We’ve all run across an old Dick and Jane book while browsing in a thrift shop or antique store; but I must admit, when I see one it makes me thankful it’s the 21st century! There are so many effective and engaging apps available for teaching reading in today’s classroom! They help make learning fun as well as allow us to provide essential practice time. Best of all, most of them allow you to differentiate activities for individual students’ reading levels.
Technology can change the way we teach, and it even affects our mental image of a fluent reader. Do you picture a child with their nose in a book, or are their eyes focused on a screen? Either way, they’re captivated with a tale or engrossed in a story. Thank goodness, we can still find physical, printed books available both in and outside the classroom. Number 2 pencils and fat crayons are still around, too; but now they share space with iPads, tablets and laptops with stylus’ and touch screens.
Whether you’re a tech-savvy teacher with a shiny new diploma or a seasoned educator who’s nearing retirement, technology is a part of your classroom and your world. But with so many tech options out there, how can you keep up-to-date and informed? How can you be sure you’re choosing the most effective apps for teaching reading in your classroom?
When evaluating a learning app to supplement your reading instruction, it helps if you ask yourself a few important questions…
Questions to consider when evaluating a reading app:
Before introducing a new educational app to the students in your classroom, ask yourself if it is…
- Available and Affordable
- Skills-based and Strategic
- ….and finally (It doesn’t fit with the “APPS” motif, but it’s important!) — ask yourself the question, “Will my students love using this app?”
1. The Reading Apps You Choose Should be Available & Affordable
Although schools are embracing technology and tech tools and devices are readily available in many classrooms, it’s still important to consider the number of devices you have available for your students. Whether the activity involves an iPad, tablet, PC or other device, be sure to consider availability of access.
Consider how your students will use the app, and think about how many will need access at one time. Will students use it during Guided Reading word work or at a literacy center? Will each student need a separate screen, or can they work in pairs?
As to affordability, there are soooo many free apps that are available now, as well as a lot of very affordable apps. Some of the pricier apps have increased flexibility and include lots of bells & whistles, but your kiddos can still have fun and learn a ton from the free or cheaper versions.
2. Select Reading Apps that Promote Purposeful Learning
If you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve squandered your share of minutes (hours…days…) surfing the web or scrolling through Instagram. But since you’re here reading this, I know there are plenty of times when you search with a purpose. And you have the same goal for the kiddos in your classroom.
Sure, there countless apps that provide mindless diversion and just plain fun, but the educational apps and games you choose for your classroom should be selected with care. Consider the literacy goals you are trying to support. Colorful and engaging digital apps and learning games challenge your students to set reading goals and achieve them. My Word Wall is a bright, fun app that allows kiddos to work on reading skills and word building strategies.
Magnetic ABCs is a great app to use during your Making Words activities or during day 2 of your Guided Reading instruction. The colorful letters are easy to drag on and off the “board” and it’s a fun, interactive way to help your students learn how to blend syllables and build words. It adds variety, builds engagement and promotes purposeful learning.
3. Download Apps that will Generate Productive Results
The tech tools and learning games you incorporate are just a part of your larger education tool box, and they should be chosen with care. Use educational apps and digital teaching tools that will enrich your Guided Reading instruction.
Newsela is an instructional content platform that offers a curated database of current events stories for students. The texts can be accessed by reading levels, and there are text-related quizzes to check reading comprehension. The content is accessible and engaging, and it’s a great way to provide differentiated non-fiction reading opportunities during literacy rotation.
Whether you’re using an app to help emerging or struggling readers or providing it to allow more advanced students to build vocabulary or comprehension skills, be sure to choose it carefully and evaluate the claims. When you look for apps to support you in teaching reading, look for those that are backed by solid educational research and positive reviews by other educators.
4. Use Reading Apps that Offer Skills-based, Strategic Learning Activities
Technology will never replace teachers–you can quote me on that! However, teachers who refuse to embrace technology can be left behind and do a disservice to their students. Real books and real paper and pencil writing are here to stay, but educators now have a vast array of digital teaching tools available to them. Determine the literacy needs and goals of the students in your classroom, and use tech tools to help you meet those needs. Keep strategic teaching goals in mind when you choose apps for teaching reading.
Sight Words by Photo Touch is a great app that lets students practice sight words during word work instruction in Guided Reading groups. You can customize the settings on this app by number of words displayed, sounds, and grade level. Use sight word apps to give your students valuable practice time to learn and memorize new sight words.
5. Choose Apps That You and Your Students Will Love!
With the huge array of learning apps that are available, you’ll definitely find plenty that are fun and easy to use while also providing practice time and hands-on learning of the skills your students need.
Today even the tiniest kiddos are amazingly tech-savvy, but you’ll still need to serve as your classroom’s IT expert, so be sure to test the app yourself and become familiar with all the important features. With a tight class schedule, you don’t want an episode of “Are You Smarter Than a Second-Grader,” here! 😉 Be sure the learning games you download are user friendly and easy to learn and navigate.
Whiteboard for Kids is a simple, cute and colorful app that you can use to teach phonics and word building. There are so many different skills and strategies you can teach with this app! Have students click the pencil and then choose a color and font size; then lead them in a making words activity, analogy charts, or teach multisyllabic words. This app is an excellent way to boost engagement during word work instruction, Guided Reading instruction, or at literacy stations.
‘Bye Bye Blackboard…
Speaking of whiteboards, if you’re fortunate enough to have an interactive whiteboard–cue the angel voices–you can now teach a entire lesson without generating a cloud of chalk dust or smudging your hands with dry-erase markers! Use your smartboard as a fun teaching tool to do word work, collective retelling, or to teach comprehension strategies such as summarizing, sequencing or character analysis. There are endless creative ways you can use this device, and there are a number of apps available to support it. Find interactive learning games you can use with your smartboard. Use these apps as you’re teaching reading using your smartboard; they’ll make your whole-class lessons much more effective and engaging!
Let’s face it: teaching has never been an easy vocation; and despite all the technological tools available to us in the 21st century, it’s still hard! But it’s also one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Hang in there, my teacher friend. And when the going gets tough, download a cat video. 😉
Seriously, if you’re frustrated, burnt-out, or feel like you’re drowning in materials and can’t find your Guided Reading groove, check out my online professional development workshop for 1st through 5th grade teachers: Guided Reading That Works. Click here to check out Guided Reading That Works, and Get the A-Z of making guided reading work for you and your students!
Also, if you’re interested in joining a community of teachers just like you, then check out my private Facebook Community where I share teaching ideas, fun tips and helpful strategies, as well as some yummy freebies! Click here to join!