Spell Trekking App Review
App Name: Spell Trekking
Mom’s Rating: 3/5
Kids’ Rating: 5/5
Recommended Grades/Ages: Kindergarten, Grades 1-6
Skills Developed: Spelling, Reading, Vocabulary, Sight Words, Dyslexia/Visual Processing
Available On/Price: iPad – $1.99
Reviewed on: iPad
Spell Trekking is a huge (787 lessons and nine levels), comprehensive, space-themed spelling app designed to meet the spelling needs of students in all the elementary grades – from Kindergarten through to grade 6 across nine levels of increasing difficulty using American style spelling (British narrator).
Children (or parents) can set the visual settings of the app (called visor settings) so that the background and text colors work for your child. This helps children with dyslexia and visual processing difficulties read the screen better.
Typed words appear on the screen and the word is read out loud. Your child types on top of the word in a different color and can backspace if needed for corrections. If a word is typed incorrectly it is simply presented again – no negative feedback. This process is repeated twice for each word – in the upper levels the second tie a word is presented it often has missing letters or is a blank word entirely. Once completed the word is added to the bottom of the screen where it makes up part of a sentence that is being dictated. Once the sentence(s) are complete, your student is asked to read them aloud. This recording is then replayed, reinforcing reading skills.
This multi-sensory approach involves very visual methods of learning – different colors – kinesthetic learning – typing over words that are already present (also very visual), and audio – listening to the words being dictated and reading the completed sentences back.
Direct phonics instruction is not always provided, but there are some instructional sentences to type (see samples) and the words ARE generally arranged in order of phonetic complexity. Mercury focuses on CVC words in sentences, Venus includes blends, the Moon includes vowel teams etc. There is a logical progression of complexity and words aren’t randomly chosen according to frequency in written materials or in some arbitrary order.
Here are some examples of sample lessons from across the app to give you an idea of how the difficulty levels ramp up. Not only does word difficulty increase, but so does sentence length, punctuation difficulty, and the sophistication of the sentences. Additional questions at the end of the lessons also appear in the higher levels, related to rhyming, grammar, and vocabulary.
Target spelling words are nestled into full sentences and once completed a burst of stars appears on the screen – these are star words. The later levels have special lessons that just review these star words.
There is a Space Station – Tutorial that all students take to orient them to the app that includes 1 lesson.
Mercury – 110 Lessons, Spelling Ages 5-6 – target sample words: bag tin
Lesson Example – Sam is a pet dog. A rat bit him.
Venus – 76 Lessons, Spelling Ages 6-7 – target sample words: grab, spring
Lesson Example – My Dad has a bad cut and he dabs it.
Moon – 70 Lessons, Spelling Ages 7-8 – target sample words: smash, painful
Lesson Example – All English words have at least one vowel. The five short vowel sounds are a e i o u
Mars – 100 Lessons, Spelling Ages 8-9 – target sample words: season, strides
Lesson Example – The long e sound has three main letter patterns.
eel keep speed
eat leap teach
very happy chilly
(These are examples of the phonetic concept presented.)
Jupiter – 73 Lessons, Spelling Ages 9-11 – target sample words: aliens, cereal
Lesson Example – The letter c has two sounds. Hard c as in cat and soft c as in ice.
camel cool case
ace lace rice
(Examples of phonetic concept presented.)
Saturn – 98 Lessons, Spelling Ages 11+ – target sample words: powdery, oysters
Lesson Example – Sam’s water gun is good and ready
His aim is good; his arm is steady
Eddie’s lying in the sun
“Boo!” yells Sam but Ed’s no fool
He pushes Sam into the pool!
ready pool (These are answers to questions concerning rhymes.)
Uranus – 107 Lessons, Spelling Ages 11+ – target sample words: pursuit, deceive
Lesson Example – The first shop was too crowded; about twenty people stood in a long line right up to the door. I walked along to a store selling T-shirts. There was a fantastic range of colors.
fantastic (Answer to a gentle grammar question.)
Neptune – 93 Lessons, Spelling Ages 12+ – target sample words: patient, anxious
Lesson Example – Benjamin lives on the outskirts of a major city. He has always wanted to try hang-gliding. Nearby is a vast hill where people practice their hang-gliding skills. It’s an exciting sport.
vast (Answer to a vocabulary question.)
Space Station #2 – 59 Lessons, Spelling Ages 12+ – target sample words: musicians, eerie
Lesson Example – The referee counts to ten. Phil struts around the arena looking triumphant while Mike lies immobile and exhausted. The referee declares Physical Phil the undisputed champion.
immobile (Answer to a vocabulary question.)
As each lesson is completed a score out of five stars is awarded. Lessons are unlocked progressively as each previous lesson is completed. Once all of the lessons on a planet are completed, a badge is awarded in the Space Cadet passport. When your child moves to a new level her rocket flies off, letting her tilt and tip the iPad to navigate back and forth across the screen. Each planet also has its own whimsical alien guide who shares astronomical facts with children at intervals between lessons.
Other Notes: This app does not include in-app purchases, external web links, email links, advertising or social media integration.
What We Liked:
Not only does Spell Trekking have children spelling words on their own, it places them into sentences that are appropriately capitalized and punctuated. Because these sentences are written with correct grammar it helps children see spelling as being within the realm of the written word – this approach is very close to copywork, with a strong emphasis on guided spelling. Reading the completed sentences and review words back also helps children who struggle with reading (the narration of each word when it is shown visually helps connect the written word with the spoken word).
A great deal of care has been taken to gently ease children into spelling successfully, from the slow integration of words missing letters through to whole blank words by dictation. This is really one of most gradual apps I’ve seen for spelling, and I love the incredible amount of repetition and review it includes – words aren’t only seen once or twice, but they are continually integrated into the sentences presented in future lessons. The logical, step-by-step progression and the patient, positive teaching approach used, won’t scare off even reluctant spellers.
Because the app includes a full spelling course for the elementary grades it is perfect for remedial use with struggling spellers. Everything is found in one app and your child has the built in motivation to progress from planet to planet as quickly as they are able to, or would like to.
The option of customizing the background color and typing colors to help children with dyslexia and visual processing issues is a really unique feature. And although my daughter didn’t rely on the color customization to ease visual stress, she did like using it to ‘girly’ the app up with her favorite colors!
What We Didn’t Like:
I’d LOVE to see the option to have several children using the same app included – with an age range of 5-12 there is a high probability of families having several children who could benefit from this app.
The keyboard is always all uppercase, it doesn’t switch between upper and lower case with the shift key, and my daughter made quite a few case errors when she was first using the app.
Some of the audio files also need cleaning up – at times they play inappropriately when buttons are tapped and there is sometimes background conversation and sounds from other screens of the app playing when spelling should be taking place. I also noticed that at least one of the instructional sentences was incorrect.
My daughter (9) isn’t a natural speller, and she counts this as amongst her top 5 favorite apps – she ASKS to use it throughout the day and absolutely loves it. The gentle, positive approach and fun space theme have really captured her, and I am intrigued by the unique guided copywork-style approach to spelling. We’re going to keep working with this app and see how my daughter’s work with it translates into spelling and writing confidence.
Even though this first version of Spell Trekking is a bit rough around the edges, I highly recommend you check it out and see if this approach would work for your child.
Have you downloaded this app? Let us know what you and your children thought – leave a comment!