Sometimes, less is more. PhonicsTutor is a prime example. This CD-ROM program has no bells or whistles, arcade-type games, or cartoon characters. But it is, according to reviewer Dan Kihlstadius in Practical Homeschooling magazine, "the best and most complete phonics, reading, and spelling curriculum for the computer that I have ever seen." That says a lot. The program is based on Sam Blumenfeld's methods (as presented in Alpha-Phonics and How to Tutor). Like Alpha-Phonics, instruction is simple and straightforward - and purely phonetic. Each of the 129 lessons has seven activities which instruct and then reinforce the instruction. First, the program presents groups of words with a similar phonetic construct (like the short a). A human (not computer-generated) voice pronounces each word as it is highlighted on screen. A student can then study the words, clicking on each to hear the individual sounds that constitute the word. After study, drill begins. The program tests the student's grasp of phonetic constructs by pronouncing the first sound in a word. The student must correctly type in the phonogram corresponding to that sound. When that is done, the computer goes to the next sound... and so on for each word in the lesson. If the student makes any mistakes, the computer quizzes those words again at the end of the lesson. In the reading drill, the program displays words from the lesson and other, similar words on the screen. As a word is spoken, the student must select the correct word by clicking on it. As with the phonics drill, any mistakes are re-tested at the end of the drill. The next reading drill requires the student to pronounce each word (displayed one at a time) himself. Here, parental involvement would be helpful, since the computer tutor can't "hear." However, when the student clicks on the displayed word, the computer will also pronounce the word, so he should be able to discern whether his pronunciation was correct. If he has made a mistake, clicking on the "no" (rather than the "yes") button will cause the program to drill that word again at the end. The final drill is a simple spelling activity. The program says each word and the student responds by typing it in. As you can see, instruction is simple and "pure" in form, much as if you used the Alpha-Phonics book for phonics lessons, but adding reading and spelling drills. It appears to be an extremely thorough and effective method of instruction. If you want to "taste" before you purchase, a free download of the first four lessons is on the web ( The software uses Internet Explorer as its interface only; internet access is not needed. System requirements for PhonicsTutor are: Windows systems up through Windows 7.

Welcome additions to the program are the Teacher's Manual, Student Reader and Student Workbook. The Teacher's Manual gives instruction and directions for using Phonics Tutor, taking you step by step through 130 lessons and showing you how to implement the total program, incorporating the new student materials. The Student Reader and Student Workbook are each 200 pages long and serve to review, expand, and extend reading, phonogram knowledge, decoding skills, penmanship, and writing. The Student Reader basically contains reading materials while the workbook consists of worksheets to test phonetic and reading comprehension, grammar, and punctuation. Please note that although the student workbook has worthwhile activities, it is not designed to work alongside the software.

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