Category Archives: school

Building Relationships with Students #GSPD

Building classroom community has always been a very important part of what I do in my classroom. Using our morning meetings, “good news, bad news,” playing different games, creating our Room 108 podcast… these are all important elements in our routines. Since all of the students at our school our homeless, we always have high levels of transition and mobility among our families. This year in particular, however, it seems we have had a higher turnover rate. This has made it even more challenging to build classroom community.

A few weeks ago, however, we had a breakthrough. For the second year in a row we participated in “Global School Play Day” (@GSPlayDay.) Scott Bedley (@scottbedley) is the California teacher who first alerted me to Global School Play Day a couple of years ago in a Twitter chat. Global School Play Day is an entire day at school dedicated to unstructured play. This is so important for all students, but particularly mine who may not have any toys of their own. Simple toys that other children may take for granted, like Legos or cars or dolls, are not things most of my students have when they leave our classroom at the end of the day.

During’s this year’s Global School Play Day, I was so happy to see my students connecting with others who they do not normally play or even socialize with. Multiple students created their own imaginary store using play-dough creations and play money, and other students came to shop or help contribute new items. The students recognized the need for store security, so someone appointed themselves as the security officer.

The beauty of Global School Play Day is that teachers step away from directing activities, and students come up with things they want to play and do. Our classroom was filled with LOTS of imaginative play. By the end of the day, some students settled down to play board games like checkers, card games, Connect Four, etc. Interestingly, most of these games were played in pairs, although some played Uno in a group of four.

At the end of the day, we reflected in a class radio show about what we noticed about each other during Global School Play Day and the ways we interacted. Students recognized what a relaxed day it was, and how much they enjoyed structuring their own games and activities. For students who often don’t have much of a say in their own environment, and definitely don’t have regular routines outside of school, this provided chances to make meaningful choices. It also gave them the opportunity to be free of many stresses which are regularly part of their lives.


Read more about Global School Play Day in Scott Bedley’s February 3rd post, “Play Needs a Rebrand… #GSPD.” I am so thankful our school participates together in this awesome day of unstructured play. This day was a turning point in our classroom this year: Trust was built, relationships were strengthened, students opened up more about what is going on in their lives, and new friendships were started. I encourage you to bring Global School Play Day to your classroom next year!

Technology Projects for Enriched Assessment

Tomorrow I am sharing a one hour workshop at Cleveland Elementary School in Oklahoma City on “Technology Projects for Enriched Assessment.” I’m sharing this as a fellow for Oklahoma A+ Schools. My goal is to help teachers learn to make, create and share using technology as a powerful tool for assessment.

My husband included some of these project examples in his presentation last week, “Great Classroom iPad Projects and Activities.” I have included more of my classroom SeeSaw student projects in tomorrow’s presentation, which are “level 2 projects” in the iPad Media Camp project matrix.

Technology 101 Skills for Teachers

For the past three years I have been involved with Oklahoma A Plus Schools (@okaplus) as a teacher in their workshops and now as a “fellow” providing training for other schools.  The focus of A Plus Schools, in Oklahoma as well as other states, is summarized in the National A Plus Schools Essentials. These include:

Experiential Learning
Multiple Learning Pathways
Enriched Assessment

A Plus Schools are focused on integrating the arts into and across the curriculum, but also much more. The focus is not just “art enhancement,” when a teacher adds an art activity to an existing lesson. Quality A Plus essentials integration involves teaching common vocabulary and skills involving multiple subjects, in activities which blend the content areas in engaging activities.


Since my classroom is 1 to 1 with an iPad for every student, I am very aware of the powerful ways technology can be used to support the A Plus Essentials. With so many schools now acquiring technology tools like iPads and Chromebooks, it’s become important for organizations like A Plus to help define what is important for teachers working to integrate technology into their lessons. Rather than simply “putting students on an app” to reinforce or teach basic skills, I am convinced technology tools should be used to enhance and amplify student creativity. Technology tools are used best in the classroom when students are making and creating, and these digital creations need to be shared both inside and outside the classroom.

Last weekend at the Oklahoma A Plus Fall Retreat, I worked with a group of other teachers to brainstorm ideas for an “A Plus Technology 101” workshop. I am writing this post not because I have all the answers to this question, “What do teachers need in an introductory technology workshop supporting A Plus Essentials?” but because I want to clarify my own thinking as well as get feedback from others.

What does it take to successfully integrate iPads into an elementary classroom? First, teachers need to have their own iPads to use, install apps, make and create. Teachers need to be supported and encouraged to use their iPads to make and create, because these uses do not necessarily come naturally for either adults or young students. Kids may learn technology skills more readily than some adults, but I have noticed many will not self-select creative iPad apps unless they are encouraged and/or required to do so by teachers.

