The Best Free English Learning Apps and games for kids.

…….and one paid 😛

Just before I jump into this i need to clarify, these apps are free, some with ads (everyone’s gotta eat) some with out, some are free sometimes and paid for at other times but worth looking out for, and some are my own. I will justify that alllll the way at the end where I will put them in the spirit of fairness.

Also I think it is worth mentioning that I am a teacher of English working in a primary school in Hong Kong at the moment and use these ones fairly regularly in my classrooms. So it is from experience I recommend and not any backhanders just yet!

Finally, sorry for going on a bit, These apps are for the most part pick up  and put down, and playable as a whole class. So many education apps now are walked up behind email forms, paywalls and progression these ones can be used to supplement a lesson or teaching point, and if they are mine I wrote them as a teacher who does just this, use them for a ten minute burst to highlight a point, no accounts, no work through till the end just pick up , play and put down.

Apps are useful but they are merely a tool, not a curriculum. so with that in mind below is some information and links to play. where they are on both apps stores I will highlight that and if on line so you can play as a classroom I will mention that. As a spoiler that’s basically my apps and Teach Your Monster to Read, which is where i will start.

Teach Your Monster to Read.

Price: Free for a week or two each year. ( other wise about 5 USD)

Pros:

  • Progression and practice modes
  • Easy to play and engaging for students
  • free to play on the website
  • covers all the phonic sounds, sight words and sentence construction
  • very professionally made and maintained with good support
  • able to be monitored by teachers easily.

This, despite me being proud of my own apps, is the best English learning app out there. I can only dream of making something this good. It main focus is on phonics and word construction so is great for younger or ESL students. It is colourful, engaging and students will play for as long as they can get away with.

Cons:

  • expensive if using on multi tablet
  • story can be a little wordy

can be expensive for schools if they want to get a few, and the spoken story could do with either being simple or having subtitles.

The gameplay consists of taking control of a monster who needs to fix his spaceship after a crash, ( space and monsters always a win) they travel around practicing the sounds of english, with both sound and letter recognition games that are as useful as they are fun. There is progression in the SATPNI order of phonics and sight words are included as mini games.

Students can sign up and play on their own, however i use it to create an account and hand to the students which enables a whole host of teacher benefits, including statistics, level, time played, posters and certificates of completion, and all manor of other rewards. these can be printed en masse and there has been serious thought into making it work in educational settings.

They also maintain a website that has mini games that can be played with a whole class as well as posters , images and wall decorations. I have included how i use some of it here.

For those of us teaching in less affluent areas it is free all the time on PC and free for a week or two each year on the app stores. Keep an eye open for it.

However, they are a charity and if you or your school have the means to buy it i would strongly recommend you do, it is supporting their work and they produce such good materials it is worth it.

It should be the benchmark that all Language apps for younger learners are measured against.

Monkey Word School Adventure

Price: 1.99 USD ( this is always paid but its worth mentioning)

Pros:

  • Multi Mini games
  • Fun and engaging
  • Scales in difficultly (they say)
  • can be played with no long instructions

Cons:

  • Only a paid version
  • no way to choose subjects or topics
  • not ideal for classroom and no web version

Monkey Word School Adventure is a fun engaging learning app designed to assist young learners practice phonics and word construction. The app is made of a collection of Mini-games that rotate and change at random. Monkey Word School Adventure presents the game in a lively and fun way, and both the games and the images will entertain children.

It is said to scale up and i can affirm i have noticed it get more difficult, it does allow multiple users, but only on the tablet or phone it is used on so for schools this may be a logistical issue and there is no website version that i have found.

Fish School – Letter recognition

Price: Free on Android and Apple ( Khan Academy had something to do with that)

Pros:

  • Looks and functions great
  • good for students or children to pick up and go
  • Has more than just letter sounds, covers other subjects (ish)

Cons:

  • Not huge content inside
  • doesn’t have phonic sounds just the names ( and song) of the alphabet

Duck Duck Moose make great looking apps and this is another example, it is clearly aimed at Kindergarten age and so may or may not have its uses in a primary or ESL classroom. However it covers alphabet ( annoyingly not the sounds just the letter names) , shapes, colours and odd one out in a series of interactive screens.

It is style over substance in my opinion but that style does make up for a lack of content or education purpose. Better for students or children to plan on their own instead of part of a lesson.

Learn English For Kids

Price: Free on Android cant find on Apple

Pros:

  • Free!
  • 10 categories
  • Has clear oral distributions

Cons:

  • Americanised (or ized) ( if not looking for that)
  • some categories seem to be light on content
  • it is just a flashcard app, there are bigger but usually behind paywalls

A flashcard app ( the only one i will put here) that is easy to use and if students need some vocab practice then this will fit the bill. I put it here as it is free, and they haven’t hidden anything behind a paywall. There are other prettier apps, but they have a cash wall and this doesn’t, that makes it more useful for multiple tablet institutions.

