Focus on Reading/Language Development

Reading and language skills are a true cornerstone of any child’s education. Just about all learning that takes place in a school environment is dependent on the fact that the student has basic reading and language skills. To help teachers and parents in this important endeavor, several products are available to aid children in their learning of these basic skills. Some are entire standalone curricula, while others are supplemental materials that target specific skills. In this month’s Focus On, we’ll take a look at a few of these reading and language programs.

ELLIS Kids is a series of fully-interactive, video-based English Language Development (ELD) software programs available on CD-ROM. Designed specifically for younger children, the series contains hundreds of hours of instruction and learning tools. Based on a teaching model of “Learn, Practice, Play,” ELLIS Kids provides training for kids at three different levels of learning: True Beginner, Beginner and Intermediate Learner.

The series combines language instruction with hours of fun in order to give school-aged kids quality English language training experience. As with other versions of ELLIS, children are able to learn at their own pace in a fun and non-threatening environment. Teachers can also benefit from the extensive records management capabilities of the program. It provides a comprehensive set of tests for each speaking level, used to diagnose, place and measure ongoing student achievement. ELLIS Kids can also individualize itself for each student by prescribing the best learning path based on the results of the diagnostic. It fully correlates with the ESL for Pre-K-12 Standards developed by the international organization, TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.). Each level of ELLIS Kids also includes foreign language instructional support for all lesson content.

Futurekids’ Switched On Language Arts is a supplemental language arts curriculum for public and private schools, covering grades 2-8. Integrated with technology-based learning projects and correlated to individual state standards, Switched On lessons utilize available classroom technology to help students develop critical language arts skills. The curriculum was developed by educators with years of experience in elementary and middle school classrooms.

Switched On lessons cover three primary areas: Language Concepts (including grammar and mechanics, vocabulary and listening and speaking skills), The Writing Process, and Reading, Comprehension and Critical Thinking. The program is flexible, allowing teachers to follow the lessons sequentially or in an order that best suits their students’ needs. Each classroom kit includes a teacher’s guide, 25 student workbooks, two CD-ROMs with lesson templates and samples (for PC or Mac) and a standards correlation guide that matches lessons to individual state standards.

Scholastic has released Scholastic Reading Counts! Version 2.0, the newest version of its reading motivation and management program. Reading Counts! is a computer-based reading motivation program that is intended to boost reading ability and help kids develop a love of reading. Students select a title and read the book. When finished, they test their knowledge with a custom-generated, computerized quiz. They receive points for passing each quiz, based on the length and difficulty of the book that they’ve chosen. Reports are provided to teachers and parents.

The new version features the Flexible Leveling System, which allows educators to select reading levels and customize point values for their books. Other new features include easy-to-read reports that provide critical student reading data and more classroom management capabilities, as well as new import tools from which new customers can upgrade with greater ease. Also included is a search function called Book Expert, which enables title, author, genre, reading level and interest searches on over 23,000 books, and the Read-O-Meter, where students rate the books they’ve read.

Renaissance Learning has released a new, expanded version of its Accelerated Reader software. Titled AR Universal, the new version includes a wider variety of reading, including quizzes on reading instruction assignments from the most prominent new reading textbooks, along with professionally-recorded voice quizzes for young readers, and quizzes on close to 50,000 books from over 500 publishers. These quizzes cover all levels of reading ability in both English and Spanish.

Educators can instantly access special reports on each student’s progress on reading assignments, in addition to separately monitoring reading practice on self-selected books at appropriate levels. Other features include literacy skills tests that continually assess development of 24 key comprehension and thinking skills, over 30 reports to help monitor reading growth for all students, and separate monitoring of English and Spanish reading, with reporting in both languages. AR Universal is available for Windows and Macintosh.

Riverdeep Interactive Learning has released the CD-ROM version of the Edmark Reading Program, Level 1. The software functions independently, or as a companion to the original Edmark Reading Program print curriculum, which was developed more than 30 years ago by educators from the University of Washington.

The program teaches recognition and comprehension of 150 commonly used words chosen from the Dolch Word List. Using a whole word approach, this individualized beginning reading program uses small steps, constant repetition and positive reinforcement to ensure student success. It allows each student to proceed at his or her own pace, making it appropriate for students with learning or developmental disabilities, those who are hearing impaired or deaf, and ESL students.

Five lesson formats include a variety of activities to keep students motivated and involved. Pre-Reading teaches students top-to-bottom and left-to-right reading patterns. Word Recognition introduces new vocabulary by having students practice pairing spoken and printed words. Direction Card reinforces word meaning as students match words with illustrations. Picture/Phrase Card broadens comprehension by having students match words, phrases and sentences with pictures. Story Lessons help students transition from lesson activities to everyday reading.

Grammar from Optimum Resource, Inc. is a multimedia program designed to address language arts guidelines for grades 3-9, and to help children gain increasing control of the English language as they advance through self-paced lessons. Students build an awareness of sentence structure by learning and reinforcing the parts of speech, such as subjects and predicates, singular and plural common and proper nouns, prepositional phrases, infinitives and gerunds. With 48 lessons, Grammar reinforces these concepts with example sentences, review exercises and opportunities for creating writing.

The various program functions, including the starting level and number of tries for each student, is controlled by the teacher. Each learner’s progress is tracked automatically, and teachers can customize the program by adding an unlimited number of new words, parts and exercises. A resource binder of extension materials is provided with all school, lab pack and site license versions. The program is provided on a CD-ROM that operates on Windows 95, 98 and Macintosh platforms.

