A Brand New Read

This month, we introduce four new ways for educators to monitor and guide students' literacy development, all designed with No Child Left Behind standards and reading research findings in mind. The result: programs that inform educators about student progress, helping teachers manage the range of reading abilities in their classrooms.

Although all share the goal of literacy development, these products target different audiences. ClickN' Read Beginning Reading and Lexia's Primary Reading, ideal for the youngest of readers, are engaging and lively updates to traditional drill-and-practice, phonics-based instruction. Soliloquy's Reading Assistant puts a twist on fluency and oral reading practice for first- through fifth-graders, merging a patent-pending speech recognizer with popular children's stories and poems. Meanwhile, Tom Snyder Productions touts a polished, comprehension-building program to support struggling fifth- through eighth-grade readers.

ClickN' Read Beginning Reading Program

(ClickN' Kids)

ClickN' Kids' newest release, designed as an intervention to support students without a solid foundation for reading, is the epitome of a captivating and systematic beginning reading program. ClickN' Kid, a goofy and affable hound, ushers users through a learning journey of 100 drill-and-practice lessons set in colorful, futuristic classroom locales. Each lesson houses four amusing learning environments that progressively teach alphabetic understanding, phonemic awareness, decoding, and word recognition.

In the first setting, the Letter Sound Chamber, ClickN' Kid uses his trusty mobile TV screen to introduce a new instructional element, such as letter sounds like "d" or "m," or the "silent e" rule. Learners then practice, matching a spoken sound to its corresponding letter, then typing that letter on the keyboard. In the next setting, the Listening Cube, kids learn how these new sounds meld into word blends.

With a zoom, ClickN' Kid zips on his jet-powered podium from the Listening Cube to the Reading Room, where the new words are contextualized into a short passage. To add to the interest, each little passage builds upon an ongoing story from earlier lessons. ClickN' Read closes each lesson with a visit to the Speed Chamber, where learners whisk through a timed letter and word recognition review.

ClickN' Read's graphics and quick animated segments are vibrant, but without unnecessary bells and whistles. The program's uncomplicated interface falls to the advantage of less experienced computer users or learners who are easily distracted from the task at hand — focus stays on the lessons.

Primary Reading

(Lexia Learning)

From the same masterful developers of Phonics Based Reading comes Primary Reading, a new and improved reading program geared toward five- to eight-year-olds. Its makeover includes a sleek interface, updated sound and graphics, and 11 new activities. Primary Reading learners have the opportunity to improve phonemic awareness, sight words, vocabulary, sound/symbol correspondence, listening, and comprehension skills. Drill-and-practice exercises become gripping activities as they are tucked into animated settings where seals balance balls, pirates toss coins, and lumberjacks parachute down trees.

The fun begins when students log on and select one of the five different levels, each of which contains five activities. Ideal for kindergarten through first grade, Level 1 focuses on sound/symbol correspondence. For example, the "Consonant Castle" asks students to click on a correct consonant to complete words like "jug," "kid," and "van." With each correct answer, a tower or another small portion of the structure pops into place. Ultimately, consonant sounds are mastered and the castle is built.

By Level 4, students develop word-attack strategies within sentences and paragraphs, listen to a narrator read their correctly completed sentences, and practice irregular second-grade words like "many," "does," and "very" using the keyboard. Like other programs requiring young users to search for letters on the keyboard, this portion of Primary Reading may cause some frustration at first. However, the brief typing task quickly moves into a mouse-driven, sound-intensified word unscrambling activity where correct answers summon cute green aliens out of hiding.

In addition to its pedagogically sound curricula, one of Primary Reading's best features is that it keeps teachers in-the-know with four different reports, from detailed records of student performance to an overview of class progress. In addition, educators may track student progress from grade to grade, import/export class lists between Lexia products, and easily share this data with other teachers.

Reading Assistant

(Soliloquy Learning)

Appropriately named, Reading Assistant is an electronic clone of a reading tutor, providing a uniquely interactive, one-on-one reading opportunity for first- through fifth-graders. This latest version has improved speech recognition and reading verification technology that is incredibly accurate. The juxtaposition of sound, illustration, text, and technology makes Reading Assistant a distinctive learning system for boosting fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary skills.

The reading experience begins by selecting a title from the cozy, armchair-furnished Library section of the program. Both CD and network versions include an anthology of 14 works, classical literature selections as well as fictional and non-fictional stories and poems from Spider, Ladybug, Click, and Cricket magazines. Learners will enjoy choosing from titles like "If a Hippopotamus Shows Up at Your Door," "Smallest Dragon," and "Bedroom Monster."

