What’s the Word on Vocabulary Apps for Kids?

by Melanie Ruda

With a shiny new iPad 2 in hand, my mission was to find cheap mobile apps that help kids in grades K-6 develop their oral and reading vocabularies. A search on vocabulary within the education category in the App store yielded a couple hundred hits, though not many met my criteria:

  • Age appropriate. The app had to be appropriate for school age children. I was looking for something beyond the ubiquitous apps for toddlers and preschoolers that teach colors, numbers, and letters. At the other end of the spectrum were apps for SAT prep. They didn’t fit the bill either.
  • Focus on vocabulary development. I eliminated apps with an emphasis on spelling, sight words, phonics, or grammar because my focus was on helping kids learn the meanings of new words. Being able to type a word or unscramble the letters reinforces words that kids already know, but it doesn’t necessarily help them expand their vocabularies. For this reason, I also avoided word-find and letter-scramble type games, although you’ll see at the end of this post that I made some exceptions.

After sifting through the choices, the resulting list was surprisingly short. Here are some apps that directly address vocabulary development.

dog_party_150Martha Speaks Dog Party by PBS Kids

This app is suitable for kindergarten and first grade, as well as for younger children. It received a Parents Choice Recommended award in the Spring of 2010. Dog Party contains three games and a pop quiz.
Doggie Dress Up is a mix-and-match slider game in which the child chooses accessories for the dog party guests. Martha comments on the child’s creations, using words such as stylish and fashionable. Then Martha explains what the words mean.
In Martha Says, children put Martha’s dog friends through their paces, and by doing so learn synonyms for walk, stroll, and run.
Chow Time is the least contextual of the games but the most sensory. Children see three plates that are decorated in a motif related to the target word, such as striped or triangular. After selecting the correct plate, the child moves their finger over the plate so the dog’s tongue can lap up the chow.

wordgirl_120WordGirl Word Hunt by Scholastic Inc.

Another app suitable for early elementary is WordGirl Word Hunt. This app presents unknown words within narrated stories about WordGirl, a superhero who uses her powers to fight villains. Children use visual and context clues to select the correct meaning. They’re rewarded for their correct choice with a game in which they tilt the iOS device to make WordGirl fly.

vocab_central_120Vocabulary Central Grade 6 by Pearson

This app offers six units of literature-related content, although the 16 words taught in each unit seem to be only loosely tied to the unit names. For example, the first five words taught in the Fiction and Nonfiction unit are confirm, decision, determine, evidence, and fact.

Each unit has three activities: Flashcards, BQ Tunes, and Vocabulary Trivia. Each flashcard provides everything you’d want to know about a word: its definition, part of speech, a model sentence, a photo, and more info such as synonyms and antonyms. The value of BQ Tunes is that it presents the words in context. Vocabulary Trivia is a quiz show type of game. Players answer timed multiple choice questions about the meanings of the words.

And here are a couple more apps worth mentioning, though I’m loosening the criteria to do so. Knowing the meaning of a word isn’t necessary for success in these games, but they’re fun to play. Definitions are included as a peripheral element.

textropolis_120Textropolis by Nimblebit LCC

In this game, players rearrange the letters in city names to form as many words as they can. As the number of words increases, the cityscape is filled with objects. For example, players might use the letters A-M-S-T-E-R-D-A-M to form words such as master, arm, and mad. As each word is formed, its definition is displayed. The sequel, Fishtropolis, uses a similar premise–players use the letters from fish names to form words. A nice feature of these apps is that they support use by multiple players who share a device.

chicktionary_120Chicktionary by blockdot

Want to dress up some chickens as pirates? In Chicktionary, you can do that! The graphics, animations, and sound effects make for light-hearted fun. Like Textropolis and Fishtropolis, the object is to form as many words as possible using the letters from a long word. Players can access a definition by tapping a word, although doing so is a clunky process that opens up the browser and interrupts the game flow.

Do you know of other apps developed for children age 5-12 that focus primarily on vocabulary development? If so, please leave a comment.


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