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Review CornerSoftware
Phonics Excelerator
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This economical 2 CD-ROM set offers systematic early phonics instruction that will support children as they learn to read and spell. Although at times repetitive, the structured approach and reward system give excelling students a tangible sense of progress and accomplishment. Note that taking up the challenge of the programs' reward system can create undue pressure for struggling students.
Ages: 4-8   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: Topics Entertainment
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
 
 
Phonics: Vowel Sounds Product Overview
This economical set includes 2 CD-ROMs originally published by HelpMe2Learn: Phonics Vowel Sounds and Phonics Consonant Games.

Both of these programs feature the same general format, and offer friendly lessons and games in a step-by-step manner. With the goal of earning gold and silver stars, children progress through demonstrations and games that teach and reinforce early phonics skills.

With the Vowels CD-ROM, kids are introduced to vowels ("the letters we can't do without"), and then learn the sounds of short vowels. Words with short vowel sounds are shown along with a corresponding picture. As children roll their cursor over each letter of the word, the letter clearly sounds itself out. This is a powerful exercise! The games are essentially the same throughout this section: children play "Cat on a Mat", "Hen in a Pen", and so forth. Each game requires children to see and hear a word to determine whether it makes a particular sound, such as the "short e sound". Children are treated to a "just for fun" coloring activity after a few lessons.

Section 2 in the Vowels CD-ROM introduces children to long vowel sounds. The games in this section are rather fun and creative. For example, a game show activity called Mice With Advice, kids need to decide whether or not the mice contestants are correct when they identify whether a word has the short "i" or long "i" sound. Another activity involves building a comical cartoon mule, body part by body part, as children correctly identify words with the long "u" sound. Animated children are the guides in both sections, and the graphics are adorable. The voice for the instructions is rather annoying, but the rest of the program features clear and pleasing audio.

The Consonants CD-ROM is quite meaty, with plenty of lessons and games that teach children the sounds of the consonants, including the "tricky" consonants that make more than one sound. Children play games like "bcdf soccer" and a "ghjk" dot-to-dot game. Phonics rules and sight words are taught and reinforced.

In both programs, the ultimate goal is to become a Phonics Superstar. Children must complete each activity without any errors in order to earn Gold Stars. Only one error bumps them down to silver. The system is a little strict, but kids have the chance to redo any exercise as often as they please until they have mastered it. Keep in mind, however, that struggling students might be better off with a more forgiving program, unless they are satisfied with earning Silver. We would have preferred a system in which kids were able to correct individual errors in order to master an exercise. As it stands, they must repeat the entire exercise, which can be quite lengthy, without making any mistakes.

This package's low price and educational value make it attractive for families with young children learning to read. Those who work through each of the CD-ROMs in this set will come away with strong basic phonics skills.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95 and higher including XP, Pentium 166 MHz or higher, 32 MB of RAM, and CD-ROM drive. Mac users require a PowerPC 120 MHz or higher, System 8.1 or higher including OS X, 32 MB RAM, and CD-ROM drive. The program can be run from the CD (only a small installation of a few files occurs), and Windows users have the option to install the programs to their hard drive.

Skills Covered
sounding out words, letter sounds: short vowels, long vowels, consonants, sound discrimination, sight word recognition, beginning, middle, and ending sounds, sequencing, blends, creativity, memory, spelling.

Educational Value
Both CD-ROMs are quite structured. They feature a series of lessons followed by games that test skills learned. Children receive plenty of exposure to letter sounds and words, and learn basic phonics rules. Keep in mind that the program's games test children on the information they have learned in lessons. These are drills as opposed to activities that allow children to experiment with building words. Also, it can be rather challenging for most children to become a Phonics SuperStar--the programs are rather strict in this department. You may want to alleviate some of the pressure to perform by having kids aim for a Silver Star performance instead.

Entertainment Value
Though the CD-ROMs feature bright, appealing graphics, the educational agenda of the programs comes through clearly. Positive feedback is given.

Design
For the most part, the programs are straightforward to play. Children can work through both games sequentially, or jump forward or backward by means of the SuperStars Page or the Table of Contents.

Replayability
Large content adds great potential for repeated use, but some children will find a few of the activities too lengthy and repetitive.

Dollar Value
This package is economical and valuable at a retail price of approximately $10 US.

Released: 2002
Reviewed: May 2002