Kids Learning Word Games

Price: Free ( limited in app)

Pros

  • Free ( mostly)
  • Functional, can be used as part of a lesson
  • multiple ways of presenting the information

Cons:

  • there are prettier apps
  • still some paywalls present
  • hard to find in store hence the link

I like this one, it has content and functionality and most of it is not hided behind payments. It does have adverts but there were not too intrusive and , to me at least, the prettiness isn’t an issue as i want to use these in class so i don’t want the tantrums from the students when i ask them to stop.

It works, and although not any customisation options if you have a need to practice English in large groups this could be worth a look.

AR Flashcards

Price: free ( but some in app purchases)

Pros:

  • Free ( lovely)
  • Cute and Child friendly
  • Encourages students to do more work ( if you make an Alphabet zoo or similar)

Cons:

  • 3 (possibly 2) of the vowel sounds are off ( I, O and U )
  • Some animals are a little rare ( hard to find animals beginning with U, X and Y though)
  • mainly for younger learners

You could find worse ways to introduce the Alphabet than this app. It will be fun and engaging for young learners and definitely when i have used it, makes them want to do more. I have it as a ‘make your own alphabet zoo’ activity that is on teachers pays teachers ( for free i think) i do use my own app for this though. The animals are cute and work well within the app, for no dollars it is certainly worth exploring!

There is other content with in the app, dinosaurs, space, shapes etc. However some of this is hidden behind a paywall. They maintain a website so you can take a better look. it also has the AR triggers for download there as well as linked on their play-store pages.

Quiver Colouring App

Price: Free ( with some in app purchases)

Pros:

  • Great for special projects or events
  • Easy to use and free ( mostly)
  • Interactive and educational

Cons:

  • Has downloadable paywall content
  • Can be hit and miss with the AR aspects
  • that’s it

This is really a great app. In my teaching i have used it from P1 (6 years old) to P6 (12 year old) but there are uses beyond those age ranges as well. They have a family of applications under the Quiver brand including education, fashion and masks. I have used them for festivals and holidays for students to make their own interactive Christmas cards and for older students to put a fully working AR volcano into their project work, both highly effective.

The two i use most often are the education and general app, the photos show an couple of example of them, but there are many others. their website has the AR triggers to download for free, but check before you use them in the app to make sure the one you want is not pay-walled. ( not that much is)

Zoo Kazam

Price: Free for one of each animal (rest behind a paywall)

UPDATE I can’t find the paid version on Android now. ( still worth it btw)

Pros:

  • Well made animals
  • Has considerable information about each one.
  • Only one animal free per category ( its only a dollar though)

Cons:

  • Paywall…
  • the language is a little complex for younger learners or ESL students.
  • Animals are not interactive ( though they do move)

Lastly, in AR at least us this beautifully made animal AR app, has 42 different animals in multiple categories. These include Dinosaurs, amphibians, mammals, fish and pets. Each animal comes with information as well as a well made 3d AR model. there are also two markers, so you can glue or stick to a wall and have the animals on the tables for as long as you need. As shown in the photos the two markers have different ways of presenting the animal and there is a photo mode in the app to take advantage of that.

It is also possible to use real world objects as markers and this enables you to put the animals all over the place, there is also a new Video mode in the app so you can record reactions or make little mini movies with it. I haven’t tried this as i use the Carlton books apps for the video side of things with my students, but it seems to be similar.

It can be used as an introduction to animals for younger learners and of course as a genuine resource and information bank for older learners.

It even has a polar bear which, lets face it, may be the only way to see one if we carry on like we are, and on that happy note we will leave AR behind.

CVC Word Scramble Phonics Play and CVC blitz ( for apple)

Price: Free and paid versions

Simple English words are mixed up and children and students are asked to move the letters till they spell the words correctly. These words are all three letters and can be used to teach decoding and spelling strategies, including sounding out, picture recognition, phonics and onset and rime.

Pros

  • its mine!
  • it is designed to be use briefly and to teach simple word construction.
  • it’s free, and paid if the ads bother you that much.

Cons:

  • it could be prettier
  • it is focused on one skill

There are 4 versions included and these include

CVC Timed: a 60 second word game where the student tries to make as many words as they can in time. This allows classrooms with less
access to technology to take turns easier.

Pictures Round: CVC and three letter mixed up word game with pictures to help
visual learners. There is a 60 second limit to allow for turn
taking.

