When it comes to teaching children how to read, there are many literacy programs available to teachers and parents. By far, one of the most popular systems is phonics, and Starfall Phonics
serves as a central online spot for kids to learn how to read using phonics.
Starfall is one of those websites that looks just like many other children's game sites on the Internet. However, hidden behind the cartoon figures and large, shiny buttons, is a carefully planned phonics system that helps children learn to read faster even while they're having fun with entertaining activities and games.
For the adult or educator, some of the site navigation can feel a bit clustered and busy, but once you navigate to the actual activity screen, the layout is very clean and simple, and the interactive activities are very professional and well made.
Starfall Main Page
The main page of the Starfall Phonics website is very misleading. The clustered design and somewhat amateurish layout gives the false impression that the site itself is unprofessional.
Founded in 2002 as a public service, offered to the Internet community for absolutely free, it's little surprise that the organization can't spend much of its resources on professional web design. However, what it saves on web design, it surely spends on professional animation and programming.
Clicking on any of the buttons will take you to an area filled with high-quality activities for children of a particular age group - from new readers just learning the alphabet, to expert readers looking to read fiction and non-fiction children's books.
Learning the Alphabet
The "ABC" area of Starfall will look very familiar to many people, because phonics is the typical approach most schools still use to teach the ABCs to young students. Clicking on each letter will take you to an interactive web application that steps through a series of activities designed to help students memorize each letter, as well as the sounds that go along with it.
All Starfall Phonics activities are both audio and video intensive, showing young readers what the letter sounds like, what it sounds like as part of a word, and how that word represents something real that children will recognize. This approach keeps students interested and clicking on "next" to see what else is coming up.
Step 2 - Learn to Read
Once students master the alphabet, the next step is the second button on the main page - Learn to Read. This section focuses on teaching emergent readers about how letter sounds fit into short sentences. The lessons are also focused on common two-letter sounds that often make up parts of words and sentences.
Learning to Read
Students will find animation and pictures in these activities as well, but they are also more focused on instilling the foundations of reading sentences using phonics. Activities walk kids through the process of sounding out words based on each letter, which they've already learned in the ABC exercises.
Fun to Read
Once students have mastered the ability to sound out words and sentences, they can move on to the next level of reading by clicking on the third button on the main page labeled "Fun to Read." This section presents activities where students need to read sentences to understand what they need to do. Identifying words is a requirement for most of the activities. The animation and interactive nature of these activities makes them interesting for young children.
Higher Level Reading
This stage of the phonics lessons and activities are more focused on quickly identifying and sounding out the words that students learned in the last section. For example, in this activity, students click on one word at a time, and hear the word spoken by the narrator.
The final level for kids that are learning to read using phonics is the same level where most adults are at - simply reading. The "I'm Reading" section provides children with a wonderful collection of fiction and non-fiction to choose from for practicing the reading skills that they've learned through the years.
Online Children's Books
The children's books that you'll discover in this section of the Starfall Phonics website are written by professional authors, and laid out in a wonderful format that looks just like how children's books are actually printed. Students can practice reading in the same way they would if they were reading a children's book in print.
Aside from the major learning areas of the Starfall site, to the right of those main page buttons you'll see a variety of other icons that link to other activities available on the Starfall site, such as the activity below where the child celebrates "Grandparent's Day" by writing a letter to their grandparents.
Other activities include things like making a calendar, writing a Valentine or celebrating other holidays like Earth Day and Thanksgiving.
Of all phonics sites available on the Internet. Starfall Phonics offers a great deal of content that teachers and parents can use to accelerate a child's pace of learning how to read. When you run out of things to do, there's an additional website called "More.Starfall.com" where you'll discover an entire new set of activities available for children to enjoy.
Starfall is primarily designed for first grade, but is also useful for kindergarten and second grade.
At Starfall.com there is a lot of downloadable material for classroom use. Printed material can be downloaded from the
Do you love Starfall and want more activities? Have a look at Starfall's sister website, more.starfall.com
, which is supported by members who pay a fee ($35 USD per year for a home membership) to join.
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