Language Arts Software Crosses the Curriculum

Language Arts Software Crosses the Curriculum

"See Spot run." With those words, a generation of youngsters began their training in the language arts. While Dick and Jane may have been enough to stimulate those young minds, the technologically aware kids of today want more action. Whether increasing their vocabulary bank, writing creative short stories, or collaborating on multi-author stories, students nowadays have a greater choice than ever when it comes to language arts learning tools. Instead of just hundreds of texts, there are now also hundreds of software programs produced specifically for language arts, reading and writing instruction. Most of these programs have been designed with studentsí need for interaction at the forefront, combined with content that can be easily integrated into a schoolís curriculum.

Additionally, there are more and more packages coming out for older students, and even some intended for educators and professional writers. This article will cover a range of language arts software, from Pre-K up to professional-level packages. Unless noted, all software is both Windows and Macintosh compatible.

Phonics has enjoyed a rise in popularity recently, due to good press and various research studies re-proving its worth and recommending its inclusion in the curriculum. Consequently, many firms are releasing software that helps young learners relate symbols to sounds.

Macmillan/McGraw-Hill has just released ëTronic Phonics, phonics software for grades 1-2. Comprising 14 CDs, each with three or four short phonics-based stories and related phonics and decoding activities, the software features easy-to-use writing, painting and drawing tools, a recorder that lets children hear their own voice, and a reporting utility. Con Ton Y Son is a Spanish-language version of the program that includes ten CD-ROMs and all of the same features as ëTronic Phonics.

As a follow up to Kid Phonics 1, Davidson offers Kid Phonics 2. The new program, aimed at kids ages six to nine (Kid Phonics 1 is for ages four to seven), combines a Western theme with seven phonics activities including the Word Rodeo, Silent Letter Stagecoach and more. Students learn to sound out over 350 words, differentiate among letter sounds, understand prefixes and suffixes, use words in context sentences, and connect sounds to clusters of letters, building those clusters into words.

Focused at grades K-2, Reading Who? Reading You! Something Phonics, Something New is Sunburst Communicationsí first phonics program. It consists of five separate activities designed to enhance phonemic awareness. In Three Windows, an activity that supports record keeping, students learn new words in sequential fashion. Success is rewarded with full-motion video, jokes and inspiring comments. Additionally, over 40 original p'ems teach children common sight words, and The Word Truck activity lets them build their own fun phrases or sentences.

New to the educational software arena, Panasonic Interactive Media offers its Phonics Adventure with Sing-Along Sam, for ages four to six. The software uses 15 original songs in a variety of musical styles to guide students through 12 separate lessons. As young learners complete lessons, they are rewarded with three reinforcing games. A status screen lets teachers and parents monitor progress, and a teacherís guide shows how to design custom reading plans based on the program.

A phonics program that is also appropriate for use as a remedial tool for special and LEP students, Reading With Phonics Is Fun employs learnersí visual, auditory and kinesthetic skills while sending them on an educational reading journey. This comprehensive program teaches the ABCs, short and long vowel sounds, consonant sounds, beginning and ending sounds, beginning and ending clusters, consonant digraphs, vowel digraphs, 400 basics sight words, over 2,600 words and a variety of reading skills. It is available in CD-ROM, floppy disk, or videotape formats.

The Next Step

Through phonics and other early language arts instruction, youngsters are taught to read. Software that reinforces early language arts curricula is plentiful and better than ever. Far more advanced than simple "animated storybook" packages, todayís software adds many elaborate learning exercises to those early productsí appealing animation and interactivity.

To help three to six year-olds develop decision-making skills while laying a solid foundation in early reading, Theatrix offers Build-A-Book with Roberto, a CD-ROM story-making program. Kids direct the action and outcome of stories starring Roberto the Hippo. Once a story is complete, it can be viewed along with read-along text, animated characters, music and sound effects. Kids can also print read-along books that coincide with their story create masks and puppets and more.

Sesame Street Get Set for Kindergarten Deluxe, from Creative Wonders, prepares children for their first year of school. A full year of kindergarten curriculum is covered, including early reading, phonics, thinking and problem-solving skills, and more. The two-disc, Windows-based program helps young students learn more than 300 new words, spelling skills and Spanish vocabulary. They can also partake in 24 different learning activities with various Muppet characters acting as word experts.

A title aimed at students a little older, ages seven to 11, that helps increase vocabulary and problem-solving skills is Lawrence Productionsí Mind Castle: The Enchanted Forest. This title builds on the success of the first Mind Castle title, The Spell of the Word Wizard, adding new phonics, word-building, rhyming, homonyms, contractions, punctuation, similes, analogies and other instruction. Mind Castle: The Enchanted Forest is available for Windows only and retails for around $25.

