Teach Your Monster to Read: The Best Phonics App for Junior Students.

It almost pains me to write that title. I make apps to help students, I have about 12 of them on both Google and Apple and they are pretty good. None of them are the one I am talking about here though. Here is is all about Teach Your Monster to Read made, and made really well, by Usborne in the U.K. The links are all at the bottom for the app and website.

Example of level 1

The premise is easy and it follows a simplified Legend of Zelda type game play with a quest and mini games. (very simplified as this is made and designed for kindergarten to primary students) You take the role of a monster whose spaceship has crashed because of a cosmic storm (why not) and landed on a planet where the inhabitants, mainly the Kings of the planet, have lost their letters. You complete their games to collect their letters and fix your spaceship. Along the way you meet other characters, duel with pirates and come face to face with a teddy bear kidnapping octopus (again why not) all in the quest to get through the 44 sounds of English phonics. All of this requires the use of just one finger. Incredibly this whole game is a single tap game that lasts for about 8 hours of gameplay if played constructively.

The game follows the S A T P N I progression of phonic sounds all the way through long vowels including diphthongs, to digraphs and eventually in level 3 ( Champion Reader) to R controlled vowels. although starting simply it does add complexity as students progress through the sounds, and will include sight words, called tricky’s, and activities to recognize words in sentences.

For game-play value, and to show progression in game the student collects stars that can be exchanged to dress or kit out their monster in a variety of outfits and accessories, from a vampire costume to a pair of underpants! It also keeps a record of the sounds they have tried and their success rate.

These features alone would make it the best phonics game there is, but they didn’t stop there. It is made for students to learn phonics thats for sure, but it is also made for teachers and parents to support them on this journey, and this is where it is truly groundbreaking.

It is available on Apple and Android, but also, and totally free, is hosted on their website. It is also free once or twice a year on the App Stores as well, usually end of September and early March so keep and eye out for that.

The website has resources all over the place, posters for walls, flashcards, board games, instructions, word of the week and banners for classroom use. Even, and this is great, all the mini games in one place where the teacher or parent can choose which sound they wish to practice and game they wish to practice it playing. They have even set it so it can be played segmenting words or as a stand alone sound recognition game. It is a level of work i have never seen elsewhere.

So that’s what makes it the best phonics and classroom English app out there.

Yes of course, but they didn’t stop there. if you have read any other posts on my site you will have heard me babble on that i have been teaching for 12 years in ESL primary schools in Hong Kong, and worked in Education for about the same amount of time in the U.K. My role means i see a lot of students over the course of a week, tracking their progress, trying to give them level, interest and age appropriate content and tasks is ALOT of work. Teach your monster to Read, at least within its remit, handles this, not for a monthly fee, not for a flat one time payment. It does it for free.

Free

Teachers, or i guess parents with a large number of children!, can sign up for an account and create groups within it. These groups can then be assigned a username, a password and a magic number (only needed if they play on the app version). Once the student signs in with this monster, and they create how it looks then all the website magic starts to happen. (I have put screen shots in the gallery below to give you an idea of the amount of stats, and rewards you can offer your students by doing this)

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The Teacher managed pages enable teachers to do the following both individually and as whole classes (essential for me)

I have taken the names out

Firstly you can make your own group. Even assign different levels to each student although i have never done that as the game is great and the students will enjoy playing it from the start, it can be used as a consolidation exercise for higher level readers

When you add them it will generate a password and user name, and if they use a tablet a star code so the tablet knows which account to send the stats to. I would print these out for the students and stick them in their handbook or pencil case. I would also have a hard copy in the classroom as these things do tend to disappear.

Then after they have worked out how to log in, and yes you will have to teach them. I actually devote a lesson at the beginning of term to introduce all of this to my classes, you will see why I think this pays off later. This can be the time consuming part, so once one student has figured it out i task them with helping me to show others. It speeds things up alot.

Once they are in and playing you can actually how they do in real time on the stats pages of the website. You can see the sounds they struggled with both individually and as a group, you can see how far they have progressed in the game and even what their monster looks like!

After about 4 sounds the game will generate a letter, and will continue to do so 3 times during the whole game. This letter is personalised to the students and is an encouragement to continue. It also prepares a poster of their monster, and when they successfully finish a level it will produce a certificate telling them well done. I use these about 3 times a year to call students to the front of class to give these out. The students of course run home to show their parents, and the cycle of accessing the app starts again.