Having looked at a number of language curriculum programs, next up are a few programs that are more targeted at particular skills, such as vocabulary, the alphabet and phonics.

Sunburst Technology and Lyceum Communications have co-published both the Jr. Mastery Edition and Mastery Edition of the Get A Clue — Vocabulary Development Series. The series’ approach to building vocabulary emphasizes inductive reasoning and other critical thinking skills over rote memorization. It is based on research that shows that students learn best when they approach problems through higher order reasoning skills, such as analysis and synthesis. By delving into the meaning of a word, students learn more and have more fun in the process.

Inside Stories, from MIMOSA Education, combines traditional stories, such as The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella and The Gingerbread Man, with computer literacy. The program develops important reading and writing skills through lessons, such as shared reading experiences, read-aloud exercises and problem-solving activities.

The teacher’s guide offers many creative opportunities and options so that a teacher can easily incorporate the program into existing literacy programs. It can be used on a large screen with the entire class; activities can be printed out for homework assignments; or students can easily work on the computer alone or in pairs with little need for teacher assistance. Available in two sets and eight modules, Inside Stories is intended for grades 1-3.

Tivola Publishing’s Alphabet utilizes a whimsical, electronic fantasy playground to introduce children to the ABCs. A number of games offer children a different approach to the alphabet, allowing them to play with letters. Within the program, letters dance, laugh, fly and morph into other objects.

At the start of the CD-ROM, letters introduce themselves by appearing on the screen in colorful animations. They also speak aloud in English or German, and are accompanied by music. By moving the mouse, the player creates an echo, and when a key is pressed, the letters chosen appear onscreen. When the user clicks on a letter, he or she moves to the next level, where there are two games for each letter. Each game has its own musical accompaniment, and players can paint with the letters, generate sounds and more. The program has an intuitive user interface and can run on both Windows and Macintosh platforms.

Designed for grade levels PreK-2, the Think and Go Phonics product from LeapFrog SchoolHouse promotes phonemic awareness to help children learn how to read. It teaches the alphabet, letter sounds, spelling and word creation through six innovative learning modes. Students can press the letters to hear their sounds and to spell three-letter words. Its hands-on, multisensory activities help to create a rewarding and fun learning experience for children. Think and Go Phonics comes with a 110-page Teacher’s Activity Guide with 34 games designed for individual or small group activities. It also includes activity materials such as game boards and pieces, flash cards, bingo cards and number cubes. The compact, durable teaching tool also includes headphones, which allow students to work independently.

Also from LeapFrog, the LeapPad and the Leap into Learning Literacy Series help bring books to life for young readers. Students can use the LeapPad to read and hear specific words, to sound out unfamiliar words or to read and listen to entire pages.

Gateway Learning Corporation’s new edition of their award-winning Hooked on Phonics program now includes an interactive CD-ROM. This CD offers children independent practice, the potential for increased success and a new element of fun. Hooked on Phonics Deluxe combines essential phonics instructions and books in an easy-to-use, fun learning system that includes audio tapes, flash cards, workbooks, a CD-ROM and 50 books written exclusively for the program. Each activity features friendly characters, upbeat and memorable stories, and colorful, amusing illustrations that help bring reading to life.

The Deluxe version contains five learning levels, housed in separate, color-coded boxes that are easy and fun to follow for kids and parents. Each level uses the same skills-practice-play approach. This helps children learn the skill of sounding out letters and letter combinations with the musical audio tapes and color-coded flash cards; practice sounding out words by reading stories in the workbooks and playing games on the CD-ROM; and play by putting it all together to read books that incorporate the elements just learned.

Finally, has launched their phonics software, available online at It supports children’s emerging literacy skills with an easy-to-use, high tech combination of animations, words, sentences and sounds. Phonics consists of 31 topic areas, covering basic vowel and consonant sound patterns. Within each topic, kids may choose a Word Search, World Builder or Word Match activity. A game can be refreshed each time it is played, and children earn certificates for each game completed.

This phonics program offers the opportunity for students to develop and reinforce letter recognition skills, develop and reinforce phonemic awareness skills, and identify and apply contextual clues to determine the meaning of words, and to gain exposure to common sight words.

—Jim Schneider

Contact Information

ELLIS (English Language Learning Instruction System)
Provo, UT

Switched On Language Arts
Futurekids, Inc.
Long Beach, CA
(800) 765-8000

AR Universal
Renaissance Learning, Inc.
Wisconsin Rapids, WI
(800) 338-4204

Scholastic Reading Counts! Version 2.0
Scholastic, Inc.
New York, NY
(877) 268-6871

Edmark Reading Program, Level 1
Riverdeep Interactive Learning
Cambridge, MA
(800) 362-2890

Optimum Resource, Inc.
Hilton Head, SC
(843) 689-8000

Get A Clue — Vocabulary Development Series
Sunburst Technology
Pleasantville, NY
(914) 747-3310

Inside Stories
MIMOSA Education
Denver, CO
(800) 646-6723

Tivola Publishing
New York, NY
(877) 848-6520

Think & Go Phonics
Leap into Learning Literacy Series
LeapFrog Schoolhouse
Emeryville, CA
(800) 883-7430

Hooked on Phonics
Gateway Learning Corp.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 512-7323 Phonics

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

THE News Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.