Creating and making with technology is so important! With iPads specifically, teachers need to begin building their own sense of “app literacy” to know what is possible and what apps are appropriate for students’ developmental levels and needs. Teachers need to learn “workflows” for using different apps in sequence or together. Teachers need to learn vocabulary terms for iPads and apps, which include things like:

  1. Share Square
  2. Hamburger
  3. Save to Camera Roll
  4. Workflow
  5. Home Button
  6. Screenshot
  7. Photo Roll

In addition to developing app literacy and a shared vocabulary which can be used with iPads, teachers also need encouragement and support to create “channels” for saving and sharing student digital projects. These can be channels shared inside the classroom as well as outside. Our classroom website,,  is a Google Site we use as a “home base” for technology integration EVERY DAY at my school.

I also use QR Codes and our classroom digital portfolio, SeeSaw, to share links to videos and other digital curriculum sites we use in lessons. The website I use to create QR Codes on my classroom computer is I copy and paste these QR Codes into Google Documents I print for students to use at different learning stations. Students use the free iPad app i-Nigma to scan QR codes and directly view videos or visit websites I’ve selected. When sharing YouTube videos, I usually put the link into, and share its provided link with students. Safeshare video links do NOT include related videos or comments, which can be distracting and/or inappropriate. This use of QR Codes, SeeSaw, and our classroom website is very important from an Internet safety standpoint. I never require my students to search online for a curriculum link we are using in class. That could not only waste time, it also could present multiple opportunities for students to be distracted or see inappropriate web content. Search skills are important, and students do practice searching for images to use in their projects, but only on websites and apps built specifically for student searches. These include Pic Collage Kids (which has a built-in kid safe image search tool) and the website PhotosForClass.

In a Technology 101 Workshop, teachers need to also be introduced to apps which allow students to “show what they know” with media. This is very common vocabulary for my students and I in our classroom, and in the conversations I have with my husband (@wfryer) about technology. I have found, however, many teachers do not yet have enough app literacy to see the value and purpose of using digital devices in these ways.

Technology tools like an iPad can empower teachers to use “enrichment assessment” activities with students which can provide extremely helpful insight into what students understand, have synthesized, and can demonstrate. Last week I shared an after school workshop for Oklahoma A Plus which was titled, “Enriched Assessment & Experiential Learning.” Some of the apps my students and I regularly use to demonstrate understanding are Opinion, Book Creator, Shadow Puppet EDU, SeeSawPic Collage Kids, and iMovie. This year I have had to take things slower with my students using iPads, so we are not yet blogging, but will be using a classroom blog (we used KidBlog the past few years) to also “show and share” our learning.

I believe teachers need encouragement and support to help their students share their work both inside and outside the classroom. My husband and I shared a mini-keynote last summer in Austin at the iPadPalooza Conference, in which we talked about these platforms and their importance. For me, this includes SeeSaw, our classroom radio show, our classroom YouTube channel, and our classroom photos on Flickr. All of these are linked from our classroom website, which is publicly available.

After listing all of these different technology integration elements, it’s clear it would be hard to fit everything into a 1.5 hour workshop. It would also be hard to not overwhelm teachers.

After reading what I have shared, what do you think are the most important elements to include in a “Technology 101 Workshop” that only lasts an hour and a half?

Virtual Field Trips and Crayon Resist Art for #BatWeek

Did you know there are over 1300 different species of bats, but only 3 of those are vampire bats? Also, vampire bats don’t attack humans, they usually prefer cows. These are just a few of the things my third and fourth graders have been learning this month about bats!

This week (Oct 24-31, 2016) is National Bat Week! Lots of free resources and lesson ideas are available on (@Bat_Week) The last two weeks Room 108 students at Positive Tomorrows have been studying and learning about bats, and this week we’ve already participated in two live webinars about bats. We’ve also created some “Crayon Resist Art” about bats, which turned out really well and I’ll describe in more detail in this post.

Yesterday we participated in the free virtual field trip “Bat Zone Encounter” offered by Field Trip Zoom (@fieldtripzoom). Some of their virtual field trips are free, and others require that you pay a $50 annual membership fee. (We might do this after yesterday’s positive experience.) Many of the questions my students had were answered by the biologists in the webinar.

Today we watched the first “Amazing Bats” live webinar offered by Bat Week, which is also  archived online. It’s just 15 minutes long. 3 additional webinars are offered this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and if you can’t tune in live (it’s at noon for us in US Central Time) you can watch the recorded archives on YouTube.

Last year my students learned to create “crayon resist art” for a project we did on Oklahoma state symbols. This is the lesson description I created, following the format we use as an Oklahoma A+ School (@okaplus).

For the project, students first drew bats of their choice on their paper. They used crayons as well as black markers for their bat drawings. Then students placed a special kind of tissue paper, which “bleeds” color onto the page when you put some water on it, onto their art pages. We added small amounts of water on top of the tissue paper, and let the artwork dry. In this student project, notice how he used the “cool colors of the night” which surround bats most of the time as nocturnal mammals. He also used some brighter colors to show the setting sun.

When students use wax-based crayons (regular crayons) to draw on their art pages, those places “resist” the tissue paper bleeding ink. After the water and ink is completely dry, students used a black sharpie pen to retrace over areas of their drawing they wanted darker. Students used traceable outlines of different kinds of bats to make their drawings, so most of them are scientifically correct for different bat species.