On average, for my classes, students who complete the game will take about 7 to 8 hours. This is for a face to face time from me of one hour at the beginning.

From that i have, well Teach Your Monster has, managed to create 8 times as much self directed learning from just 1 hour of teacher time. This is astonishing. Students take ownership of their monster, they will come and discuss it with you at recess, if you have computers, or tablets they will ask if they can play it in their free time, you will have parents coming up and talking about it. Your students younger, and for that matter older, siblings will be asking you for a log in and password (they don’t need one to start but they like the idea someone is monitoring and checking they are doing well), they choose to be taught, it is not imposed on them like most other educational experiences they have.

If you need to change your lessons, or the sounds you cover you have a reference point to start by, at a glance, seeing the sounds students are struggling with and adapting your teaching as is needed. It is Self directed and formative and whole host of other educational buzz words that management get excited by.

All for one hour of teacher time…

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It is free forever online on your PC, but it costs 4.99 on Apple and Android, they do have one or two weeks a year where it is free. I will try to post when that happens but I missed it this year, so keep looking out for that as well. They also have an education discount on Apple and you can get it half price if you buy 20 copies, I did this here in my school. On Android i cant remember how many you are supposed to have but if you have one account there is usually some leeway.

I said at the beginning it pains me to say this is the best phonics app there is. Totally tongue in cheek though, its just because i didn’t make it.

Teach Your Monster to Read website is here

Teach Your Monster to Read on Android is here

Teach Your Monster on Apple is here

If you have used this or have any questions feel free to ask me, or comment below. Always welcoming new ideas. My views on this app are mine and mine alone, well i imagine a lot of you would like it as well, but I’m not being paid to write this, its just that good. If you want to see my apps you will find them here for Apple and here for Google.

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TRUGS: Teaching Reading Using games

TRUGS, or ”Teaching Reading Using Games” is a Synthetic phonics system I stumbled on a few years ago at a Education Expo in Hong Kong. I attend these things with a ”look what you could have won’‘ mindset as they are usually showing off equipment or resources that my school at the time couldn’t, wouldn’t and probably shouldn’t invest in. Things like holographic projects, VR suites for whole classes, 8k interactive white boards, that supply coffee, that type of thing. It is like a resources utopia for teachers.

They also have speakers who, while usually totally correct, have forgotten the realities of being in a classroom when they share their theories that every students needs 3 hours a day of personal tuition and the like. It was after one of these talks, when i had some time to myself and an afternoon of lesson free bliss. when i was wandering the stalls stopping now and then to give false hope to the sales people. Am I the only one who thinks that Education suppliers, not all of course, remind them of big pharmaceuticals, inflated prices, not that much evidence it works? It was suggested by a longer in the tooth colleaugue of mine that some things are just more expensive when you add certain words to them.

White shoes 30 dollars – wedding shoes 300 dollars.

Cup of coffee 2 dollars – Starbucks 5 dollars

Children’s book 5 dollars – school book 20 dollars.

Maybe, Maybe not. Anyway, while walking along i stopped at one of the stalls I might be able to afford something from and there on the tables were a few sets of red and green boxes filled with cards. There wasn’t much to describe them but the box helpfully described what is was they aimed to do. They aimed to teach reading using games, and in a does what it says on the tin marketing move they had named it TRUGS.

Their website goes into ALOT more details than i will here, but the system was designed by Joanna Jeffery who is a teacher with over 35 years of experience and a specialism in Dyslexia. She had discovered that children want to enjoy their learning. This of course will not come to a shock to ANY teacher out there, however she did something a lot of us should do more of. She did something about it. She, and i imagine some others, designed a set of games that help students learn phonics and reading skills systematically.

4 games to be precise, or at least 4 when i was standing at that stall in Hong Kong. There have been more added now of course. These games, of which full disclosure i only actually play two of them in my classrooms, follow a distinct flow, from simple CVC words in level 1, and CCVC in level 2, all the way up to three syllable words in Level 10. There are 5 levels in a box, so that’s both the red set ( box 1) and the green set ( box2), even within each of the four games in each level there is a progression in difficulty so that students although playing the same game, are playing slightly more challenging versions of it as they progress their learning.