Once selected, a page of the text and accompanying illustrations comes into full-screen view. Users then have the option of reading, at their own pace, into the headset microphone or asking Reading Assistant to model fluent reading for them. Like a seasoned instructor, Reading Assistant's voice recognition technology gives students instant feedback on their oral reading, carefully "listening" to the reader, helping with difficult words, and appreciating efforts. This friendly program keeps the reader on track visually by fading all but the target sentence to a light gray. In what promises to be a popular learning feature, the "review" button lets students listen to themselves reading while four colors code the text into different levels: "Great," "Try again," "Needs work," and "Not yet read." Teachers can also replay the audio of students' reading and print it out in its color-coded text. A comprehension quiz rounds out the lesson.

Reading Assistant's "Power Point" system encourages students to challenge themselves with repeat readings, lengthier and more difficult texts, and quiz questions. Students can check on their status through Progress Screens that chart current Power Points, fluency goals, quiz scores, percentage of text read, and review words for each title.

Schools will also welcome Reading Assistant's new network capability, which comes with the complete reading content library and an impressive, comprehensive reporting feature that collects student and class data.

Thinking Reader

(Tom Snyder Productions)

Thinking Reader takes full advantage of instructional technology as it deftly nestles literature, such as Tuck Everlasting, Roll of Thunder, and A Wrinkle in Time, into a customized support system intended to improve reading comprehension in challenged middle school readers. It stands alone here in its mission to integrate struggling or special-needs students into mainstream class lessons and discussions on core, grade level texts.

Modern graphics, seamless design, and an engaging interface will appeal to this generation's tech-savvy learners. Akin to Reading Assistant, Thinking Reader users have the choice of reading a passage on their own or with a narrator and text-highlighting feature. However, the focus here is on comprehension. Embedded prompts give students practice using seven strategies, all of which are scientifically proven to increase reading comprehension. Between passages, a student may be asked to think about something they have read that was confusing or make a prediction about what is going to happen. Students speak or type their response and then electronically send it to the teacher for comments.

The combination of differentiated instruction and monitored progress work perfectly to lift students' comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency skills to a higher level. Teachers can choose the number of questions students have to answer and the level of support; comprehensive reports allow them to quickly monitor progress.

Iris Obille Lafferty, Ed.D., is an educational consultant and researcher.

How the Reading Programs Stack Up



Primary Reading

Reading Assistant

Thinking Reader


ClickN' Kids, Inc. (877) 254-2522 www.clicknkids.com

Lexia Learning Systems, Inc. (800) 435-3942 www.lexialearning.com

Soliloquy Learning, Inc. (877) 235-6036 www.soliloquylearning.com

Tom Snyder Productions, Inc. (800) 342-0236 www.tomsnyder.com



Win/Mac stand-alone or network

Win/Mac stand-alone or network

Win stand-alone or network


One-year subscription: $29/student for 1-100 students, $20/student for 101+ students
Home pricing available

Stand-alone: $159
Network: $500 per unit, with volume discounts
Discount for current Phonics Based Reading customers

Stand-alone: $229
Network: $2,000

10-student license: $500


Pre K-5





Alphabetic understanding, phonemic awareness, automaticity, word recognition, decoding skills

Phonemic awareness, sight words, sound/symbol, correspondence, vocabulary, listening, comprehension

Fluency, comprehension, vocabulary

Comprehension, fluency, reading strategies, vocabulary, literature, appreciation


Can be accessed from home; results display cumulative report; tracks progress and re-teaches skills when necessary

Develops sight vocabulary; real-time reporting option enables teachers to view level, activity, and time student spend on each exercise

State-of-the-art speech recognition technology; report features for teachers; leveled readers including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces

Includes seven strategies to raise reading comprehension; three options for students to acquire hints/help; progress reports; glossary in Spanish


Smooth progression from phonetic awareness to word understanding; stongly based on reading research and scientific approaches to instruction

Automatic branching to detect when more practice activities are needed for skill mastery; seamless transition of student data from Phonics Based Reading product

Complies with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, supporting special-needs students; context-sensitive glossary definitions are pertinent to the story

Complies with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, supporting special-needs students; research validated


Keyboarding activities may frustrate younger students who can't type

Limited technical help for the home version

Fourteen selections in the initial library-stand-alone versions must purchase additional anthologies

Library currently limited to nine titles


Designed as an intervention program, but also an excellent choice for anyone desiring a simple, phonics-based approach to reading

Excellent for mainstream, ESL, and LD students who need to build upon their phonics and conceptual reading skills

Cool, engaging, and age-level-appropriate technology to enhance reading fluency

Combination of individualized and monitored instruction makes this a sui generis product. Great comprehension-building tool for middle school struggling or special needs readers

Keep Reading!

Below are additional companies offering products for phonics instruction, reading comprehension, and fluency.