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Review CornerSoftware
Phonics, Reading, & Writing Excelerator (Grades 1-4)
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This 4 CD-ROM set is both economical and educationally rich. Its two comprehensive learn-to-read programs are effective, but repetitive. The other two CDs are not dazzling but solid tools that allow kids to create their own electronic stories.
 Award of Excellence
Ages: 5-9   Subject: Reading/Pre-reading/Spelling  Brand: Topics Entertainment
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Skills Covered  Educational Value  Entertainment Value  Design  Replayability  Dollar Value
Lets go read island Product Overview
This software package bundles four previously released programs designed to develop language arts skills. The "stars" of the package are two learn-to-read programs, Let's Go Read! An Island Adventure and Let's Go Read! 2 An Ocean Adventure. Both titles are carefully sequenced, comprehensive programs that can be very effective at teaching kids the building blocks of reading. Children complete activities that use both phonics and whole language approaches to learning to read. They interact with the programs by talking into a microphone (which is optional), and earn interactive storybooks with reading levels that closely match their budding skills.

Let's Go Read! An Island Adventure takes kids on a journey around Letter Island. Each and every letter of the alphabet is introduced by sight and sound, and repetitive exercises reinforce lessons learned. Common sight words (those that are less intuitive to decode using phonics, such as "the" and "where") are introduced, and kids earn storybooks that incorporate new letter sounds and sight words as rewards. This title is best for Kindergarten-age children, or those kids who are showing signs of reading readiness. For more details about this program, see our full review.

Let's Go Read! 2 An Ocean Adventure picks up where the first program leaves off. In fact, Robbie Raccoon, who lamented the fact that he couldn't read in the first program, is shown reading books in the introduction to this second title in the series. Kids then embark on a journey that takes them under the ocean on a hunt for books. Children engage in more challenging practice with long vowels, letter blends, and letters that make more than one distinct sound. In between activities, children travel in the Reading Rover where they encounter word-labelled bubbles of water. When players successfully read a sight word (such as "said" and "really") into their microphones, the bubble is zapped away with a satisfying pop. (Note that the program can be used without a microphone--a click on a bubble will suffice).

The other two titles in the package are Imagination Express: Destination Ocean and Imagination Express: Destination Pyramids. Both titles have a similar format with different themes. These solid programs are designed to make it easy for children to create electronic books. They include story starters and fact books to help inspire kids. Users choose backgrounds for their story pages, add text and stickers, and can even attach sounds to the stickers and pages. These titles are a little dated, and have somewhat limited appeal. Some kids will have fun with them, while others will lose interest quickly. Parents may find that getting involved with their kids' story-making attempts will help kindle interest in the programs. Adults may enjoy creating personalized stories for their kids to enjoy. For example, Imagination Express titles can be used to create early readers, stories that reinforce words in children's weekly spelling lists, and more.

Although repetition is an important element in any good reading program, the main flaw of the Let's Go Read titles is that they don't adjust to a child's performance. As a result, kids who have mastered specific skills are forced to work through these exercises before they can advance in the adventure. The most exciting aspect of the programs is their speech recognition engine. Children thoroughly enjoy the power they have to eradicate clouds and pop bubbles using only their voice - what a novel reward for their reading efforts!

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/2000/XP, a 486/66 MHz (Pentium recommended), 16 MB of RAM, 2X CD-ROM, and 50 MB of hard drive space. For speech recognition, users require Win 95 or later, a Pentium 90, and a high-quality microphone. A printer is optional.

Skills Covered
letter recognition (upper- and lower-case), letter sounds, sound discrimination, sight word recognition, word building, rhyming words, beginning, middle, and ending sounds, sequencing, blends, word structure, creativity, composition, memory, spelling.

Educational Value
The Let's Go Read! titles in the package contain loads of repetition and a variety of skill-building activities that offer practice with letters, letter blends, and words in isolation, as well as in context. Powerful and repeated audio-visual exposure to letters, blends, and sight words is featured. The result is a thorough introduction to reading. The reading challenges increase gradually--sometimes too slowly for excelling students.

Entertainment Value
The learn-to-read programs feature cute animated hosts, plenty of encouragement, and the chance to interact with the programs by using a microphone--all of which add entertainment value to the package. However, some activities last a little longer than we'd like, leaving some children (especially quick learners) bored. The Imagination Express programs are open-ended tools for creating electronic storybooks that will appeal to some children.

As with any program that incorporates speech recognition technology, children may find it frustrating when they successfully read a word aloud, and the programs don't accept it as a correct answer. However, as long as children enunciate their words carefully, and are aware of the sometimes flawed nature of speech recognition, this shouldn't be too much of a distraction.

The learn-to-read programs are designed exceptionally well with clear instructions, the ability to "click through" chatter, and "Dear Parents" videos on the CD-ROMs that explain the goals of the program.

Strong content suggests above-average long-term potential, though 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 $20 US.

Released: 2001
Reviewed: February 2002