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I thought this sounded good, one of the games is basically Uno, a little more simplified to allow younger learners get involved, and in my classroom there were plenty of well worn Uno sets at the back. These would be without fail whipped out at Recess and lunch by students to play on their own.

Now i love the idea of self directed learning, and not as an excuse to get my feet up or the red pen out, but as a chance for weaker students to practice and learn without the fear of the teacher as nice as their teacher may be. So i bought two sets, i insisted i buy them directly from them there as otherwise it could take weeks to arrive in school.

It is also not to suggest these games are there just as a recess activity. It took a while but eventually my management started to see how they engage with each other, help each other, and monitor each other even when playing more formally in a classroom environment with a teacher or helper involved as well. In fact i would advise you, if you have or are getting these, to introduce it that way. You may spend a lesson explaining and letting students play these games, but once they know they will seek out and play these games on their own. If your 30 minute introduction lesson turns into 5 years of them self directing themselves to play these games it is time well spent don’t you think?

They are not cheap, really not for a card game. I have grumbled about this to other teachers in the past as they are such a lovely idea made prohibitively expensive for what are essentially good ideas and paper. However, those grumbles have stopped recently, i had an idea to make Top Trumps cards ( if i can dance around the copyright for that), to make them more accessible for ESL and Junior students . The text descriptions are just too difficult for my students at least.

So i came up will some ideas, and started googling printers, it turns out my idea is not original at least the making your own set of top trumps side of it. Doing it for ESL learners might be though. I saw the prices to make one set of cards (from Top Trumps themselves) was about 14 USD. if you are doing it for you own class you can probably afford this, but if you are wanting to resell them ( i was) it starts to add up. Other printers were cheaper but it still added up to about 8 USD if i got 500 boxes. If i couldn’t sell them i worried what i was going to do with 500 boxes of cards in a small Hong Kong Flat. Ah well, a thought for the future maybe.

So with this new knowledge, i still think TRUGs are expensive but i can better understand why now, Uno sells millions a year so can keep production costs down, TRUGS doesnt so cant.

It is however way better at teaching Phonics, blending and word construction than Uno!

The problem i had with the expense is that although they do have a couple of options for Home and School sets, there wasn’t a way of buying an individual games or levels.

As i said my students love playing Uno, and when i replaced for a week the Uno cards for the Trugs cards they continued ( with a little instruction from me) playing the game but with the trugs sets. I only had one set though, and at that time you couldn’t buy individual decks. Now thankfully you can!! https://www.readsuccessfully.com/trugs-individual-stages They cost about 12 USD a set which is comparable to a new set of Top Trumps, and is considerably cheaper than the 120 USD that the full box sets cost.

These sets have the games from each level and are a more targeted way for individual teachers to share the games. I am so pleased they have done this as it allows teachers to target levels of reader in their classroom with the students still focused on the task and mostly unaware they may have a different reading level game in their hands. It also means teachers are more likely to purchase these sets themselves, if they are able, because its just what we do sometimes. This means more students will benefit from these games and this system.

I still think if the school has the budget that buying one set for school use and then supplementing it with some individual sets is the way forward as in my teaching environment there is little need to have the higher sets. Sometimes school management needs a little nudge in the right direction to realise these things though.

It is nice to see students now by pass Uno and pick up the sets of trugs to play as their first choice, There is nothign wrong with a good game of Uno of course, but to take charge of their own learning and choose to practice is a very difficult thing to achieve. TRUGS proved a useful tool to help with that.

That was all three or so, maybe more, years ago and i am at a new school now. Still teaching primary English and still trying to make it more differentiated, more engaging and more fun, This is why i make my own apps and games as well. So despite making my own, having 10 years plus experience in teaching language to young learners what was the first thing i did.

I took a trip to the little industrial building in Hong Kong, walked up to the fourth floor, rang the bell, spoke to the owner, and then walked out with a red and green set or TRUGS in my hands.

Somethings are just expensive because they are worth it.

Please comment if you have used this or if you have tried something similar. Sharing is caring!! Also just to confirm, I use Trugs, none of these links are affiliate links or anything like that. Its just that i do think they are a pretty good tool if your school has the means!

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Oculus Go Vr Headset: Review for Education.

