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?




NPR Article: Children’s Play Co-opted

NPR reports on the commercialization of children’s play which has shifted in the second half of the twentieth century from an emphasis on activities towards and emphasis on specific toys and rules.

“(in the first half of the century) [Children] improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules…but in the second half of the 20th century…play changed radically.  instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts…a trend whih begins to shrink the size of children’s imaginative space.”

The damage is that researches have seen a decrease in children’s self regulation, an ability to “control their emotions, and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.”

“Today’s 5-year-olds [are] acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago.”

I’ve written previously about allowing children to play whenever possible, even integrating that into your Independent Work Time and existing curriculum.  For teachers of the Open Court Reading Program, I beg you to please implement independent work time and to allow that to be a time when students make some of their own choices and begin to self-regulate their own behavior.  It’s a little more chaotic at first but by investing time in training you reap dividends later.  By moving students from center to center based on a rotation, you further take away from students opportunities to make decisions about their own learning.

We all want students to be responsible but do we give them chances to learn responsibilty?  Do we give them changes to exhibit creativity and problem-solving in our classrooms?

Kindergarten Organization Tips

Submitted by Myrose, here are some very specific tips on getting organized to teach kindergarten…

I am currently teaching Kinder OCR 2002, but many of
the ideas are still applicable.


Here are some of my organizational tips–I hope they help you:

–I keep all my big books in a small chart box, in the front of the
room, right next to my big book easel. This has been great. The box
is an old one made to hold posters and chart paper. It has dividers
in it, and it does not have a lid. This makes for easy taking out and
putting away of the big books. Prior to this year, I kept my large
wood blocks in the box.

–I gave up on using the word cards that came with the series. It was
too time consuming to pull the cards you needed for every day. Last
year, I pulled the cards that I needed, then afterward, I put them in
a plastic baggie and labeled the name and number of the lesson. If I
needed a card for another lesson, I simply made my own card, so that
I now have a set of cards for every lesson. No more pulling cards
this year.

–My partner and I purchased 5 very large tubs at Walmart 2 years
ago. We labeled one for each unit. We now simply take out a box the
week or two before we start that unit, and go through it to see what
we need. I keep the baggies with the word/picture cards in the boxes,
as well as samples of the First Step Stories, manipulatives, samples
of anything we made for that unit, etc.

–I found that I did not need every blackline master in the book. So,
I keep a folder with one copy of each blackline master I did use in
that unit’s box. I pull the folder out, and can run off everything I
need for that unit at once. This makes life very easy for me.

–My grade level partners and I each take one unit, and prepare what
is needed in the way of worksheets, etc. We go over it with our
fellow teachers to remind them of what they need to do. Being in
charge of one unit makes things easier for us. (We always have
between 4-6 K classes each year).

–We placed colored dots at every stopping place in the big books.
This helps you to keep your place while going between the teacher’s
manual and the big book. We even numbered the dots to correspond with
the numbers in the teacher’s guide.

–My first year I made 3 sets of flashcards for each predecodable. (A
LOT of work that year, but well worth it). I laminated them, and put
them in baggies with one sample of each book, then placed them in the
correct unit boxes, now they are easy to pull and find when I need

Teaching Kindergarten Predecodables

submitted by Mayrene:

To make teaching the pre-decodables easier, I teach them for 3 days.

First Day – I read book, but children practice choral reading from a poster of the story. The poster includes the rebus pictures. You can copy them from book and use black & white pics OR you can get similar pics from Google images

Second Day – the children form the sentences from the poster story. This was very time consuming to make as I made 7 sets of all the words and pics that a child would need to make the sentences. They make one sentence at a time. Then they read it before going on to the next sentence. This is probably THE most important activity they do. Word matching, one to one correspondance , etc. This is obviously done in small groups of no more than 7 students.

Third Day – each child reads from their own copy of book. I underline or highlight tricky words. Then they take it home to read. Since this is the 3rd exposure of the story, they are fairly fluent by the time they take the story home.