on-line or at many popular stores such as Toys-R-Us® for as little as $24.99. You can find out more at http://www.scrublecube.com or on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/scublecube. Whether you have a student who needs a little enticing to practice spelling or you love word games, this is worth a twist. Remember, though, I warned you. It can be addictive.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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When I was active in Boy Scouting, we had a saying we went by when planning activities for our young men that went activities should be fun, but fun with a purpose. The latest product review kept reminding me of that little mantra. I was sent Tri-cross from Games for Competitors which is actually a USA company based out of my home state not far from where I live. In fact, as I read the developers history on their web site, it became obvious that my husband and I may very well know them from days gone by, since our favorite hang-out as older teens and young adults was the very same Sword of the Phoenix game store they had been a part of in Atlanta, Ga. Ah, the memories played. I knew these were like-minded people. Games are a very important part of our home culture. My husband and I have been avid game players most of our lives and have played almost everything out there at least once. We didn’t stay long as children on the usual children’s games of simple play. We quickly graduated to what was called book shelf games. The games came in cases that were more suited to sitting on a book shelf like a book. The games were always very involved and needed lots of imagination from active minds and challenged those minds.

Tri-cross fits that bill easily, but also in a way that will entice even younger players in the family as it helps to teach them fair game play, social skills, and important game skills like strategy. The game is a cross between checkers, chess, and even Stratego in its varying game versions. As a certified teacher and curriculum developer, the game jumped out at me with its usefulness in any educational setting as well as home setting to further reinforce skills. A few of the skills besides social skills that can be taught with this game are logical thinking, cause and effect, predicting, outcome interpreting, abstract thinking, memory, and visualization (I will add that this can even help the blind visualize in various ways, too.) Despite my love of games, I am not very good with strategy due to learning disabilities that I have. I avoid games like chess and only play checkers with non-challenging players to avoid frustration. Tri-cross, though, didn’t intimidate me. I actually won the first game against my husband who loves and excels at chess. No, he didn’t let me win. He would forget while planning his strategies about the additional rules that certain pieces couldn’t jump certain other pieces. I seemed to be good at remembering that (even though I can’t remember any of the moves for chess pieces) and would catch him. That made me a fan of Tri-cross right away, of course. My husband loved the game, too, because it gave him new ways to think about game play. There are five ways you can play this game which will keep the fun going and be helpful in teaching skills, too. You can play the game with pieces face-up, so that you always see where the pieces that can jump other pieces are and develop strategy skills, or you can play the game with all the pieces face down until opponents meet in a possible jump situation. Players then turn the pieces over to see if a jump can be made. After play, the pieces are then turned back over. You would then do well to try and improve your memory skills to know where those pieces are and move them in useful ways. Other versions add excitement and challenge to the game to keep Tri-cross exciting for years to come.

Tri-cross is very durable and well-made in any of the formats from eco-friendly travel game to the more decorative wooden table-top format. This is extremely pleasing to our family as we have seen the American game industry drop its standards for game quality over the last few decades. One would be proud to own any of the formats and be assured that it will last to pass down over the years.

Of course, my readers know that I have other needs that make gaming more difficult now than when I was younger. Being totally deaf and blind, I can’t play games the way I used to play. Of course, you can’t stop an avid game player from seeking and playing however possible. Tri-cross, I am glad to say, was easy to make accessible to me. I would imagine that certain formats would be easier to make tactile, but I was able to make the two formats I was given tactile for my needs without any real difficulty. I received the travel version and the boxed, hard tag board game format. The wooden table-top would probably be the easiest to work with, but certainly not necessary. I made clear, adhesive braille labels for the game pieces and the board itself. I brailled the dots (I didn’t bother with the number sign, since there is no need for letters in the game. The Tri-cross piece can be labeled with a “T” cell which isn’t used for numbers in braille or left plain because the six intersecting lines are quite tactilely distinct from the other pieces. I can remember the dots are for numbers and save space) for the numbers of each piece and for placement of beginning pieces for one of the game play versions off to the side of the starting positions. The grid of the board which is designed like a large, thick cross or plus sign might seem a difficulty, but I placed thin, low-profile textured markers used by the blind and DeafBlind on each of the squares used for game play. I used a different texture marker for the center’s Tri-cross square which is the objective for one of the winning options. This way I knew exactly when I had my piece moved appropriately into each square, but the marker didn’t affect the movement of pieces on the board at all. I can’t say from pictures if the wooden version provides a tactile grid or not, but that would make it much more accessible if it did. Regardless, the game formats are very durable and easy to make accessible which is a big plus for me and my readers which is why this review will be found on both my homeschool/educational blog and my DeafBlind Hope blog.

Find out more about this game at http://www.gamesforcompetitiors.com. Though challenging, don’t let that scare you off. The developers provide great game instructions and play tips in print and on a CD that is provided with each game format. The prices start at $19.99 for the eco-friendly travel version and range upwards to $35.95 for the wooden table-top format which are a really good prices for this well-made game. If you want a game that is fun, but fun with a purpose, Tri-cross is for you.

To read other reviews about this product and others from The Old SchoolHouse Crew, go to the TOS Crew blog

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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