Vocabulary-learning for 8-12 year olds

Merriam-Webster is America’s leading and most trusted provider of language information. As part of the company’s ambition to expand their audience and diversify their product offering, they reached out to PRELOADED for their expertise in creating award-winning, engaging content for children.

Merriam-Webster wanted to create a vocabulary-learning app for kids aged 8-12, a largely uncatered to audience as most language learning products are designed for younger readers.

Together, we created Puku, a subscription-based vocabulary development app. Puku uses the power of play to help children expand and improve their vocabulary in an engaging and rewarding way. 

We wanted to create a tool for kids who have outgrown entry-level vocabulary apps, and for their parents who are frustrated with the limited resources available to help their older children study words they are learning in school.”

Lisa Schneider, Chief Digital Officer & Publisher, Merriam-Webster


Puku is a creature who evolves and grows into different shapes and colours according to the child’s in-game actions as they master new words. The direct impact of the child’s actions on Puku, accompanied by the creature’s endearing motion and sound effects, endeavours an emotional bond between the two.

The game is permeated with a constant sense of progress; getting a word wrong and learning from the mistake is as important as getting a word right. Any incorrect words on the user’s part come hand-in-hand with the opportunity to learn and help their Puku grow.
At the heart of the app is the ability for children, parents and teachers to create their own word lists. This enables users to focus on a word list that they may be studying in school, or a collection of words they are struggling with, or a list that revolves around real world events.

The unique relationship between the child and their Puku makes for a personalised learning process. The personal nature of the child’s experience is reflected in their nurtured Puku, whose appearance will differ from their friends’ and classmates’ based on their own journey in the game. This gives social comparison opportunities and encourages the child to take pride in their individual Puku and their progress in mastering new vocabulary.

This sense of continual progress lends itself well to a subscription based model, meaning users can have access to a continually updated bank of words.

Other pets just eat your homework, Puku helps you ace it.

Using Play To Navigate Complex Data

A block of data as large, unstructured and complex as the English language can be difficult to decipher, let alone learn, but gamifying the learning experience means the information can be delivered in an accessible, structured way.

All word data comes directly from Merriam-Webster, so every word the child comes across in the game is right from the trustworthy source.

Drawing from the vast well of Merriam-Webster’s data threw up the technical challenge of condensing the 330MB of words down into an app that needed to be as small as possible to optimise accessibility. In order to navigate this, PRELOADED’s development team wrote custom tools to process elementary and intermediate word definitions, plus thesaurus synonyms and example sentences into one combined master dictionary that was just 4.5MB.

Hooking up to Merriam-Webster’s API also allows Merriam-Webster to continually update the app with new word lists. This gives them the ability to keep the dynamic of the game current and align with current events or public holidays, always keeping the user’s learnings relevant to the world around them.

PUKU is available on iOS and Android devices now.

Games are a brilliant - perhaps the best - medium to present complex systems to a novice audience.”

James Allsopp, Head of Design, PRELOADED

We were so pleased to work with PRELOADED, who shared our goal of providing a genuine learning experience within rewarding game play, and made sure every step of the process was thoughtful and well researched.”

Lisa Schneider , Chief Digital Officer, Merriam-Webster

BolognaRagazzi Digital Award - 2020 Winners
Best Mobile App Awards - Best New Mobile App

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