Resource Spotlight: Starfall
For a great resource that makes learning to read fun, check out Starfall.com.
When I’m working with younger students, or students that are just learning to read English, Starfall.com is one of the resources I consistently go to. This early literacy website has a broad range of fun and educational activities, many of them relating to phonics.
When it comes to learning English, phonics is a crucial component. Knowing the sounds that letters make and how to combine them is one of the building blocks of reading. When someone says, “Sound it out,” that’s a reference to phonics.
For the most basic level, the ABC blocks are an excellent introduction to various words that begin with those letters, along with cute animations to go with them (you need to click on the letter for the animation to start and to be able to access the next word). For example, the letter “P” starts with two balloons being popped, then a bite being taken out of a slice of pepperoni pizza, followed by pink pigs (the image for the letter shows several plush toy pigs, and the animation shows two dancing pigs). Puppies are the final selection for this letter. Some of the letters have short games at the end that usually involve picking which letter doesn’t match or sorting by capital and lowercase.
“Learn to Read” is the next level. This is the area that gets the most use from me. There are over a dozen short tales, each based on a different phonic sound. Again, click on the images to start the animations on each page. For example, “Peg the Hen” focuses on vowel E sounds as we see Peg fly her plane. You can also change the color of Peg’s plane and even Peg herself (a green hen in a purple jet is a sight to see!). The stories all have text on each page, and are narrated very clearly.
Once the story is finished, I often take students through the games in the same row. Peg’s story has “en” and “et” games. For each, you see a picture, hear the word, and have to put the correct first letter in the spot for the rest of the word. These games really help reinforce the vowel sounds from the story.
The Word Machines are another example of creative phonic practice. There is a different Word Machine for each vowel. After picking a machine, you get between seven and nine words, all with that short vowel sound in the middle. After each word appears, you also get an animated image of the word and then a choice of devices to get the next word, usually a button or lever of some sort. The Word Machines are just another example of the interactivity that makes my students like Starfall so much.
To be honest, though the phonics stories and games are all fun, they aren’t the feature that my students clamor for the most. No, those would be the seasonal games, such as the snowman, gingerbread cookie, and pumpkin. Again, all these features are interactive and give students lots of options to make potentially silly choices (one of the options for the snowman’s hat is an orange, and I’ve had several students make that very choice).
Everything that I’ve talked about here on Starfall is free, but there are also other features that come with a paid membership. A home membership is $35 per year.
Starfall.com is one of my most frequently used resources, because it’s fun while still being very educational.