Free, fun and top quality, 'Teach Your Monster To Read' finds favour with Ceri Williams
'Teach Your Monster To Read: Fun With Words''Teach Your Monster To Read: Fun With Words'Those of you who may have encountered the first part of, First Steps, will already be aware of the educational value of this free colourful and engaging games-based learning website, launched in 2012, that follows the teaching sequence of the initial sounds of stages two and three of the Department for Education's Letters and Sounds (L&S) phonics programme.

TYMTR part 2, Fun With Words is now available and covers up to the end of stage four of Letters and Sounds. Both games can be played on any internet-connected laptop or PC, including Apple Mac (an IPad app is due but no word yet on an Android version).

Teach Your Monster To Read is a completely free web service and there no hidden catches. This website, which help children practise the first steps of reading, was set up by the Usborne Foundation, a charitable fund created four years ago by publisher Peter Usborne and his children, Nicola and Martin, to support early literacy. TYMTR uses numerous games to build on the sequence of L&S sounds learnt and comprises aural, oral, segmenting/blending and comprehension activities using an animated monster character that each pupil can individually customise with a choice of body parts and clothing. The number of games available increases as progress is made and teachers and parents can track the progress of individual pupils.

Individual password logins mean the game can be played in school or at home. The games are fun and intuitive to learn and, as pupils progress, they are offered a prize and extra activities at every stage, maintaining engagement, motivation and interest. Even young key stage 3 pupils with severe literacy difficulties happily play along. In the Fun With Words level the players can click on Treasure Chests which releases gold stars to collect and accumulate.

The strength is repetitive, familiar and expanding game formats and dialogues

An instantly attractive bonus is that TYMTR is narrated by Simon Farnaby of BBC TV’s Horrible Histories, whose kindly, humorous and recognisable vocal tones immediately grasp and then maintains the attention of the pupils.

One hugely important pedagogic aspect in my opinion is the repetitive, familiar, but constantly expanding nature of the game formats and the game dialogues, which pupils pick up intuitively, and so the game’s literacy content is the focus, not the acquisition of difficult mouse and game-playing skills. This feature is prevalent both in TYMTR First Steps and TYMTR Fun With Words, and for those pupils that may need a low-key learning environment, it is perfect for both individual and small-group bolt-on consolidation sessions. Another key pedagogic feature is that irregular. high-frequency ‘tricky’ words are interspersed throughout both First Steps and Fun With Words, helping learners recognise these words, key ingredients in acquiring reading fluency.

In TYMTR Fun With Words (see YouTube trailer below) the activities cover up to stage 4 of the Letters and Sounds program and feature the voice of Mr Thorne, of Mr Thorne Does Phonics fame. It introduces more challenging blending/segmenting games and comprehension exercises that increase in complexity as the pupil makes progress. New characters are introduced, such as the Hungry Word Beast, which ’eats’ recently learned words, and The Shopkeeper, who pupils can click on and spend their accumulated gold stars on numerous new fashion items.

One feature that would be extremely useful would be the ability to reset certain levels for pupils to revisit areas where they may need some extra practice. Additionally, there are some slightly forced pronunciations of a few of the phonemes and occasionally some regional enunciations of the odd phoneme. For example, the ‘er’ digraph is enunciated more as in ‘her’ rather than as a ‘schwa’ ‘uh’ sound, and the ‘ure’ trigraph sounds like the word ‘your’. These anomalies would only need to be addressed in cases of severe phonological processing difficulties, and notable regional pronunciation differences.

Both First Steps and Fun With Words are excellent resources for teaching, revising, reinforcing and consolidating work done in early years literacy classrooms as well as for those older pupils who continue to have literacy difficulties, and are a most welcome addition to the resources available.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4.5
Ease of use             5
Features                 5
Quality                    5
Value for money     5 – it's free!

Teach Your Monster To Read: Fun With Words 
Free computer-based gaming activities for early literacy work with children, modelled on the Department for Education's Letters and Sounds phonics programme. Provided by the Usborne Foundation, a charity.
Teach Your Monster To Read
Teach Your Monster to Read on Facebook 

Ceri WilliamsCeri Williams is a specific learning difficulties tutor for Torfaen LEA. He is a Microsoft Innovative Teacher Award winner and won the Naace Inclusion Impact Award in March 2013.He is also a jazz musician.
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