Apps for the ELA Classroom
A look at several effective programs you can use to enhance your curriculum.
By Noel Woodward
Last year, I checked out an iPad from my school library for the year. I changed the wallpaper, synced it with the Apple TV in my classroom, and then stared at it. What now? The librarian had given out a list of potential apps to download, so I loaded a few of those on the device. Over time, I started using it for presentations and e-mail, to show videos and websites to the class, and to watch TED videos during lunch when the kids were away (maybe I would find a great one to show to my classes!). I had trouble using it all the time because my teaching revolved around reading and writing, and I did most of this on the document camera and on paper. However, there's a big push right now for all teachers to begin incorporating technology, and tablets are one way to make this happen. I've compiled a short list of apps which I think teachers will find useful for an ELA classroom.
This app is mostly for the teacher, which makes the $4.99 price tag less shocking. You can certainly introduce your classes to the app, but I'm highlighting it here because of its potential to replace the document camera. Within TopNotes Pro, you create notebooks that can be personalized, titled, locked, and edited. Create one for each class and look back on all your notes for the year, or make a notebook for each unit for a different organization. Whatever you choose, the app will help you organize your curriculum and eliminate that stack of papers by the document camera. Notebooks can be e-mailed, uploaded, opened in other applications, and printed. In addition, TopNotes Pro allows you to import and annotate PDF documents, take photographs directly into a notebook, write on the photos, and even change the paper type. You'd use a pen for the document camera, so consider buying a stylus to make writing easier.
Make sure you are hitting each level of Bloom's Taxonomy with the 121 categorized questions provided in this $0.99 app. Select questions by scrolling through lists for each level of Bloom's. Once a question is chosen, you are taken to a new screen where you can enter and share your response. The questions are general, and can be applied to any text. If you only have one tablet, no problem. Scroll through and choose a question from each level to tackle. Have more than one tablet? Allow pupils to choose their own questions and send their responses to you or themselves for further editing. It would be nice if class members could create profiles; as it is, they can change the name on the screen to give a name to the work done. Even if you only use the app for the store of leveled questions, it's worth the price.
Trying to incorporate a video project into your curriculum? Here is an easy way to make it happen. Videolicious is a free, all-in-one video creating and editing app! Individuals or small groups can record one another and narrate over images to produce their own multimedia projects that show understanding of a topic or text. They can get creative with background music, opening and closing shots, and filters. The app is a little touchy, and users will need to be careful with the voice recording; if they mess up, they have to do all the narration over again (but only the narration; photos and video clips are saved). You can create a free account to gain access to cloud storage space, HD videos, and a desktop app.
While this free app only has one main purpose: to create timelines. It does what it sets out to do really well. Users create their own profiles and can create as many timelines as they want. Timelines can include text and images and are easy to modify. If your students are having any trouble, RWT Timeline provides a tutorial as well as instructions that users can view at any time by tapping the question mark. Timelines can be saved on the device, e-mailed as RWT files (editable on the online version of the same tool), e-mailed as PDF files, and saved to the device photo album. Since it's a flexible graphic organizer, ask pupils to chart a storyline, outline an essay, track the progression of a character or event, and more! The final product is visually pleasing and worth the effort.
While pen and paper is often still the best choice for an ELA classroom, there are so many apps out there that you can use to enhance your curriculum, organize your notes, and engage your pupils. For more detailed reviews of these four apps and many more, check out Lesson Planet's comprehensive educational app reviews.