Monthly Archives: December 2013

Literacy – it’s APPtastic!

Let’s say you’re a parent, or a teacher, or a tutor, and you find yourself in possession of an iPad, or 5, or 10, or 25… How can you use the device as a learning tool rather than a technologically savvy, highly entertaining babysitter?

I have been spending the last eighteen months answering this question. My school is an Apple Distinguished School – we are considered a model for other schools in the country (and world) for our 1:1 iPad use in the classroom.  Coming in to this technologically rich environment has been a blessing – albeit intimidating.  Luckily, I have my rock start mentor and an ever-growing PLN on twitter to guide my way. It probably took until Christmas last school year for me to adjust to and feel confident enough in my own skills/management of the devices to venture out and try projects. I jumped right in, with both feet, but it took some time to get comfortable and swim in the deep end of app-smashing, creation, and personalized learning.

Here is a list of my class’ favorite apps and how we use them:


Endless Alphabet teaches students letter sounds, spelling, and vocabulary within context.  They are able to learn new words in a fun way – with precious little monsters – and then transfer them to conversation or writing.  We were fortunate enough to catch this app when it was free.  Cost:  $5.99


Our district uses the Houghton Mifflin reading series Journeys.  With our adoption, we purchased access codes for the leveled readers.  The app itself is free and downloads a sampling of readers from levels A – Z.  We use the app during the reading center or Read to Self time.  The students like having voice and choice when choosing leveled books.  With the kindergarten access code, we receive books leveled A-F.  If a book is too difficult, there is a read to me option.  Students are able to hear fluently read text, reread a text from guided reading groups, or explore new books on their independent level.  Cost:  Free, but need access code


Grandpa’s Workshop was another great free find.  This app combines math with real world experiences in a woodworking shop.  I was actually quite surprised by the different skills combined within this app – beginning fractions (with guidance), counting, comparing/contrasting, and measuring.  Grandpa is encouraging and entertaining – he dances and students can give him a high five for a job well done.  Interspersed throughout are videos of real world projects where students learn about building projects and what is needed.  The carry over of knowledge from this app is great.  Many students write about Grandpa’s Workshop and use what they have learned in small group math lessons.  Cost:$1.99


There are several different magnetic letter apps available ranging from free to $8.99.  The differences in prices have to do more so with added shapes/stencils/backgrounds than with actual content.  Don’t get me wrong, the shapes, etc. are fun for creativity – but our main use for this app is word work activities.  In the beginning of the year, the students use this app to practice spelling their names, recognizing letters or numbers, and also letter sounds.  We use the app in small groups at least once a week.  As we move forward with our sight words, we use the app to practice spelling those as well.  Students can take a screen shot of what they have done and save it to their camera roll for later use.  Cost:  Free (for a lite version)


When our iPads were taken and wiped clean by the district, we knew that we absolutely had to have this app on our list of the first apps to be reloaded.  With Montessori Crosswords, students learn that words are made up of sounds and practice dragging sounds into boxes.  They then move on to spelling words with long vowels or blends.  As the difficulty increases, the students solve actual crosswords within the app.  To personalize for students, the settings can be adapted to particular sound categories for students to work on.  Cost:  $2.99


As with Montessori Crosswords, you get a lot of bang for your buck with Montessori Numbers.  Students can begin with basic number sense skills such as recognition and tracing.  As levels increase, the skills become more difficult ranging from algebraic reasoning to place value.  Students are able to customize difficulty for themselves, or it can be adjusted by the teacher.  Many students in my class are adept at increasing their own difficulty and challenging themselves – which is wonderful!  Cost: $2.99


I like Books combines 37 different emergent reader texts into one app.  You can download some of the individual books for free, but with this app they are kept all in one place.  Although the text is emergent, the content connects to the real world.  Students/parents/teachers can record the story in their own voice and then listen to it.  Each book is interactive – and you have the ability to customize the interactive features.    Images are professionally taken photographs – reinforcing a text feature of nonfiction books.  These books are wonderful for ESL learners as the text can be altered and recorded in any language.  Cost:$1.99 (for 37 books)


