A child's vocabulary can be expanded through repeated exposure to new words and by thinking about word meanings. We've found apps that engage young children in crossword and Scrabble type games. Other apps focus on specific word meaning skills by highlighting word opposites, synonyms, and homophones. Many of the games can be played together or side-by-side. Have fun and encourage new words!
Many of the reviews we link to are from Common Sense Education, a trusted resource for learning about apps and other edtech tools.
Big Bird's Words
Big Bird's Words uses the device's camera and augmented reality to help kids identify words in their environments. It's developed specifically for phones, but it can work on tablets, too. To play, kids will need access to several food packages or items with labels so they can find the words and scan them with the camera. The app includes a free download of word labels that parents can print if they don't have access to the foods labeled.
Chicktionary is a chicken themed spelling and vocabulary-building word game. Children create as many words as possible out of seven letters. Completed words can be tapped to view their definition. There are multiple levels and children can choose a timed or untimed mode. *Note: This is a noisy app — incorrect words receive scolding squawks.
Dr. Seuss's ABC
Dr. Seuss's ABC has three levels, "Read to Me," "Read it Myself," and "Auto Play," which allows children to grow with this app. Words highlighted are read out loud when tapped, and when narrated, children can follow along with the highlighted text.
Letters transform into living toys that voice their names. Children quickly learn that one letter works with others to build words and sentences. Another app in the series, Endless Spanish, is ideal spelling practice for both native English and Spanish speakers. (Note: Requires an Internet connection and a lot of storage space for full functionality.)
Montessori Crosswords helps kids develop literacy skills by dragging and dropping letters into a crossword grid to form words that correspond to the given pictures. Young children can drag letters around in the moveable alphabet and practice linking phonetic sounds to letters, while older kids can expand their vocabularies in the higher of three difficulty levels. Crossword levels include simple words with one-sound, words with consonant blend, and words of any complexity.
Noodle Words HD
Noodle Words HD - Action Set 1 is the first in a series of "word toy" apps. This app helps emerging readers recognize 18 action words in a playful, unique way. This app is helpful for kids who have difficulty comprehending words and spoken words. The animation and verbal reinforcement can benefit kids who have difficulty understanding visual information and holding images in their memory.
PrepositionBuilder helps students learn the correct use of prepositions and learn how prepositions can change the meaning of a sentence. During play, the student is presented an image and must drag a preposition to complete a sentence about the image. If the student chooses the wrong answer, the image and sentence change to show the student the proper use of the preposition they chose and how it changes the image. Once a student completes a level they unlock a short animation that is part of a larger story. They must complete all the levels to see the entire story.
Scene Speak is like a create-and-store digital library for photo books, flash cards, diagrams, and more. Parents or teachers can make photo books of kids' favorite stories, family photos, vocabulary words, and almost anything else they need to practice vocabulary skills.
Spelling Bee teaches and tests kids on spelling and vocabulary word skills. After studying a wordlist, children are presented with a definition and an audio prompt of the word. Quiz options include the ability to choose the length (5, 10, or 20 words), level of difficulty (beginner, easy, medium, hard), and whether the quiz should be timed.
The Opposites app helps children learn vocabulary and the corresponding antonyms by challenging them to match up pairs of opposing words in increasingly difficult levels. The game also helps children understand the importance of word context, and is an opportunity for them to think about how the words they use oppose other words. The Opposites consists of 10 different levels, each stage with a corresponding level of vocabulary. The app also offers a dictionary option that provides definitions and antonyms in a kid-friendly format.
SpellingCity is a word game app designed to help kids learn spelling and improve vocabulary and grammar skills. It's got 10 free sample lists for K–12 students that include math and science words, compound words, sound-alike words, analogies, prefix/suffix words, and SAT prep words. Kids can practice these word lists in any of the app's engaging learning activities (aka games).
Kids start off with the Word Dynamo Challenge, which assesses vocabulary level (starting at elementary school, middle school, high school, or college level) and then gives lists and word studies to improve vocabulary, along with quizzes built into each of the 20 levels. Kids can also create their own lists of words or review the numerous existing lists or search for specific words.
Word Sort is a practical way to practice parts of speech. Children sort words and phrases by parts of speech before time runs out. The information screen for each part of speech describes each in an informative way. There are three levels to Word Sort, each with a different number of words and phrases to sort at a time. The three difficulty levels allow play by both kids and adults.
Words for Osmo
Words for Osmo is a free download that accompanies the basic gaming system from Osmo. Children can play alone, competitively, or cooperatively, finding the missing letters for the word displayed in a picture. Choose from several themes of words, download other word packs for free by connecting to the Osmo website, or create your own word packs. Difficulty adjusts based on performance but can be manually adjusted for 12 levels ranging from easy to very hard.
World's Worst Pet - Vocabulary
Students follow the story of Snargg, possibly the world's worst pet, as they attempt to get him home. In order to get him there, they must complete a series of vocabulary challenges and watch Snargg get into various antics. The vocabulary words are organized into levels and sets. Students first select a level, and then select a specific set within the level. According to developers, World's Worst Pet targets Tier Two and domain-specific words, which simply means it focuses on relevant vocabulary words.
Wurdle, is a crossword style game that helps build reading and spelling skills. The object is to find and trace as many words as possible before the time runs out. The default letter grid size of 4x4 works well for beginners but those wanting a challenge can play on larger boards — up to 8x8. There is also the option of playing a timed or untimed game.