I recently presented a session in Queens titled “Enriching ELA instruction with the iPad”. As I was preparing for the session I learned quite a lot about teaching ELA (English Language Arts) and got to interact with some truly awesome teachers from the city. I’m going to summarize my session here in hopes that it can be helpful to some other teachers anywhere.

Originally, this was just going to be an explore session. We would take a series of ELA apps for the iPad, and test and evaluate them as a group. However, after getting into the content and speaking with a few ELA teachers,I started to change my ideas around. I noticed that all of the apps that were used and recommended could be put into a couple of categories.

I took all of the apps that I was going to use and split them into the following areas: Apps for recording, Apps for Reading, Apps for word practice, Apps for Writing Practice, Apps for Story Creation. Many of things that many ELA teachers are doing in their classes, really fall into these categories too. And let’s be honest, the iPad is not a tool that is going to replace the teacher or the classroom. It is merely a supplement to what is being taught and the current instruction method. I repeat, the iPad is simply a tool for instruction. Its a great tool… But just a tool.

So we began the session by talking about the ELA activities that were done in class. “Reading” “Writing essays” “Learn new vocabulary words”…  Almost everything that came up fell into one of these above categories. So we started to look at the apps that I had found.

Apps for Recording

Why apps for recording? How many teachers have their students read aloud? Most. How many have their students read to others? Most. If you record students while they are reading aloud, aside from the reading, there are not a host of other things that can be accomplished. Firstly, you can have the student critique his or her own work. After the students records themselves reading a book, have them sit back and listen to it. Ask them if they read smoothly, if they stumbled on any words, if they were understandable, if their cadence was correct. So the student can tell the teacher what they need to work on.

Record student readings and publish them. Put them on your website for others(family and friends) to listen to. Record students each reading one page or section of a story. Then put them all together to create a collaborative audio book with your class. There are lots of things that can be done.

Apps for Reading

We all know that the iPad is a pretty good tool for reading. The biggest downfall of reading on the iPad is sunlight. Reading with the iPad in bright sunlight becomes almost impossible. However, the graphics and display, the smoothness of transitions, and the ability to incorporate multimedia easily makes it great for an educational reader in the classroom.

We all have out students read. Every classroom, regardless of the subject matter should require that students read. If kids aren’t working on reading in your class, you are doing them a disservice. According to a 2011 study, our nation’s graduating senior class only had a 31% proficiency rating in reading. We need to read more!

So all of these apps for reading do the same thing. They provide books to the user. There are tons of apps that provide free books, and lot of free books. Check out the ones in the list here. I recommend iBooks, and Google Play Books apps. They are both easy to use, let you download tons of free or paid books, and have a nice interface that makes the app about reading.

Apps for Word Practice

In our ELA classes we work on grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, parts of speech, etc… There are a ton of apps that hit on these specific needs. Why work on spelling with an entire class, if only 3 students really need help with the spelling? Differentiate with your students. They can all work on their weaknesses.

Split your students into groups. “You four students work with this iPad and you play the grammar game. You two who need help with sentence structure, use this app to review that.  The 5 students who got less than an 80% on our last spelling quiz get to work with me and my iPad on the projector” It’s kind of scary for a teacher to relinquish control like this, but it can be very effective.

The apps in this list are largely for spelling work, but I would recommend sparkle fish for working on parts of speech. Grammar Guru ($2.99) is an excellent app for grammar work, but geared to the older student. Check out the others in the list and let me know what you think.

Apps for Writing Practice

When we are getting to writing, we are now looking at the higher-level ELA activities. Writing basically means storytelling. Things like sentence structure and parts of a story are important. But sometimes students need help or a jump start in terms of their creativity. So these apps provide that.

A couple apps in this list are simple reference apps. Dictionary and FreeSaurus (Thesaurus) are two writing tools that every writer needs at their disposal. In fact, I feel very strongly that everyone who owns an iOS device should have these two tools installed.

But when it comes to creating a story, there are a couple of apps that can help. StorySpine is a real simple app for the iPhone. (But it works fine on the iPad too) It only does one thing. StorySpine asks you to complete a few sentences and it puts them together to generate a story. Neat yes, but then that can be copied and pasted into other apps, or the notes app.

Simply storytelling activity: Give a group of 2-5 students one iPad. Have them use StorySpine and pass it between them. Each student adds one line to the story. Then they have to read it aloud to the class when done. After reading it aloud, each student draws an illustration to go along with the story. Boom- you now have an illustrated student-written story to share.

Apps for Creation

The final category, it the one at the top of the Bloom’s list. Creation. After writing an original story with your students, what else can be done? Well don’t stop with just the story! Create a book with it! Turn it into a little movie! Illustrate the story with a drawing app! There are a bunch of things to do after the story is complete.

Just think, by illustrating one scene from a story, a third-grade student can demonstrate that he or she knows what is taking place, and knowledge of the key vocabulary words. By, creating a PuppetPals video of  one selected scene from Romeo & Juliet, a high school student can demonstrate understanding on the key themes from the scene or entire work.

I love PuppetPals for this, it is a free app that you can use to create a simple video of moving characters and recorded voice. Check out the TechChef4You blog for some great ideas for using PuppetPals. Inspiration is a super great app for organizing a story, and StoryKit and StoryTime are great tools as well.

App vs Application

So in conclusion, I know this has been a long post, but I just wanted to quickly hit on the difference between an app on the iPad and an app on the computer. We all need to remember that iOS apps are almost always designed for ONE PURPOSE. They can do one thing, and hopefully its done really well. Where Microsoft Office on the computer has a dictionary and thesaurus built into a word processor, on the iPad they are all different tools.

Sometimes it is best to be quickly going back and forth between apps, depending on what is the best tool for the job. Besides, we’re not here to teach how to use an app. We’re here to teach how to write, read, and communicate through those mediums.


3 thoughts on “Enriching ELA instruction with the iPad

  1. Ryan,
    I have started sharing your post with administration and those seeking insights to the value of using mobile device technology in the classroom specifically iPads. I feel I struck gold when I read you post thanks for sharing this information. Tammy

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