Number Pieces Basic is an app we are just now beginning to use regularly.  Students are able to manipulate numbers using base ten blocks.  They can write on the screen, break numbers apart, and solve number equations with multidigit numbers.  Screen shots can be taken to save work of a student.  The app is great to use for a quick assessment of place value.  Cost: Free


Pocket Charts Pro combines both reading/phonics and math skills.  The app has 20 different pocket charts to choose from.  Skills range from letter recognition to rhyming words, number recognition to adding/subtracting.  The app is wonderful for self guided practice.  I introduce the app in small groups and then they are free to choose which activity when in the app.  Cost:  $4.99


Phonics awareness provides a platform for students to practice working with words.  They can segment or blend words as well as practice syllables.  This app has a first grade edition as well.  A voice prompt guides the students through each activity.  Many students enjoy separating the bugs and chopping them apart!  There is also a carry over to small groups with the app, remediation or acceleration of skills.  Cost:  Free

These are some of our favorite apps for small groups and independent practice.  Check back again soon for a post all about our favorite creation apps!  Literacy — it’s APPtastic!

To keep up with free apps of the day, follow Technology in Education or My Hullabaloo on Facebook and Pinterest

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Filed under iPads, Literacy, math literacy, Technology

Hickory, Dickory, Tot

Last week, we began discussing word families and rhyming words. In the past, I have focused on different word families for a few days and then moved right on to the next few – Usually progressing through the short vowel word families.
The first day, we started discussing what it means when words rhyme and if anyone could think of rhyming words. I read I Can Read with my Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss and we showed a thumbs up if we heard any rhyming words. Following the read aloud, the –at word family was introduced. –At words tend to be easiest for students to pick up on and they immediately felt successful as we listed all the words on an anchor chart. They practiced with –at words the next two days at writing and word work centers, with books, flip charts, and word wheels.
During shared reading time, we were reading nursery rhymes. Of course, these timeless rhymes lend themselves to word families very well. Last Friday, we read through some classic rhymes on the Smart Board, such as Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Then, students took turns circling the rhyming words they heard.
Once the rhyming words were circled on each rhyme, the fun really began. Students were able to choose any word they wanted to replace the first rhyming word. I modeled scribbling out the original word and writing the new word on top. Each new rhyme was student generated and I did the writing. We sounded each word out together. When a rhyme was particularly difficult, we talked about nonsense words. To make a new rhyme, using a nonsense word, a student would choose a beginning letter and we would add the rime. Since we were focused on practicing with rhymes, we decided the words we came up with did not have to be real words. We made sure each word rhymed with the appropriate partner.

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After the modeling on Friday, my students asked this morning if we could do silly nursery rhymes again today. Of course, I said yes. I pulled up the slides from Friday and erased the rhymes we created. This time, the students were in charge of coming up with a rhyme and writing it on the smart board. This activity proved to be enjoyable once again. A student even reminded a friend that nonsense words were ok – we are focused on rhyming!


Humpty Dumpty sat on a brig(j)
Humpty Dumpty had a great thig(j)
All the King’s horses
And all the King’s babes
Couldn’t put Humpty together zabes


Little Boy Blue
Come blow your shoo
The sheep’s in the meadow;
The cow’s in the boo
Where is the boy who looks after the donut
He’s under a haystack, fast blonut”

*The student who contributed donut was thrilled as he often shouts out donut as an inappropriate answer and this time it was ok.


Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of dogs
Jack fell candy cane
and broke his ane
And Jill came tumbling ogs

We will continue working on word families and writing well past our holiday break. Being able to apply this new skill to familiar text helps the students make connections. The use of nonsense words helps them feel successful. We have more activities to come… Writing our own rhymes and creating word family displays with our iPads. Stay tuned!

For more fun with familiar rhymes and songs check out Alen Katz’s and Bruce Lansky’s popular books:

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Filed under Literacy, Mentor Text, Reading Workshop, Uncategorized, Writing Workshop