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Selecting Apps for K-3rd Literacy Instruction by Mind Map: Selecting
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Selecting Apps for K-3rd Literacy Instruction

App Selection Must be Guided by: Individual Learner Needs Instructional Objective Value added to instruction by using the App

Concepts of Print

eBook Apps

eBooks apps work well with guided practice. Shared reading experiences maximize concepts of print instruction with these apps.

Look for:, Can the App read to the student? With accuracy? With prosody?, Does the App highlight or track text as it is read?, Can you pause or turn off the "Read to Me" feature?, Are there engaging game or animation elements?, Are the story and illustrations conducive to retelling?

Be aware of:, Disruption of text directionality, Distracting or unrelated game or animation elements, Within app purchase required for full use

eVersion of Traditional Tools

Generally these are not transformation apps.

Look for:, Students can identify and manipulate the letters their their own name, App names letters; students can hear the names of letters, App displays letters in traditional directionality (left to right, top to bottom of the screen)

Be aware of:, Distracting or unrelated features ("stickers")

Phonemic Awareness

eBook Apps

eBook apps allow phonemic awareness instruction that is connected to authentic reading. These apps have lots of affordances for other dimensions of literacy, too.

Look for:, App has capacity to record teacher or student reading text, Read-to-me or read-by-myself options, Engaging sounds effects or animation, Narrator's reading emphasizes sounds and rhyme

Beware of:, Inaccuracies in narrator's reading, Distracting sound effects or animation, Expensive within app purchases required

Rhyming Game Apps

Many rhyming game apps work with letters and sounds-do you want to focus ONLY on phonemic awareness, or do you want to work with graphemes and phonemes? These apps generally don't connect phonemic awareness to authentic reading and writing tasks; the teacher must make that connection. There are many of these apps available; they vary in quality. Be sure to spend some time reviewing. Apps that assess students' production and manipulation of phonemes do not seem to exist at present.

Look for:, Audio that correctly pronounces, segments and blends phonemes, Apps that allow teacher to select word families for practice or instruction., Illustrations (vocabulary affordance), Displays letters with sounds (phonics affordance), Audio directions for game, Engaging game element

Beware of:, Inaccurate pronunciation, blending, segmenting, Distracting game elements, Expensive within app purchases required, Apps that allow limited time to complete task


Letter Knowledge

Alphabet Apps, Look For:, Mnemonics such as "alphabet song", Displays upper and lower case letters, Accurately connects letter and associated sound or sounds, Gives words and/or pictures that start with letter, Be aware of:, Letters are only presented in alphabetic order, Inaccurate letter-sound correspondence, Does not include more than one sound for letters than produce more than one sound

eVersions of Traditional Tools, Generally not a transformative app: no value added to instruction by using this technology, Works best with teacher-led activities, Use for traditional letter learning activities in digital formats

Game Apps, Look for:, Engaging game element, Allows teacher to select letters to focus on, Be aware of:, Distracting game element, Teacher cannot select or limit letters

Hand-Writing Apps, Look for:, Capability to store students' practiced letters, Be aware of:, Most apps that let students write their names cost money, Some apps only allow tracing of printed letters

Alphabetic Principle

Recording Apps, Using these apps for this kind of instruction will most likely require adult assistance, Use these apps to have students create and record books with images for word families that can be shared with classmates, families or online

Game Apps, Be aware of:, Inaccurate pronunciation or blending, Audio only names letters; does not produce sounds, Game element is distracting, Does not allow user to select words or rimes, Look for:, Audio produces phonemes correctly when letters are tapped, Audio models blending correctly, Allows user selection of words or rimes, Game element is engaging

eVersions of Traditional Tools, Works best with teacher-led activities, Generally not a transformative app; no value added to instruction using this technology

eBook Apps, Look for:, Capacity to record teacher or student reading text, Narrator accurately reading, Be aware of:, Inaccurate pronunciation by narrator, Expensive within app purchases, Distracting sound effects or animation

Word Recognition

Sight Word Apps

There is an abundance of these apps. They vary in quality. Many include "sight words" that may not actually be high frequency words. For many of these apps it is unclear where the word list comes from. Many of these apps are "eFlash cards," not authentic reading or writing activities

Look for:, Apps that allow students to both see and printed word and hear it, Engaging game element, App models using words in sentence, Allow teacher to add or create content, Allow teacher or student to select specific words to practice

Be aware of:, Word lists that include words that aren't useful for students to practice, Mispronunciation of words, Apps that do not allow selection of words to practice

Word Family Apps

These apps allow students to work with strings of letters and chunks of words, making a connection to phonics

These apps only include rimes; not prefixes, suffixes or other useful strings of letters

Language Development

When working with ELs language development apps can offer valuable positive affordances

eBook Apps

These apps can be used for students to experience repeated readings. These apps work best for language development as shared reading texts. Teacher will need to ask open-ended questions, discuss vocabulary, etc.