For a program that teaches vocabulary in either English or Spanish, check out Edmarkís Words Around Me. This Macintosh software helps students identify 275 words and 186 plurals, using pictures, photographs, spoken words and animation. Teachers can customize lessons for each student using, select appropriate features for each student, and track student progress. The software also prints out flash cards for students to use away from the computer. In addition, all activities or games are accessible via mouse, TouchWindow or single switch.

Little Planet Publishing offers various collections for early literacy that include CD-ROMs, audio CDs, videotapes, videodiscs, teacherís guides, teacher training CD-ROMs, lesson plans and assessment materials and more. For example, the Glowbird Collection Plus, for grades 2-4, lets students write, read and publish their own animated books. They control all aspects of production, from sequencing scenes to selecting music to accompany each page. Teachers can author their own word lists, word pronunciations and word divisions, and implement the multiple ESL supportive features.

Rainbow is a program that integrates five geographic themes into three reading and writing scenarios. Place, location, relationship, movement and regions are covered while students practice Listening and Reading; Writing, Editing and Designing; and Producing a Video. Students can write their own stories and illustrate them with Rainbow artwork, or import their own artwork. A teacherís guide gives background information for each geographic area covered, supplemental reading packages, skill reinforcement activities, mapping exercises and more.

Friendly Forest Reading Club, from IBM, is a comprehensive program for youngsters ages four to seven. It includes 2 CD-ROMs, 5 workbooks, 12 storybooks, a parentís guide, and stickers for kidsí activities. The programís 132 separate lessons, 34 stories, and 110 learning games enrich kidís vocabulary, build comprehension skills, teach reading comprehension, develop their computer skills, among other benefits. This Windows-only software lets parents or educators go online, connecting to an online Reading Advisor to analyze a childís progress, get advice, chat with other parents and educators, and access additional stories and activities.

NFL Reading, Sanctuary Woodsí entry in the reading software category, covers three basic skill sets: reading comprehension, spelling, and vocabulary. This program is especially suited for students aged nine to 13 that are interested in the NFL. Its 1,800 reading passages are packed with information on NFL teams and players, letting them polish spelling and vocabulary skills by unscrambling words and defining football terms. Four arcade-style learning games reinforce skills while letting students challenge each other on the same computer.

Accelerated Reader motivates students to read more books by establishing a clear system of goals and recognition. Students get recognized for improving the quality of the books they read, as well as the quantity. Along with reading skills, students develop critical thinking skills such as evaluation, synthesis, analysis and application. The Accelerated Reader systematically tracks student performance with regular testing. To learn more about the program, educators can request a free information kit including a demonstration disk by calling (800) 338-4204.

While most of these titles include a little bit of everything, DK Multimediaís I Hate Love Spelling concentrates solely on, what else?, spelling. Kids are sent on a wacky intergalactic game-show adventure to seven planets, each with its own spelling-themed activity. A comprehensive database of 5,000 words, divided into three levels of difficulty, can be customized to focus on specific spelling patterns and rules or to prepare students for test on particular types of words.

Another title that focuses solely on one area of instruction is Alphabet Express, from School Zone. This title introduces readiness tools by teaching letters and their sounds. Movies, dot-to-dots, mazes, hidden letters and more keep kids entertained while readying them for school. Alphabet Express also includes a parentís guide. School Zone also offers Interactive Learning Centers, with CD-ROM, workbooks, flash cards, writing/drawing tablet and a parent guide. These packages focus on phonics, preschool, kindergarten, and first grade instruction.

Finally, Breakthrough, Inc. has developed a reading program titled Foundations in Reading that helps early learners discover the relationships between speech and written text through story activities, active exploration, and discovery of language units. The softwareís 24 stories and 4,100 interactive lessons incorporate more than 2,000 vocabulary words. Foundations in Reading attempts to bridge the gap between whole language and strictly phonic approaches to teaching how to read. The program also includes professional development and training to support teachers.

Writing for All Occasions

Many of the new writing-specific packages let student and professional writers alike hone their skills and learn new ones. From online writing tools to hypertext programs, software exists that suits every area of writing instruction.

To that end, The Learning Company antes up with the Ultimate Writing & Creativity Center package. Billed as a "word processing and creativity program that helps children learn to write," the software includes a full-featured, easy-to-use word processor, 1,000 writing projects and ideas, spoken help on the writing process, a paint program, 900 clip-art graphics and more. Penny, an animated help character, offers suggestions and encouragement as students go through five stages of writing: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and presenting.

Designed for ages six and older, MECCís Storybook Weaver Deluxe 2.0 has been updated with improved graphics, voice record/playback capabilities, text-to-speech, and support for scanned images. The software is bilingual, letting students write and spellcheck their stories in either English or Spanish. The software comes with thousands of story-starting images, music and sound effects, inspiring youngsters to create interesting stories, using writing skills they have learned in school.

