Phonemic awareness activities for older students with Funny Phonemes

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Phonemic awareness activities that older students find fun?

[TL;DR. Get Funny Phonemes for free on the App Store or Google Play.]

In a previous post, we talked about the challenge of making phonemic awareness activities for older students fun and engaging. One idea was to train on words that are shocking like swear words.  This isn’t really feasible in a school or tutoring setting.  So I thought, “Why not use clean slang and words for things that matter to older students?”

Funny Phonemes brings the fun!

Victoria was busily writing new decodable stories for TAP this summer and I’d finished adapting TAP for smartphones and releasing an Android version. I found myself with “some time” for a side project. 300 hours later, that project is Funny Phonemes. It’s an app for phonemic awareness training using clean slang and pop-culture jargon.

I quietly launched Funny Phonemes yesterday: you can get it on the App Store or on Google Play. It has a variety of phonemic awareness activities that allow students to practice hearing phonemes, identifying missing phonemes and arranging them into words. What words? Over 250 of them including surfing terms, social media lingo, school-yard epithets and, of course, a few terms worthy of Captain Underpants.

There’s a built-in dictionary of the slang definitions of the words or, at least, the clean slang definitions.  For example, nuts is one of the words and has multiple definitions. Some usage is not slang at all and so not in the slang dictionary: The squirrel’s diet consists mostly of nuts.  Other usages are clean slang: Jump off that cliff!  Are you nuts? The definition of this usage is in there. Yet another usage would not be suitable for this app: If he’s not careful, he gonna get kicked in the…

Since older students in need of phonemic awareness training are necessarily struggling or non-readers, it was important to include a text-to-speech feature in the app.  The slang dictionary entries and any instructions specific to the phonemic awareness activities can be read to the student by the device.

It Takes a Village to Build An App

I showed an early version of the app to Tricia Millar of That Reading Thing and That Spelling Thing fame and she kindly gave me a lot of great feedback.  One key idea was that attaching written symbols which aren’t the correct spelling to spoken sounds could be misleading and even harmful to students who struggle with reading and writing. The phoneme tiles now have icons by default (text labels are available as a option…just in case).  Thanks for the tip, Tricia!

Tiles in Funny Phonemes use icons to remind students of the sound in these phonemic awareness activities for older students
Funny icons remind students of the sound represented by each tile. Tap the tile to hear its phoneme and example word.

While I’m at it, I’d like to thank Victoria for advising me on words that would be suitable for use in a teaching setting.  That being said, I take full responsibility for every word included in Funny Phonemes.  I’d also like to thank my eldest son Ben (a professional video game programmer and all-around great guy) for suggesting I add extra goodies and generally make the app juicier.

Free Is Good

Funny Phonemes is free.  Well, technically it’s a “freemium” app.  It wasn’t always going to be. At first, I thought I was making something that would be for a teeny, tiny set of potential users. I also knew there were very few phonemic awareness activities apps suitable for older students like teens and adults.  Those with a less babyish design are also not particularly fun or funny.  Scarcity and a niche market would suggest that the price for Funny Phonemes be quite high.

I found as I was building it, however, that users as young as 8 and as old as 75 enjoyed playing around with it. They especially liked the novelty voices (cowboy, “Britishish”, “dark and mysterious”) which are Extra Goodies you can unlock with points earned doing the phonemic awareness activities.

I live in Quebec.  My wife—who is not only a gorgeous and wonderful person but also the world’s greatest beta tester—and a lot of my friends speak English as a second language. For them, many of these slang words are unfamiliar.  They love building the words once they’d read the definition.  They also found the “Hear the Phoneme” activity quite fun and challenging.

So it turned out to be an app that appealed to a broad range of “older students” and even ESL learners interested in English slang. I’ve made almost everything in the app free to help as many learners as possible in this huge group. The app shows a short add after every 15 completed exercises/words.

Premium Is Better…and Better

I did reserve access to one important feature for those who get the upgrade to Premium: the phoneme set editor.  This is what allows you to control the phonemes you want to have your student practice. I’ve made a two-minute demo video that you can watch here. Upgrading to Premium unlocks this feature and removes the ads. It showers you with all the Extra Goodies. It also sends me a message that this app is being used by professionals. That will encourage me to add features that make it more useful for them.

For example, if I were using this app with students, I would want customizable student profiles.  I’d also like better record keeping and reporting (right now you can email yourself a copy of the activity log). Phonemic awareness training is more effective if the spoken words are in the student’s dialect, so I’d like to add recordings of native speakers representative of a wide variety of accents.  For now, the “Cowboy” novelty voice is a caricature of Southern American English and “Britishish” of RP (Received Pronunciation).  (I’ll let you figure out who speaks with a “Dark and Mysterious” voice.)

When I’m building apps, it’s very easy to start thinking it needs just one more thing.  This is such a common problem that it has a name: feature creep.  I’ve plenty of ideas for improving this app. Hopefully users will also send me ideas that haven’t even occurred to me.  For now, I hope you’ll go get Funny Phonemes on the App Store or on Google Play. Let me know how your older students respond to these phonemic awareness activities. Are they phat, sweet, def, tasty, sick, rad, cool, awesome, tight or perhaps lit? #LiteracyForAll

Pro-literacy message shared from Funny Phonemes app offering phonemic awareness activities for older students
A “Shareable For Literacy” from the app

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