Look for:, Audio "just-in-time" vocabulary support, Narrator models reading with prosody, Audio recording capacity so teacher or student can record reading text

Be aware of:, Narrator reads lacking expression or prosody

Recording Apps

These apps can be used to create teaching materials (for example, read aloud with open-ended questions)

These apps can be used to create and share examples of students using oral language

This type of app will most likely require adult assistance


Dictionary Apps

In general thes apps do not work like traditional dictionaries where you can look up a specific word. They are more like a collection of illustrated nouns.

Look for:, Explanatory images for words, Sentences that use words accurately and demonstrate definitions

Be aware of:, Confusing images or sentences that do not show meaning of word, Within app purchase required to access entire dictionary

Game Apps

The words in these apps are generally thematically grouped nouns (ex. animals, weather, plants, etc.)

Look for:, Multiple player capacity, Can user see and hear word?, Gaming element is engaging

Be aware of:, Confusing graphics, Distracting game elements, Game can be played without an understanding of words through process of elimination, Words are only spoken, not viewed as text or vice versa

eBook Apps

These apps can be great authentic contexts for students to encounter vocabulary words.

Look for:, Just in time vocabulary features, In-text vocabulary "quizzes"

Be aware of:, eBooks written only for vocabulary purposes, inauthentic or contrived stories


eBook Apps

These apps have the potential to be powerful tools for comprehension strategy instruction. They must be reviewed for teacher's specific goals and objectives. Many of these apps have a cost associated with using them.

Look for:, Thumbnail view of books to use for previewing and predicting, Teacher or student can record reading of text, Content mark-up is possible (notes, highlighting) and can be shared with other readers or teacher, Engaging features that support comprehension (sounds effects, music, animation)

Be aware of:, Excessive options and features (sound effects, animation, music) that inhibit use of comprehension strategies

Multiple-Choice Quiz Apps

Look for:, Read-to-me and Read-by-myself options, Narrator reads with prosody, Option to record user reading

Be aware of:, How text is displayed (size, spacing, etc.) especially for beginning readers, Limited or no images or illustrations; or illustrations that do not contribute to comprehension, Unable to view text while answering questions, Questions can be answered by process of elimination without understanding or even reading text, Dull, contrived, low interest texts

Mind-Mapping Apps

These apps would most likely require teacher modeling or guided use with beginning readers.

Look for:, Easily navigated tools, Capacity to add images to mind-maps

Be aware of:, Complicated tools that are difficult to use, Cost or softward purchase required for use


Composing Apps

These apps can be used for authentic writing purposes. They can be used for multimodal composing in a variety of genres. Many of these apps afford integration of reading and writing instruction.

Look for:, Multimodal Affordances: animation, audio recording, music, upload images, draw or create images, Capacity to share writing with classmates, families or online, Combination eBook and Composing apps to integrate reading and writing instruction

Be aware of:, Features that are confusing to use and may distract from composing process, Within app purchases required to use multimodal features

Hand-Writing Apps

These apps are designed for students to practice forming letter and often involve tracing. These are more of a letter knowledge instructional tool than a writing instruction tool.

These apps can inhibit developmentally appropriate writing experimentation

Unless these apps afford students the ability to compose while they practice hand-writing they are not appropriate for writing instruction

eVersions of Traditional Tools

These apps may be used for students to experiment and write in developmentally appropriate ways.

These apps generally do not afford the ability to share, publish or compose with multimodalities.

Guiding Questions

Does this app offer value added to my instruction?

Can this app be used for multiple instructional goals?

Am I looking for an app for students to use independently or with adult assistance?

Will the multimodal features of this app be engaging? Motivating? Distracting?

Am I looking for an app to use with the whole class? A small group? Individual students?

If there is a gaming feature is it engaging or distracting?

Do I want to use technology as a replacement, amplification or transformation?