iOS App Recommendations for Literacy

Many fun party conversations have started by whipping out a smartphone and sharing the latest and coolest apps.  However, in educational settings we continually need to refocus the discussion around choosing apps to meet our instructional objectives rather than the other way around.

About a year ago, I published a list of all the apps I installed on our school’s iPads.  I still like that list, however, there are a number of drill-and-kill type apps that see occasional use in  my classroom as well as those that require higher-level thinking and student creation which I use more often.  I wanted to give our teachers options so I gave them tons of apps.  However, my personal toolkit is much smaller.  Here are my recommendations based around instructional needs in the area of literacy.  The specific apps I recommend don’t matter so much as how we they are used in the classroom:


Any voice recorder from the free and simple, Audio Memos to the pricier and more advanced, Garageband, can be used to have students record themselves reading.  Data from Escondido Unified which used iPods and Voice Recorders with English Language Learners (back before iPhones and iPads existed) consistently shows that students showed growth.  The key is having students record and then listen to themselves reading so that they hear the mistakes they don’t hear when they’re focused on decoding.

I’ve used Reader’s Theater in my own classroom (find free printable reader’s theater here or see our class reader’s theater movie, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse).  However, you can also use any passages that might target certain spelling patterns or sounds students are working on.


I like simple.  StoryKit is a free iPhone app that works on the iPad and allows students to write, record their voice, add a photo, or draw on a page resembling kindergarten writing paper.  If you want to publish a whole book from the iPad, the $5 Book Creator is a great option.  Apple’s free desktop app, iBooks Author is even better but it requires both an iPad and an updated Mac desktop or laptop.  With iBooks Author you create the book on your computer and preview it on the iPad.  You can easily import Keynote and Pages files into your final product.   When you’re ready for multimedia, iMovie is a great way to engage even the most unmotivated writers in writing something that will include audio, visuals and an audience.

Apps like Toontastic and PuppetPals are also fun.  However, be careful, Toontastic teaches story crafting via a beginning, middle, and end structure.  If you’re a fan of Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop and the notion of expanding a single moment with details to make it something bigger rather than structuring a bare bones story sequentially, you will might not be happy with an app that would set you back to an outdated way of teaching writing even if it’s more fun.

Learning Letter Sounds

Apps like the above mentioned Storykit can be used to have students make a book of letter sounds by taking pictures of things that begin with the sound /p/ for example.  Student Tommy would end up with a page with photos of pencils, pictures, paint, and paintbrushes and then record his voice making the sound /p/ on the page.   I know that you can find apps that give students the letter sounds while students passively listen but I’m much more in favor of having students create their own books with the sound in it.  I suspect the learning is more internalized.

What other areas of student early literacy need do you notice?




4 thoughts on “iOS App Recommendations for Literacy”

  1. Hey I am Jana! I am in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. We are learning how to use all types of new technology for our future classrooms. I think it is great that you have a list for other teachers to use. I hope when I start teaching I will have some guidance for some great middle school math apps! Thank you for your blog post. It gave me ideas and ways to eliminate some unneeded apps for my students!

  2. Hey! It’s Rebecca from EDM310. I love the apps that help with letter sounds. I’m passionate about children learning to read. This is such a fun way to help them learn. I love that this incorporates technology with reading so easily. I’m also a HUGE fan of imovie now that I’ve gotten the chance to use it several times in my class. There are many things you can use it for. I just made a book movie and it was so fun.
    -Rebecca Stuart

  3. Thanks for sharing about literacy apps! Do you have any recommendation for math activities app?

  4. Hey It’s Claire! I think that having a list of apps for teachers to use in there teaching is a wonderful idea. It is amazing at what technology has become, and how important it is in the education field. Reading is a tough subject, so why not make it interesting and fun for the students? I would love to know of more apps for teaching my future students. The apps will be very beneficial to me when I have my own class. I think the younger children, would be more interested in learning with fun apps like these. I believe the more fun the learning is, the more challenged the student will want to be. I have the iBook and iMovie on my iPad, so it is amazing to have some knowledge of what your article is about!!
    I also wanted to know about the math app. Are there any out there that are similar to this reading and writing app?
    Claire Williams

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