I love using new technology to engage students, but accessing the latest tools can be tough on a teacher’s budget. Short on computers? Missing a SMART board? No problem! With just an iPad or tablet, you can reinvigorate partner work, revamp center time, or project an image onto the wall for the whole class. Yes, really. Affordable tools such as headphone splitters ($1.99) or hubs ($10) make a single device suitable for partner and group work. For whole-class assignments, follow these steps to project from a single iPad:  

1. Purchase an Apple VGA adapter ($29 at most electronic stores).   
2. Find the VGA cable on your school’s LCD projector.
3. Connect the two.
4. Plug the VGA adapter into your iPad.
5. Power on and go!

Once you’ve secured the tools for the job, the next step is deciding how to use them. Whether you’re working in partners, small groups, or as a class, here are three surefire ways to jump-start literacy with just one device.

Make Vocabulary the Star

Use free apps, such as Toontastic or Puppet Pals, to create one-minute movies starring the vocabulary word of your choice. I have students create Popsicle-stick puppets and act out scenes. The only rules: Kids should find as many alternatives as possible for the starring word, and each movie should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. First, production teams write a script or storyboard. Then, I assign roles (set designer, cinematographer), run rehearsals, and record them on my smartphone or tablet. Finally, blast on the big screen for your class (or school). If you have less time, invite kids to team up to write a short song about their favorite new word, and record a vocabulary music video for it using TeleStory, a free app.

Bring Flashcards to Life

Aurasma, a free augmented-reality app, helps me motivate students to review new words. First, I open the app and select an animated character to link to each flashcard. Then, students launch the app and hold an iOS or Android device above the targeted word and the animation plays on top of the card. Let kids work together and play the Auras as rewards for correct answers. Match the animation to the word to reinforce definitions—the word dance might be accompanied by a dancing elf!

Reading, Writing, Coding.

Coding in an elementary classroom doesn’t mean kids have to learn HTML or an advanced programming language. With free apps like ScratchJr, students can advance their skills in sequencing and logic while learning programming basics. During centers, my K–5 students work in pairs using ScratchJr’s colorful programming blocks to create cartoons that highlight classroom routines, such as returning equipment or proper hand washing.

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Photo: Courtesy of Christy Crawford