The Oculus Rifts and Quests baby brother holds it head way above what came before it, and showcases VR in a more affordable all in one package. Does this make is more accessible to schools and classrooms?

About three years ago i was in the market for a new phone, and being the Samsung fanboy (I now have a note 10 plus and am trying to justify me buying that by writing this post on it) I was i was hanging my nose over the Samsung Galaxy S7. Still a great little phone, despite the battery being a little weak. I didn’t buy it for the free Gear VR that came with it but it was most certainly a bonus, and i remember the day i went to pick it up and tried VR for the first time.

It made my phone over heat, was a little jittery, and there was screen door effect though that has never really bothered me. Despite all those things i thought it was great, really great. Being great is one thing, but i do try to justify my unnecessary purchases of technology, to both myself and more importantly to my wife, i thought if Im impressed with this, how much will my students love it.

I already knew the answer to that. It was designed to amaze people and my little group of 7 years olds would go crazy for this, and of course they did and continue to do so.

That was three years ago, and i find myself in a classroom again, and because of an unexpected birthday gift i have the Oculus GO in my hands.

I have tried the Gear VR numerous times with my class and it is a great experience for both the students and the teacher. Though of course, when the phone is new you do worry about it when its strapped to the face of a 7 year old. With the GO you don’t have that worry, there is no phone, or no detachable phone to plug in. It is a standalone headset, which also means the chances of a wire pulling what ever expensive computer you have onto the floor is removed as well.

Having had a gear VR for over three years, you can see immediately the improvements that have been made. It is really smooth at tracking your head movements, which means the chances of motion sickness is greatly reduced, i don’t suffer from this but my wife managed a good 20 minutes in Ocean Rift without getting dizzy, this is something she didn’t manage in the Gear VR.

We didnt try this though.

It is a similar weight, but seems to sit better on the face now, and the straps seem more secure so it means you don’t have to have a hand on it to be sure it doesn’t fall off.

This is good because the Oculus Go has a Controller included in the box and even a battery, for it. This controller is way better than i thought it would be, and is really easy to use, my students picked it up faster than me. (generations hey) and even when wearing the headset you can see an image of the controller, with a long pointer ( a little like a lightsabre to be honest) so you know exactly where to press to navigate menus and games.

It will mess up your hair

The screen door effect is really reduced and, although not as good as the HTC Vive or the more expensive Rift or Quest, for education it is a great compromise. The apps, currently numbering over a 1000, it has available are similar to the ones that i used on my Gear VR and have been upgraded for this higher spec headset, however it would be nice to see a few more on subjects that teachers would use. I am not sure VR gaming which what the majority of the apps available are, is ready for mainstream yet, but what is suitable for classroom use have great implications. I mentioned these in another post here and here so wont do so again here.

The headset it currently available on Amazon for anywhere between 150 and 200 USD, depending on which day you check it out. Which is expensive, but it comes with the bonus of not having to use your more expensive phone or computer into it and the worry that comes with that if you use it in school. It will also likely come down in price after a year or so of being in the market, and with new ones being developed, so for schools especially if using it to add value rather than as a full part of the curriculum the price is not completely prohibitive.

Being easier to use, with just one purpose means it is better suited to younger students, and the set up time for teachers is reduced. If you have a large class this is a huge time saver, where the students can self direct themselves to try with out the teacher having to hand hold them all the way through.

It is not however a toy, there are considerations in using this kind of technology with students especially younger ones, and if you are a teacher you may need to address these to get the use of these past your management. For me i use it for very brief periods or as a station learning exercise, not as a full lessons. I don’t think the content we have available replaces books or videos just yet!

There are a couple of reservations about the headset, but they really are minor ones. The battery takes a while to charge, about three hours in my experience, and lasts about 2.5 hours of full use. This should be fine if you are using it just for a couple of minutes to show students something but a problem if you have all the lessons in a row, so plan for that. 3 lessons in a row using this and you may struggle.

The other issue, and it may be a personal one is that it is difficult to mirror the screen onto your PC or your Whiteboard, though i will keep trying and if i find away that doesn’t require Command prompts and additional software i will let you know. I used to like sharing the screen so the rest of the class can observe what is going on and be more involved.

There is a way of doing it, which i will link here, but it is a lot more technical than it should be , which is an opportunity missed i think.