Another title that lets kidsí creative writing juices flow is Microsoftís Creative Writer 2 for Windows 95. This creative writing and desktop publishing software lets one create journals, papers, newsletters, fliers, awards, certificates, banners, cards and more, in an environment suited to learners age eight and up. New to Creative Writer 2, students can now publish their creations online, and features projects that let them create their own Web pages. It also includes musical themes, borders, backgrounds, fancy formatting, special effects and clip art. And, the Splot machine assists in story creation by providing thousands of story-starting ideas.

Rookie Reporter, from Meridian, builds language arts skills while introducing students ages nine to 14 to the newspaper-publishing field. The titleís eight scenarios, or "newsworthy environments," cover eight different curriculum areas. Students assume the role of reporters, having to research, prewrite, edit and layout their articles. Rookie Reporter includes a video tour of a newspaper facility, graphic exploration and definitions of newspaper terms, and other learning exercises.

A writing program covering more grade levels than most, Jostens Learningís Writing Expedition presents writing in three major stages: prewriting, drafting, and editing & revising. Each stage engages students in activities that involve brainstorming, organizing, planning, drafting, proofing and editing. Instructors can choose special peer review groups and control access to grammar, editing and printing options. Operating on Windows or Macintosh networks managed by the Compass system, Writing Expedition provides multiple management options for teachers, including assignment production, student-teacher communication, and evaluation and assessment features. Writing Expedition is suitable for grades 4-12.

An Odyssey of Discovery:

Skill for Writers, from Pierian Spring, is a Macintosh-based program that is also suited to grades 4-12. It provides a learning environment where students can creatively explore and experiment with language. Hands-on practice with vocabulary development, word usage, sentence structure, correct punctuation, capitalization and spelling helps to foster form and style. Activities are fully narrated and can be practiced individually, in small groups, or with the entire classroom. Skills for Writers is teacher-developed and aligns with IRA and NCTE standards.

For a writing program that encompasses a full yearís course in grades 6, 7, and 8, look into The Writerís Solution, from Prentice Hall School. The package includes a videodisc featuring real writers leading students through the writing process. The Writing Lab CD helps students work through interactive tutorials on the major modes of writing, while the Student Sourcebook provides colorful text lessons tailored to the videodisc and CD content. In addition, activity-based lessons in grammar, usage and mechanics can be found in the Language Lab CD, and the Writerís Toolkit software contains more than 50 writing tools and activities. The Writerís Solution also seamlessly integrates with Prentice Hallís Literature and new Choices in Literature series, as well as other language arts programs.

Aimed at advanced high school and college-level students of fiction writing, as well as professional writers, The Writerís Software Companion provides help with more than 75 topics, from writing good beginnings to fixing broken dialogue. This Windows-based software features 11 interactive Learning Laboratories where writers get trail-and-error feedback as they write. Key Points provide brief synopses of hundreds of writing topics, and Checklists are provided for more than 500 technical considerations. Hundreds of examples of story beginnings, plot structures, dialogue, point of view and other crucial elements of good fiction are also included. A Troubleshooter feature helps diagnose common problems for beginning writers including weak or melodramatic writing, padded prose and missing story logic, and a name catalogue holds more than 5,000 character names. More detailed information on The Writerís Software Companion is available at

A product that has traditionally been used primarily by professional screenwriters and novelists, StoryCraft can help students polish their novels and screenplays. The software supplies students with a set of structured steps based directly on a fiction classic of the type they want to write. Numerous Online Tutors and HandyHelp discussions aid writers in transforming story ideas into elaborate story premises and, ultimately, into a complete novel or screenplay. Based on the structure-step approach, or Jarvis Method, of teaching fiction, StoryCraft is now available on disk for DOS and Windows, or over the Internet in a 3-month subscription format.

Finally, Storyspace is a hypertext writing system that can be integrated into the curriculum in almost innumerable ways. In one example, at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technologyís Cinema Studies Program, students produce hypermedia essays that incorporate still images, digitized video and sound. They include clips from films they are commenting upon, giving readers a better grasp of their ideas. Instructors then embed their own comments, with links to other scenes or documents or perhaps even different films. Storyspace will also translate hypertext into HTML files, letting one easily publish on the Web.

Wrapping It All Up

In addition to all of the software covered, writing tools like ClarisWorks for Kids help students compile all they have learned and produce high-quality documents. And to assess student reading, the very popular Standardized Test for Assessment of Reading (S.T.A.R.), from Advantage Learning Systems, Inc., lets educators test student semantic and syntactic understanding in 10 minutes. Another helpful writing tool, First Draft-Writer helps one organize information for research papers and journal articles. And finally, South-Western Educational Publishing offers Multimedia Reference for Writers, a comprehensive writing aid that includes modules on grammar, punctuation, style, correspondence, reports, manuscripts and more.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.