Please check out my other posts on both VR in schools and other educational matters and if you want to know more feel free to email me on info@makingenglishfun.com or to sign up with the form below.

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Guided reading, Whys, Whats, and Where’s!

Implementing a guided reading scheme, the whys, who’s, where’s and what’s!

I have been an English teacher for a little over 10 years, and for a significant amount of that time have worked with Guided Reading (GR) programmes. On each time I have implemented, updated or rejigged the systems for the students I have before me I have meant to collate, upload and share some of the resources to help other teachers who are interested and to keep a record for myself (USBs and Hard drives disappear, or in my case end up in the washing machine. I have always found GR to be an effective and rewarding way of improving and motivating students with reading and a useful change of pace and focus from full class lessons for both students and teachers. I want to add a note of caution here though, there is more to grabbing a leveled book and just heading off with your students. Not enough importance is placed on, especially emergent readers, the importance of decoding, and i will be writing about this in the next 2 months.

I have worked mainly with ESL Students but the pedagogy and methodology are not mutually exclusive to mainstream or ESL classrooms.

I will include links to resources at the bottom that are free to download and adapt and am happy to receive comments and suggestions at all times.

Happy reading!

What is Guided reading?

Guided Reading is a teaching strategy that utilises small class teaching with groups of levelled students. The group should be made up of students of a similar reading ability who have similar needs to progress their reading.

The idea is to develop student’s skills to enable them to, ultimately, read independently, silently and fluently. They should learn reading strategies (highlighted and downloadable below) including context clues, understanding syntax, word structure, phonics, inference and other higher order thinking skills (also listed with example questions below)

Small class teaching with similar reading level students creates an environment that allows both weaker and abler students to participate with more confidence. Weaker students won’t be over shadowed by the enthusiasm of the more able, and more able will be able to interact with content more suitable to their reading level.

Teachers get to interact and develop relationships with their students in a smaller more personal setting, with the ability to assess and address learning needs on an individual basis.

Benefits of guided reading

  • Small groups allow more focussed instruction
  • Students work with similar reading level students
  • Reading strategies can be targeted
  • Levelled questions can be used
  • Allows more intimate conversation, that can be student rather than teacher led.
  • Students are likely to experience more personal successes with their reading
  • More individual teaching time
  • Allows the use of good and motivating books and subjects to motivate students and introduce new cross curricular concepts

How to implement. (see notes at the bottom for more detail)

Before starting the programme

  • Order leveled readers ( dont get caught up with the levels though)
  • Match students to book levels ( see above)
  • Sort into four similar ability level groups
  • Sort the books in to sets, and keep a record of them (they can go missing)
  • Keep the books in the same place and sort by levels
  • Try to make sure there is a mix of fiction and factual book
  • Plan where the reading will happen
  • Make sure decoding is included when you plan the reading lesson, not just in the lessons surrounding it but also in the actual reading of the book

Levelling the students

There are many reading level benchmarks out there in education, most are fairly similar and not hugely useful for teaching they often follow a publisher’s book list. Fortunately, better teachers than me have tried to produce comparison lists (I will link one here, but a quick google search will help as well) I use the reading recovery levelling system up to about level 30, though up to level 20 is very high level for young ESL learners, after this they have the ability to decode, construct words and it moves on from reading skills ( a little) to comprehension and Higher order skills. However, there are many different reading level systems that you can choose from. The one bit of advice when choosing I would give is to look who designed the system and who it is for, the difference between ESL and Native speaking students in terms of knowledge and ability to comprehend will be large even at a young age and this should guide your choices, basically know your audience! Also dont get caught up in fancy marketing, you know your students the PR company doesn’t.

Plan The GR lessons

  • Choose / allow students to choose a book at their level
  • Read through and check both the English language and the content for issues.
  • Plan the classroom lessons while students are not doing the GR session.
  • Find interesting / motivating tasks or topics related to the book
  • Make sure timings are checked so the lesson runs smoothly
  • Make sure the language and morphology is suitable for your students.

Teach the teachers

  • Not all the teachers will have done this before allow time to train them.
  • Allow for observations of lessons for teachers
  • Provide documents to inform and educate
  • Let management observe the lessons to ensure smooth running
  • Be open to advice and questions
  • Let all teachers know the benefits it can bring.

Running the lesson (see infographic for logistics)

  • Try to have 2 or three places for the groups to learn.
  • 2 of the four groups (group 1 and 2) leave the classroom to do guided reading
  • Other two groups (3 and 4) stay in classroom with one teacher to learn reading skills / phonics activities etc.
  • Half way through the lesson, ( time wise) the groups swap over and 3 and 4 come back to the classroom and 1 and 2 split into the GR groups.
  • Have suitable activities and lesson planned for the classroom as per the students’ needs
  • Be aware of time, it can run away from you!

