11 Apps to Build Literacy for Elementary ELs

In my last blog, I talked about online resources for building English learners’ literacy skills. I would like to expand on that topic by listing some apps that also help build literacy. It became apparent as I examined these resources that free apps are not always the best choice. Many app designers create a free version, and this is certainly a way to explore an app. However, the complete versions of most apps  are more likely to provide a real learning experience for ELs.  You’ll want to look at samples of apps to see if they are developmentally appropriate, linguistically complex, and interactive.  Many apps have free “trailers” that you can view.  If you find a free app that you like, consider upgrading to the complete version.

Here are a few apps that I suggest:

1. Little Bird Tales is an app that allows students to tell digital stories using their own photographs or art work. It’s good for young students because it allows them to tell a story. Beginning ELs could use one-word labels or short sentences for their stories. (Grades K–2)

2. Mindsnacks  is a language-learning app that provides vocabulary games for students K–adult. This app is good for beginner and intermediate ELs as it builds Tier 3, low-frequency, context-specific vocabulary words.

3. Write About This  is an app that is a good resource for ELs in elementary school. It helps students develop story ideas by giving them writing prompts and categories to choose from. There is a paid version of Write About This that I recommend.

4. Shadow Puppet is an app that allows students to practice reading aloud, summarizing a story, and describing steps on how to make something. Students can make a video using their artwork or photographs. Check these classroom stories to get an idea of what the app can do.

5. Voicethread has always been one of my favorite tech teaching tools to use with young ELs. This learning tool helps students create and share information about documents, snapshots, diagrams, and videos. They can talk, type, and draw right on the screen. The website version has become very expensive, but the app is free. Students will need a wifi connection to use this resource.

6. Foldify allows students to draw, create, print, and fold 3-D figures. There are so many writing or speaking tasks that teachers can develop with this app. It is available in many languages and helps ELs develop listening and speaking skills. (Grades 4–6)

7. Book Creator Free is a an award-winning app that allows students to create books in many different languages. Students can add photos, video, and text to their writing. There is a school version for the iPad that is US$4.99. (Grades 2–6)

8. EPIC! Is an app that supports the EPIC library mentioned in my article 10 Online Resources to Improve ELL Literacy. 10,000 books from the library can be accessed through this free app for teachers.  (Grades K–3)

I asked Karen Nemeth, a nationally-known author and consultant on preschool ELs, to share some of the apps she recommends to teachers. Karen replied:

“I recommend story making apps that let children create, collaborate, and use their voices to narrate in any language. One example is My Story, which comes in a free edition and  school editions.”

Karen is currently building a rubric for evaluating apps for young ELs. She recommends looking for apps that introduce words and skills in meaningful contexts rather than flashcards or disconnected skill-based games. If you’d like to see the rubric and add ideas to it, check out Karen’s website, Language Castle. Here are some more of her suggestions for apps for young children.

9. Toca Boca continues to add new apps to their collection of games that engage children in playing and practicing skills such as problem solving, prediction, and design without depending on spoken or written language. This makes the learning accessible for students regardless of their language or proficiency.

10. Pacca Alpaca is a popular app that exposes young children to different languages and cultures.

11. Tiggly apps involve a new kind of interactive manipulative set to enhance learning and independent and collaborative play.

In the next blog, I will be talking about game-based learning and ELs. If you want to learn about how to link websites and apps to instruction,  you’ll want to read this blog.

Also, if you have any resources that you’ve used successfully in your classrooms, please share them with us by using the comment box below.

About Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes
Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.
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One Response to 11 Apps to Build Literacy for Elementary ELs

  1. Pasqual says:

    Apps to help kids complete tasks independently at home, school, or in the community. (Selected especially for children with autism or Aspergers.)

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