Evolution has brought true inclusion for 'Wordshark 5' users, writes John Galloway 
Wordshark has long been a perennial of the teacher’s toolbox for literacy. It has an enduring familiarity which sometimes brings pleasant surprises.

While Version 5 appears much the same as previous versions, the developers haven’t stopped building on its firm foundations to continue to create something even more useful. It is one of those programs that started out in quite a specialist SEN niche and has now grown into something much more inclusive.

From focusing on dyslexia it offers possibilities for just about any learner at any level. The proof of this diversity is in a course they developed to teach undergraduates the Latin names for flowers, although you won’t find that on the handy USB key that the latest iteration, Wordshark 5, can come on. It was a bespoke list developed especially for these students with images and speech to aid their revision.

Making your own word lists is straightforward

Creating your own lists is a feature that has long been available in Wordshark and it’s really quite a straightforward process. Just a couple of clicks, list your words, then add sound and images, either from those within the product or by adding your own. Then click “Save” and your list is ready to be used with the 60 or so games that come with the package.

You may find you don’t need to create your own wordlists however, as there are already ten ready-made for you to choose from. In many cases these will be the same words, just ordered differently. The default is the Wordshark course, a structured, progressive approach to spelling. Similarly there is an Alpha to Omega list (a long established literacy scheme focused on dyslexia) and Letters and Sounds. Or you could use the 2014 National Curriculum lists, the High Frequency words or even the subject-specific lists for secondary schools. It is resources like this latter one that demonstrate the potential of the software to be truly inclusive, a learning resource for all learners, no matter the level they are working at.

As well as offering flexibility in the content it also lends itself to different modes and ways of learning. The games take several approaches to spelling, not just phonics. For some lists you can divide the words as you choose, so you could look at onset and rime, or chunking words. Other games work with the shape of a word or the order of the letters, and the alphabet and dictionary games are still available too, along with others to emphasise words in a context through completion of crosswords.

Many of the games would also work well on an interactive whiteboard, so you can run a mixture of group sessions and individual ones. One criticism of on-screen learning is often that it doesn’t generalise across into other areas, so children who do well on a computer don’t seem to be able to spell any better away from it. This is recognised here and additional activities can be printed as worksheets, including crosswords, word searches and flash cards.

Designed as part of a literacy intervention, but 'a significant resource'

Wordshark screenshotWordshark was only ever meant to be a part of a literacy intervention, never the complete package in itself, although with its systematic approach, record-keeping and possibilities for personalisation it offers a significant resource to teachers and learners, along with a lot of flexibility.

This is a big resource, but the means to choose wordlists, then select games, to add your own vocabulary, print out worksheets, and keep records are all easily navigable, and the help videos are useful.

The graphics remain rudimentary, as do the reward activities, and at times the recordings didn’t seem crisp enough to me (it could be my speakers but ‘red’ sounded indistinguishable from ‘bread.’)

In some ways it’s not easy to spot what’s new in Wordshark 5, any fresh games and activities are in the house style so will feel familiar, yet it does seem easier to use and to manage, and useful to a far broader range of learners, too. No longer something for a niche group, but a resource for the whole school.

Ratings (out of 5) 
Fitness for purpose   5
Ease of use              4    
Features                  5    
Quality                    4  
Value for money       5

Wordshark 5
Literacy software in engaging gaming format, from £57.50 for single user on DVD or £70 on USB stick. Site licences up to £1,260 for concurrent users. (Prices ex VAT.)
Wordshark on YouTube 

John GallowayJohn Galloway works as an advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning and co-author of Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies