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There’s an App for That -- Using iPads to Support Literacy Instruction in the Classroom

By Angela Bunyi on November 7, 2011
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

One of my favorite apps is Puppet Pals. See why this app receives my full attention.


Our school is fortunate enough to have a set of traveling iPads for checking out. In addition, I have a set of six (one is personal) that I keep secured in the classroom and use on a regular basis. Of course, when I first received the iPads (thank you, PTA!), I immediately went on a hunt for apps that would help with literacy instruction. And then I was disappointed. Bummed, even. The search seemed endless and frustrating. With every site that promised literacy apps, a long list had to be sorted through and considered. I would download a few and be disappointed that the free version had limited capabilities or shocked that it was loaded with inappropriate ads. To save you this frustration, I am sharing a select few — okay, fifteen — that have passed my test with flying colors. I’ll also share how I have used them in the classroom.


Apps That Support Fluency Instruction


Puppet Pals

Cost: Free and fully functioning, or $2.99 for a large selection of characters and backgrounds (including the freedom to add backgrounds and characters by taking photos with the built-in camera).

Puppet Pals allows students to create and record their own animated shows. It's easy enough for a 3rd grader to figure out alone. With guidance, younger students will have no problem setting it up as well.

There are two ways you can use Puppet Pals in your classroom:

1) Readers Theater

There are many readers theater resources available. However, I tried this one with my husband (as practice) and he requested a second try, which says a lot! I will be utilizing this resource next week with grades 4–6.

I downloaded the script "Hey Little Ant," from www.thebestclass.org, where you can find many free scripts.

Here is an example of how reader's theater can be used through PuppetPals.


2) Fluency Analysis

It’s common practice to have students record a passage so that they can listen to it and reflect on their fluency performance. However, with Puppet Pals, students can analyze phrasing, expression, accuracy, and pacing with pizzazz — everything else pales in comparison. Recently I had five students take a picture of themselves and of two pages from their guided reading book after recording the pages. Put all together, the students were able to record an entire book and share it with others. Very cool!

Here is an example of how PuppetPals can be used to practice reading a book together as a group.

Before recording, we used Intervention Central’s Passage Generator for practice. Many of the resources mentioned in my last fluency post assisted my readers with goal setting.

With Intervention Central Passage Generator, type in text from a passage and you will be provided with a formative assessment that looks professional. This includes an area for analyzing fluency, documenting words read per minute, and miscues. In addition, each line has a running word count on the side.


However, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. If you simply select a supportive background and photo of the student (which can be completed in fewer than ten seconds — see image below), students can read their selections with ease. From start to finish, I have done this in ten minutes, working with a set of five students.



Cost: Free

Don’t you think it would be fun to read a speech using a teleprompter? Well, now you and your students can! With iPrompt, type in the text, set the desired speed (I prefer seven), and have students practice reading the text as though they're in a press conference. This is great for that student who is accurate but needs a little push in the pacing department. They have to keep up, or they will be left behind!


Apps That Support Grammar Instruction



Cost: .99

I like this one because it incorporates patterns and picture analogies. While taking the Miller Analogies Test several years ago, I learned that analogies can incorporate history, math, and science. Your students should know this as well.



Cost: Free

After downloading the Mad Libs app and only finding one free passage, I was happier with Wordventure. Only three passages are free, but that's better than one, and it offers more complex parts of speech.



Cost: Free

Students enjoy this app because two students can play it at a time, and I like it because it covers everything from homophones to prefixes and affixes. Students can select their grade level and practice needed skills in a fun and engaging manner.


An App That Supports Comprehension Instruction



Cost: Free

Raz-Kids gives students access to leveled books online. To use Raz-Kids, you must have a Learning A-Z account, but then you can download this recently released app for free. Unlike the computer version, audio is only provided for lower-level comprehension questions. However, I really like being able to switch from the questions to the text (which you can't do online). If a student submits an incorrect answer, the correct answer is not provided. The student must revisit the question and the text.


An App That Supports Spelling Instruction



Cost: $5.99

If you are looking for personalized spelling practice and instruction with extra bells and whistles, then SpellBoard is a good place to start. SpellBoard allows you to quickly read and record each spelling word in isolation and in a sentence. Once you have uploaded your words, students have many venues in which to practice their spelling. This includes physically writing words out on the iPad screen.

I don’t recommend this app if you have multiple lists to upload (e.g., Words Their Way). For free spelling support, visit the excellent Spelling City.


Apps That Support Sight Word Instruction



Cost: Free

This fun app provides sight word lists for kindergarten through 3rd grade. The game is set up like a bingo card. You hear the word and must touch it quickly for credit. Worth the quick download: I really like the app's visuals.


Sight Words List

Cost: Free

This app by Alligator Apps allows you to upload and record your own sight words or utilize a grade level set. I particularly like the quiz component. A list of sight words is presented, a word is read, and the student must click on the sight word as quickly as possible.


An App That Supports Letter Name/Sound Instruction


Letter of the Day

Cost: Free

When our technology teacher told me about this app, I doubted her. However, this one can personalize any letter sound that needs support through plenty of venues. It is one of my favorite apps for kindergartners right now. For example, if the student selects “P,” a poem that stresses and isolates the /p/ sound will appear centered on the screen. Around the poem will be four “quizzes” that ask students to identify that sound in pictures. But that’s not all! Swipe to the next page, and you will find a letter-writing practice page. On the top of the screen, the student can watch a clip that shows how to properly write that letter. On the bottom, they'll find an area to practice writing it on a sentence strip using their finger. My students simply love it.


Apps That Support Phonemic Awareness/Phonics Instruction


Reading Remedies

Cost: .99

For less than a dollar, you can have a one-stop app for rhyming, blending, segmenting, sight words, fluency, and word attack skills.


Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe

Cost: Free

This solid app reviews a good blend of phonics skills in a fun and engaging manner.



Cost: $6.99


If your students need extra assistance with phonemic awareness and/or manipulating sounds, this app is very helpful. Like many teachers, I have several sets of magnetic alphabet tiles and chips that can be cumbersome to keep up with. However, with an online activity, you don’t have to worry about clean up, maintenance, or storage anymore. And students who perceive letter tiles and chips as being babyish (if that is a word) don't have that problem with this app.


An App That Replaces Your Whiteboards


Doodle Buddy

Cost: Free

Almost any student who has touched an iPad, iPhone, or iPod will know about Doodle Buddy. And although it can be used for manipulating photos and accessing extra drawings, text, and icons, it makes an excellent whiteboard. Of course, I realize this might be an expensive whiteboard, but really, who likes cleaning whiteboards? Not I.


What Apps Do You Recommend for Literacy Instruction?

I am still on the prowl and would love to hear about your tried-and-true iPad apps. In particular, I would love to learn about any apps that support comprehension and specific reading skills (e.g., main idea, fact and opinion, etc.). Please share your gems below. My students and I would greatly appreciate it!

I am also including a screen shot of some of my apps. I am embarrassed to say that I haven’t sorted them into folders yet, but at least you can see all the apps I’ve downloaded.


Comments (18)

Hi Angela, I am impressed by your list of apps. I have helped produce an app called Tricky Spelling which could be added to your list. It is helpful for students who have the basic phonics skills but still have trouble making spelling decisions with words like homophones and words with tricky long vowels and word endings.

Happy Frog Apps has a bunch of apps that target reading comprehension (www.HappyFrogApps.com). Each app targets a different foundation skill: wh questions, inferences, main idea, etc.

we have iPads in class this year as well and have just signed up to Evernote which we are using to keep track of student progress. It is fantastic as we team teach here and with Evernote we can record progress via oral recording, typing or taking a photo. Then we can sync our notes and share with other teachers. The plan is it will help with reporting and as a portfolio for parents. The time consuming part is making 'notebooks on learning areas and creating notes in each for each student. Now we have an iPad by our side all day!

I teach Kindergarten. i love the lakeshore free apps. I also use the numbers app for tracking data in my classroom. It is wonderful not to carry a heavy notebook to every data team meeting. Check out splash top. it allows your i-pad to act as an interwhite board. I use it for classroom literacy routines.

Hey Angela,

Have you used your iPad at all as a tool to monitor or track student growth??


Hey Kristin,

I have looked at a few resources (such as an RTI app and the Reading Remedies), but not so much on tracking growth that involves students. We do use the iPads for weekly progress monitoring assessments, but that is merely for recording miscues, errors, and calculating words per minute quickly online (AIMSWEB- which does track student growth, and I share those results with students weekly).

If you know of anything, please share. I'd love to read about it!


Thank you! I am getting an ipad for my classroom. Our school purchased two and we had to write a proposal on how we would use them. This will save me a lot of time when it arrives. I am so excited!

Thanks! I knew of Dragon Dictation from some lists but the business tag and icon detoured me. Thanks! It is now downloaded... could really help resistant writers that don't like prewriting.

Also, under my iPad (not shown in the images above), Neo Julie is really good for the opposite effect. Text being turned to audio. You can change pace, tone, etc. It doesn't sound like a robot!


For those interested in asking PTA for help in purchasing iPads, please consider two other expenses as well- heavy duty covers (military grade) and an iPad cart for charging and storing. In addition, our iPads have an app that enables you to find it at anytime (GPS), lock the screens, etc. You can literally see what part of the school has our iPads...great for security purposes!

I had a teacher friend send me a link supporting the use of iPads in the classroom. There has also been a lot of media focus on the benefits for special need students, specifically autistic. This could help in making a case for iPads in your school.

Good luck and I hope that helps!


Dragon Dictation is awesome for allowing students who aren't yet great writers to narrate stories and have the iPad transcribe them.

I also like Reading Remedies which you included above.

Would love to get a grant or help from PTA for iPads. I teach high school honors English and reading for high school students reading at grades 6-8. If anyone has ideas, I would love to hear them.

Thank you so very much for sharing this! I feel like I spend so much time finding apps that prove to be disappointing. I can't wait to check these out!!!

I now have "Show Me"...great for tutorials and checking student work AND thinking....wonderful for math. :)


Nice options on the Grasshopper app books! I already played around with changing the text and audio...my favorite has to be the beautiful images. Thanks for sharing!


Ugh...sorry about WordBingo. My tech. coordinator downloaded it for me. I hope you found it useful , if you downloaded it. I used it this morning with kindergarten.


Word Bingo is 99 cents, not free.

Grasshopper Apps has several amazing FREE interactive books...I like Fall, I like Water, etc. The photographs are beautiful and engaging and the best part is the text can be changed. You can also label any part of the picture so when the kids touch the picture the label pops up. I simplified the text to meet the abilities of my kindergartners. Then even better...the kids are able to record themselves reading! So much fun for even reluctant readers. I am hoping by the end of the year they can help me write the stories to match the pics.

There is an app called "Show Me" that allows you to record voice-over whiteboard tutorials and share them online. I have used it to model how to do 2 and 3 digit subtraction with regrouping. You could also record instructions for centers on the app. All the students have to do is push play, listen, watch, and learn.

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