Bottom Line: An okay starting place to teach word families, adding and deleting initial and final sounds, and changing vowel sounds to create new words. Could be a big help to many students who struggle with these skills, but the app is expensive and has limited abilities.
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SoundSwaps, by Language Learning Apps, LLC, is a phonemic awareness activity to help kids improve their decoding and encoding skills through hearing and seeing words. Many students struggle with identifying whether sounds are the same/different, rhyming, and sequencing sounds correctly. Consisting of four different levels, SoundSwaps tries to provide the needed practice to address these areas. Like the name implies, the student is given a word and must swap one sound for another to make a new word.
In Level 1, the user must correctly identify word families (i.e. rhyming). Level 2 asks that the child change the initial or final sounds of a word, while in Level 3 the vowel sounds change. Level 4 provides the greatest challenge: the user might have to change a rhyming word, add, delete, or move an initial or final sound of a word, or change the vowel sound to create new words. With different steps in Levels 1 – 3, the student is provided with greater challenges to help master the given skill. This is a nice feature, as it continues to provide more practice. The app does not have any music, so the child can focus solely on his or her task. Also, this is a no-error app. Only the correct letter can be swapped into the word. If the user is not selecting the right one, the correct sound will begin to flash. Data is saved and can be viewed within the therapist setting.
In theory, this is a great app, but I had some frustrations with it. For instance, the student is given one word at a time, and required to change one sound to a new one to form a new word. This also includes adding sounds, such as adding an N to "law" to create "lawn." I found the words were frequently hard to understand. As I was using this app, I was making unintentional errors due to difficulty determining if the spoken word was “fat” or “sat” (and it's my job to listen for sound differences!). Also, I realize this is an auditory discrimination app, but it would have been nice for the kids to eventually apply the skill and create new rhyming words (word families) or new words on their own. Perhaps this defeats the purpose of SoundSwaps, but the ability to apply the knowledge is also an important step in carryover.
As I mentioned before, having no errors is a benefit, but it can also be a bad thing. If the child makes an error, there is not strong feedback to indicate that a mistake was made. Some children may not realize they made a mistake or they may not try as hard because the correct answer starts flashing as soon as one error is made. Just think: if you didn’t know an answer to something, wouldn’t you guess at it and wait for the right answer if you could?
Another concern is the app can only be used with one student at a time — it is not designed to accommodate groups. Since the app is intended for use by speech therapy professionals, the ability to work with an entire group at once would seem like a necessary feature.
Finally, the steps do not begin where you last left off. Instead, each time you enter, the app always starts back at the beginning of the step. You do have the ability to move ahead to other words, but this may require you to remember where you last left off.
Overall, this is an okay app to begin teaching some phonemic awareness skills. I can think of several of my students that will benefit from it. However, it is limited in different functions, and with its more expensive price, it may be out of reach for some.
Jenni enjoys swapping sounds around during therapy, sometimes just to see if her students notice. SmartAppsForKids.com was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.