There are of course cheaper and more expensive options to use, and it follows pretty much a sliding scale with quality and accessibility. Check out here for a post about the VR options open to you. If you are in a university it may, and only may, be worth investing in a full HTC rift experience with the ability to walk in the virtual space, but for the price of the Oculus GO you can do a lot worse and in, not virtual, reality not that much better.

If any of you know of a way to share the screen easier, please comment, or if you have used this or VR, in general in education please leave a comment below. We are all new at this so sharing is most definitely caring !

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Boost Blog Viewers with Facebook Groups.

I found something that increased the visitors to my blog over 400%. Full disclaimer though, my numbers were pretty low before that!! This is because, If you are like me, and stats suggest that’s about 90% of us out there who have tried blogging for a hobby, your motivation goes up and down as does your posting frequency.

I started this website back in April 2019 as a place to hold a privacy policy for the educational apps and games i make.

Later i thought i would add to it, or share some of the knowledge and tips i have gained after teaching in Asia, the vast majority of those in Hong Kong, over the last thirteen or so years. Well, despite taking a year off to travel and do just that life got in the way, turns out Penang in Malaysia is a great place to live, prehaps to good as I let my work ethic drift.

Now i find myself wanting to pick up the pace again, and only a month or so into posting regularly, mainly for me personally, but its always nice to get comments (hint hint), I stumbled on something some of you may have already found out or know, but it was so useful for me as a new blog to drive up my motivation and viewing figures i thought it would be wrong not to share it.

This was a first for me

My website is primarily an Education based website, with tips and resources for teaches of English and some STEM ( science) lessons. It also has Education apps on it that draw most of my views. It was getting about 10 to 30 views a day from Google search and people coming from inside the apps. So very small and very steady.

I started adding some of the content I already have from my teaching in December 2019 and it still remained pretty steady. Then i read online, buried in the middle of a list of 50 things all blogs or new blogs should do.

Join relevant Facebook groups

Simple enough, I thought and much easier than figuring out SEO and Keywords for my small site (even though i do know a little about SEO and ASO from dealing with Google PlayStore and Itunes)

So i did, i searched in Facebook for some ESL (English as Second Language and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) groups and applied to join.

For my niche they often have questions to answer, so you have to wait for an Admin to approve, and then some times wait for your post to be approved. However, what you have just done, and what i discovered to my amazement, was place your content right in front of the eyes of people who have actually been proactive to search it out.

For me this is a big Deal

I did this over night, so when i woke up the next morning instead of the usual 13 people visiting my site, it had turned into over 300, just on that one Facebook post. It continued, the next day 500 views, again coming from one little post i had put into a like minded group.

This was the post.

I have got a full months views in two days, and of course i am now sorting through the resources and articles to see what else might drive traffic to me, and of course be useful to those groups.

After 8 months of stagnation, seeing a jump in visitors is certainly good for motivation, and hopefully i have enough good content that keeps people coming , and coming back.

Of course, if you have monetized the site, then all these extra eyes, and clicks will start to add up. I am not that worried about making money yet as its a very, very new site. At some point though i would like to think it may provide a revenue stream. Just to show you the difference a boost like this makes the chart is below, i have left out my RPM, mainly because frankly its embarrassing, but also because i think its not allowed to share it?

You can see where i posted in the groups.

I have some tips from my vast experience (the last 2 days worth :P) Which worked for me, so hopefully work for you as well.

  • Search out groups in your niche on Facebook and apply to join.
  • Choose both big ones and small ones as in big ones your content can go down the post list pretty quick, it should stay closer to the top in the smaller groups
  • Don’t spam the groups, i am going to post one blog post, or one resource a day, group owners don’t like someone who comes in and takes over.
  • Be helpful in the group and offer advice, it is a valuable resource and everyone in there could be a potential visitor. That and its a nice thing to do.
  • Keep it relevant, post information that will be useful to the group.
  • Follow the groups rules, you want to stay part of it don’t you!
  • Consider starting your own group on Facebook. I just have, and got my first member as i was writing this! Feel free to join if you have an interest in teaching.
  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/2850937491634158/?source_id=1069038656575588
  • Say thank you when people comment of Facebook, it shows manners, and may keep your post closer to the top with the activity as well.

There are likely lots of other tips, and if you have any please share them below. We are all in this together!

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