Monday, August 25, 2014

Interactive Reading and Language Learning for Elementary Students {Schoolhouse Review}

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Establishing sound reading and language skills is essential for a successful education. You can help your child gain the necessary skills for success with Essential Skills Advantage (ESA), an interactive, online program that focuses on reading and language. It was developed by a team of experienced teachers in order to help children in grades K-6 become strong readers.

My family received a full-year, premium ESA membership to review.

About ESA

The Essential Skills Advantage program offers over 20,000 reading and language activities that use teaching methods that you won't find in a typical classroom setting. These methods appeal to children with various learning styles plus encouraging messages and rewards motivate children as they learn new concepts through interactive animations. Another great perk is that ESA is simple to navigate, so children can work independently.

ESA isn't necessarily meant to take the place of any curriculum but to give children what they call "a leading edge" over other students and the ability to "master the education system." For homeschoolers, this program can easily be used right alongside your regular curriculum/methods of teaching. For others, it can be used more like a tutoring system, and ESA has even been shown to help students with certain learning disabilities.

All you need to get started is a computer with Internet access. Your computer will need to have Java Script enabled and Flash Player 10 or higher.

ESA Features

Menu System

Children choose their assignments from a menu screen. Because the program teaches skills that build upon each other, activities must be completed in a specific order. This system paces student progress and motivates students to complete the next activity. The 3-starred icons indicate completed activities.

Star System

Children receive color-coded stars upon completion of activities: 80% and above = gold star and anything below 80% = silver star. At any time, students can access their personal Star Charts in order to see their grades plotted on a graph. They are also encouraged to redo the activities for which they did not earn gold stars.

Parent Portal

Tracking: This program tracks everything your children do while using ESA, and you can view their progress at any time. It tracks:
  • grades
  • length of time taken to complete courses
  • completion of activities
  • number of attempts made to complete activities
  • date and time of activities
  • high scores
  • last scores
  • average scores
Profile Page: You can also access your profile page here. Parents and children have separate usernames and passwords to log in to the program.

Rewards and Resources: You have the option of downloading certificates for your children when they complete units.

How We Use ESA

My 4th grade daughter is the one using this program. She spends about 20-30 minutes each day (Monday-Thursday) working on ESA. Before logging in, she chooses which subject she wants to do from a menu that looks like the one pictured below. After she picks a subject, she enters her username and password. Each time she wants to switch to a different subject, she has to log in. She's been working on Reading Comprehension 4, Vocabulary Builder 4, Spell Master Grade 5, and Grammar Grades 3-5. She tried Spell Master Grade 4 at first, but we both thought it was too easy.

For the first week, I sat through the lessons with my daughter to see how the program worked, but she didn't really need my help with anything. While she has to do a lot of reading on her own, there is an automated voice that gives instructions.

Reading Comprehension 4

This section addresses all facets of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and language for students at a 4th grade reading level. Stories contain colorful graphics and auditory support for more difficult words. Over one thousand comprehension, language, and vocabulary questions are included, and reading level gradually becomes more challenging as students work through the program. It specifically targets the following skills (listed on the website):
  • sequencing events
  • drawing conclusions
  • summarizing
  • factual recall
  • forms of writing
  • word meanings
  • synonyms & antonyms
  • homonyms
  • punctuation
  • parts of speech
  • prefixes & suffixes
  • contractions
 Reading Comprehension 4 Menu:

Reading Comprehension 4 Story Sample:

Reading Comprehension 4 Activity Samples:

So far, my daughter has completed the first 5 stories. She did mention the other day that the Dragonflies story contained a brief reference to evolution. In the month that we've been reviewing this program, this is the first time it's come up.

Vocabulary Builder 4

This section contains hundreds of words and activities that cultivate essential vocabulary, language, spelling, and reading skills. Units cover homonyms, antonyms, synonyms, homographs, compound words, easily confused words, figurative language, prefixes, and suffixes in a gradual and methodical way.

Vocabulary Builder 4 Sample Menu:

Vocabulary Builder 4 Activity Samples:

My daughter has completed 21% of the homonym unit so far.
Spell Master Grade 5

This section contains 38 lists (over 500 words) appropriate for a fifth grade level. Over 600 activities target certain spelling patterns such as ion, igh, eigh, and ough and cover spelling and definitions of 35 homonym pairs.

Spell Master Grade 5 Sample Menu:

Spell Master Grade 5 Activity Samples:

Like I mentioned before, we switched from the 4th grade level to the 5th grade level in spelling because my daughter thought grade 4 was too easy. Grade 5 isn't extremely challenging for her either, but we're sticking with it for now.

Grammar Grades 3-5

This section teaches grammar and punctuation basics and includes over 500 activities that utilize a mixture of auditory, visual, and tactile learning techniques. It is divided into 9 main units:
  • Sentences
  • Nouns
  • Plurals
  • Adjectives
  • Pronouns
  • Verbs
  • Adverbs
  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
Grammar Grades 3-5 Activity Samples:

My daughter has successfully completed the entire Nouns unit.

Our Opinion

I see Essential Skills Advantage as a program that is helping my child to become proficient in reading and language basics. It's not a replacement for language and reading, but it's nice to have "someone else" driving home the essentials in a manner that's educational and visually stimulating.

Grammar is not my daughter's favorite subject, so I like that it is stressed not only in Grammar Grades 3-5 but also in Reading Comprehension, and Vocabulary. It's good that my daughter can be reminded of basic grammar concepts on a daily basis and can be engaged in a variety of activities that promote independent learning.

I like the fact that my daughter can keep track of her own scores and redo activities that she doesn't master right away. I also like that I can go to the Parent Portal to check up on how she's progressing. It seems like most of the time, though, she can't move forward in the program until she gets an answer correct. Other times, she says if she gets an answer wrong at least twice, the program will let her move forward but give a lower score. I'm not against working until you get an answer correct - even I use that method in some subjects, but I just haven't 100% figured out the grading method with this program. Even though my daughter gets a little frustrated about this, it isn't such a big deal that we'd stop using the program over it.

When I asked my daughter what she thinks about ESA, she said, "It's okay." I guess that's a pretty typical kid's response to anything related to schoolwork, huh? She also says the program is really easy and that Spelling is her favorite out of all the subjects offered.

Essential Skills Advantage is a fine way for my daughter to start her morning bright and early while her brothers are still sleeping and while I'm still getting ready for the day. I'm not a stickler when it comes to making sure my kids are learning the exact same things at the exact same times as other school kids, but it is nice to know that with ESA my daughter is staying current with 4th grade basics.

How to Become an ESA Member

Take a few minutes to browse the website and try out a few sample lessons to see if Essential Skills Advantage is a good fit for your child. If you and your child are happy with the program, you can become a premium member for only $9.99 a month for one student. Premium membership gives you full, unlimited access to all of the ESA programs. The first 14 days are free, and if you decide that the program is not a good fit after all, you can cancel your membership five days prior to the end of your trial period in order to avoid being charged. You do have the freedom to cancel your membership at any time. Become a premium member by signing up for ESA’s Premium Plan at

Sign up by October 1st and receive 50% off your monthly premium membership fee! Enter coupon code TOS50 at checkout, and your monthly fee will be reduced to $4.99/month/student.

Free Membership Option: ESA is now offering sponsored membership which is absolutely free. You can sign up for free at You will have access to all ESA programs, but not all of the features will be available and there will be sponsored advertisements.

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