Potential issues and solutions

  • Lack of resources

This can mean anything from teachers to books. Guided reading is labour intensive with 3 teachers / TAs needed to run it optimally, if this isn’t possible there are ways that can be used to still provide the students with a more tailored experience. Self-directed learning tasks can be used in the classroom where the students work independently while the teacher or teachers can conduct the GR lesson, examples of these can be found on this and many other websites. It requires more planning but with good classroom management can be used quite well.

  • Books
A guided reader i have used successfully in my classes

If books are an issue, I have now and in the past gone hunting for books sets (there are usually plenty hidden around the school) and tried to make them into a Guided reading set. This, while providing quantity, doesn’t always provide quality. Although there are many sets that are guided reading leveled by publishers, don’t be afraid to level a authentic children’s reader, Gruffalo etc, to provide the students with world class children’s authors, and to, on occasion have them share books if needed. As you get more confident in leveling books not in schemes so will your confidence also grow.  If there is access to technology, there are a few good quality and for schools sometimes free resources out there. One of these is Epic, or get Epic which is on both PC and on the App-stores. This offers access to 25000 plus books (aimed at native English speakers though) for free for schools and teachers. Will link it in the text here. Other sites like StarFall have a free PC version and a paid app version though with less choice it does have games and is more young learner friendly. If you are a teacher who is fortunately to be able to provide your own resources (I know we shouldn’t have too) then book depository often offers good prices on good quality children’s readers. I use them fairly regularly for the readers I like to use and that students love to read.

  • Locations

Sometimes its small, sometimes its busy, sometimes it’s used. Locations can be problematic as having groups in the same classroom can cause noise and attention issues fairly easily. Although three locations are optimal it can be done with just two, and at a push one. If your school has a library it is worth checking out the timetable for it and making use of it if its free, (hard to argue with holding a reading lesson in the library!) similarly if there are any subject rooms, art, music etc. that are not used each and every day these can be requested for the lessons you have. If you can find two places I suggest you hold the two reading lessons together, not the classroom and reading lesson due to noise and interference. If you can literally just use the classroom then the teacher who is teaching the two groups together will have to adapt their lessons to help keep the noise down for the other two groups, and some more sedate activities may be required!

  • Groupings

Sometimes when you have assessed the students and gone through grouping them you will see some groups have a wide range of levels in them. This is preferable, and actually more common at the higher levels than the lower levels. I will include a handout on higher level students at the end as well, but in short as the group is higher level it may be appropriate to concentrate on higher order thinking skills, and comprehension strategies that even very high level readers should need help with. Make sure you choose books that will keep their interest, cool topics, relevant to their interests and ages and when ready exploring reciprocal reading is feasible as well. ( i will refer to this in later posts) With ESL students classroom management should, due to understanding, be more successful with these students and more independent tasks can also be used, with open ended questions. Depending on their level it is likely these students will be on the cusp of going from learning to read to reading to learn and that opens up more motivating subjects for them.

  • Proof of progress

The aim of all school programmes is to help students progress their learning and there needs to be proof of this. As this is a skills teaching programme it is harder to prove this, especially in the short term, however once the students have been assessed to a reading level, this process can be repeated at a later time to gauge their improvement over time also, as it is formative assessment, it allows teacher to adjust their lesson and teaching in response to this improvement. I will offer and example of some 8 year old groups results over the year to give an example. ( names changed of course)

In short, when explaining this to other teachers and administrators I use a car and mechanic analogy, perhaps mistakenly! When you take your car to a mechanic you don’t want them to start a lot of work that may not be needed. You want them to take a look, find out what areas need work and then address those. Making it quick, efficient and targeted.  This programme put students into similar level smaller groups, looks at what they need and then allows teachers to develop lessons, resources and materials to address those needs. Finally, I didn’t mention this before but it’s up there in importance for both teachers and students as well.

 When done well its rewarding, effective and fun for both!

After all of that of me jabbering on i will leave some resources to download here, they are a bit of a mix but hopefully help some of you run, plan and convince your schools to try it out! Give me a little while if your here right after i post this! I am adding the resources as i polish them!

Please refer back before Christmas when i will be releasing a lot more resources on the skills of reading and how to teach decoding.

Please check out my other posts on both VR in schools and other educational matters and if you want to know more feel free to email me on info@makingenglishfun.com or to sign up with the form below.

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Globalisation in an Educational Context

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” To escape and sit quietly on the beach – that’s my idea of paradise.”

Emilia Wickstead

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