Say Word presents players with a list of several homophones (words that are spelled differently but sound the same) and sentences with blanks. Users drag the correct word into each sentence to score points and win stickers. The app ranges from grade 1 through collegiate level, and offers a score card when each grade is completed.
Ten free levels and nearly 100 levels all together
Colorful drag-and-drop interface
Provides practice on sets of two, three, and four word homophones
Earn stickers and points for successful responses
Unlock level after level to keep the fun going
Say Word is a quality app that will help middle elementary students and above learn to distinguish homophones like “here/hear” and “purr/per.” The interface is simple to use; users just drag the correct word to the blank in the corresponding sentence. There is an optional timer to add an element of speed, and levels can be replayed for a better score or for review.
However, parents and teachers should be aware that the app has a decidedly British English flair that may confuse some American students. For example, one sentence in an early level talks about a teacher giving a naughty pupil a “knap” on the head. This usage of “knap,” meaning a sharp rap, is not at all common in the U.S., and may confuse some students. There are also some sentences that use poor grammar. For example, one sentence reads “The elderly patient was very weak and ail after receiving her medication.” The word “ail” was the supposedly correct response, even though it was not grammatically sound. Another example of a poorly constructed sentence, also found in the early levels of the game, was “The stuntman performed a def defying feat.” Developers should consider revising these items and check the rest of the levels for similar problems.
Say Word is very educational and will help students practice choosing the correct homophone from sets of confusing words. Most students need nearly constant review of these sets of words, and mastering them is extremely important, because errors with homophones are frequently missed by spell-check systems. Nearly everyone needs to present writing with sound spelling and grammar, and mistakes on these seemingly simple words look very careless. Practicing with Say Word will help minimize these kinds of mistakes.
However, the app does have a few drawbacks. Though the early levels claim to be for grades 1 and 2, the vocabulary and concepts in the sentences are far too challenging for young elementary students. For example, one sentence in the second grade questions reads, “ ‘Who knows?’ is an example of a rhetorical question, because it is a statement that does not ask for an answer.” The homophone needed for the response is well within the second grade reading vocabulary (knows), but the other words in the sentence, such as “rhetorical”, and the entire concept, are far beyond the understanding of most second graders. So, while the app claims to reach all the way down to first grade material, a better age range might be at least middle to upper elementary level to introduce it. The levels do claim to go past collegiate level, as well, so the app is likely to be a good practice tool for older students.
Also, the app presents the target words in a word bank with the words colored apparently randomly against a colored background. Most of the color combinations are fine, but a few of them are very low-contrast, which could be very challenging for some readers. Any student with visual impairment could have serious problems seeing the words. Also, many struggling readers make a lot more errors when reading with low contrast. App designers should ensure that the words are always in high-contrast combinations against the background color.
Say Word is not very flashy, but most learners will find it engaging enough to keep playing if they have a goal of mastering these challenging homophones. The game moves fast, and feedback is provided for each grade level in the form of a performance “grade” as well as a number score. Players also can earn stickers for strong performances, but this may not prove very motivating for students beyond middle elementary school. The app uses positive comments to affirm correct responses, but these are highly repetitive and somewhat difficult to understand. Incorrect answers will cause the sentence to drop to the end of the list, so there is little negative feedback. This helps lend an overall positive feeling to the app, even for students who struggle. However, after three missed items, the app closes the activity and puts a “failed” message on the screen. It would be good to refocus that onto a less negative response, such as “sorry” or “let’s try again.”
Say Word is free to download and comes with the first 10 levels built in. This covers homophones through part of the third grade level. There are 66 additional levels that can be unlocked through in-app purchase. Users can choose to spend $1.99 to unlock all of the additional levels or can purchase the next 20 levels for $0.99. The free levels will give users a good sample of the app’s workings and capabilities, but may seem fairly easy to more mature users.
This app is child-friendly, but has a few negative features that developers need to redesign. It is a concern that the in-app purchases are visible on the level choice screens, though these are protected by an effective parent gate as well as the user’s App Store credentials. It is also a concern that there is a link to share scores on Facebook presented with the completion of each grade level. Both of these items should be protected in a Parents’ Area where they would not be visible to younger players.
Say Word is a perfect tool for students in middle to upper elementary on up to use for practice with difficult homophones and easily-confused words. Most will find the vocabulary and concepts challenging and interesting.