Here is a collage of several student crayon resist art bat week projects. I’ve shared all my students’ bat artwork in this Flickr album.

I’ve also started a Twitter list composed of organizations and individuals focused on bat education and conservation. I also found this Twitter list of UK-based bat conservation and education organizations. I’ve followed both of these in Flipboard (@flipboard) on my iPhone and iPad, which makes this bat-related information stream into a digital magazine. I have created several “magazines” in Flipboard where I flip (or save) interesting articles I want to use for lessons or to share with others.

One of the things the scientists in Monday’s virtual field trip challenged us to do is share our learning about bats with others! My students are working now on a paper slide video about bats, which we’ll be sharing on our classroom YouTube channel soon. Look for it coming later this week. You can follow me on Twitter (@sfryer) for more updates about our Bat Week learning! Also follow the Twitter hashtag #BatWeek for more bat facts, lesson activities, and related videos you can share with students!

Helping My Students Love Learning

This past Saturday, I had an opportunity to share my passion for helping students love learning with the “Classroom 2.0 Live” Community. The hour long recording is available on YouTube.

It is a big challenge to balance building relationships with my students, providing engaging learning lessons, and effectively using technology to showcase our learning. Building relationships with my students has to come first and is my number one priority.

Technology in the classroom should be used to enhance students’ abilities to make and create, and showcase what they are learning. It’s also important to be able to differentiate learning experiences for students with a variety of literacy, math, and other skill levels. By using a combination of activities which encourage students to be curious and be engaged in the learning process, I hope my students grow to love learning as well as develop a variety of skills they will need for success in life.

One of my favorite apps to use to showcase student learning is SeeSaw. It allows students to create and share their knowledge within the app, without “app smashing” other apps together. It also allows me to capture student voices, which not only empowers my students to share their ideas and perspectives, but also provides me and my parents valuable windows into the skills and growth which my students are experiencing as a result of our work together.

During my online presentation Saturday I shared four different video examples of student projects which highlight ways we are using our iPads in school. “The Important Thing About Our Class Family” was a writing assignment based on “The Important Book” by Margaret Wise Brown.  I used it as an opportunity for students to help establish the procedures and expectations that we have for ourselves and our classmates in our classroom.

“Mrs. Fryer’s Class Is Grateful For It All” was a paper slide video from last year based on one of our character traits, “gratefulness.” It is important for my students to be able to use technology in transformative ways which go beyond merely replicating “worksheet learning” or things we could do traditionally with paper and pencils. We did create the slides for this video with paper, crayons and pencils, but the product we created is so much more. We’re striving to use technology in authentic and meaningful ways which deepen our learning, build our relationships with each other, and help us to love learning as we also happen to be studying different topics in our curriculum.

I want all the assignments I ask my students to complete to connect with them directly at some level. I don’t want to just give my students “canned prompts” which can be boring and disconnected from their real cares and concerns, like “Write a paper about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” Informative writing, how-to writing, persuasive writing, and research are all important, but for learning to “stick” and be powerful I know it has to connect with my students and their real interests as well as lives.

“#Room108 Students Respond: “I Have a Dream…” was a green screen video students created after I challenged them to reflect and envision their own dreams for themselves, their families, and their world. We used the wonderful app “Green Screen” by Do Ink for this project. I resonate with Eric Jenson’s (@ericjensenbrain) ideas in his book “Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change (Raising Achievement for Youth at Risk.)” He highlights the need for students of poverty to have a vision of themselves being successful, and having both “choice and voice” to exercise some control and direction over their own learning and lives.

The video “PBS Kids Scratch Jr Student Created Game”  is a coding game created by one of my 4th grade students for her kindergarten “buddy.” It utilizes all the skills we had taught on coding using the free PBS Kids Scratch Jr. app. I love how my students are learning to create their own games, and not just play them, I also like to let them know about the consecuences of cheap elo boosts, I don’t want them to spend money online for no good reason!

Access all the resources from my Saturday presentation on the Classroom 2.0 Live archive page,  in this LiveBinder of links , or on this page from my classroom website.

The First Weeks of School

Thursday of last week was the first day of school for my third and fourth grade students at Positive Tomorrows. This is my fourth year back in the classroom after working about 7 years in preschool ministries at our churches in Texas and Oklahoma, but 30 years since I graduated from college and starting teaching elementary school when I was just 20 years old. The first few weeks of school are absolutely critical, in my opinion, for helping build classroom culture and relationships with my students which will grow throughout the year. In this post, I want to share some of the things we’ve been doing in Room 108 the first two weeks of school, and reflect on why these intentional activities and interactions are so important.

The Challenge and Opportunity

It is a huge challenge to take 14 individual students with widely varying experiences and abilities and help them learn to become a caring class together. I asked my students today how many different schools they had each attended last year. Some of them had attended more than 3 schools in 1 year.  We have already lost three of the students we started the year with. This reflects the highly mobile nature of the students and families we serve at our school.

It’s extremely important for all the teachers at our school to be “trauma informed.” This means we are aware and sensitive of the ways students’ traumatic experiences outside of school can have a dramatic impact on their behavior and learning in our classrooms. Being able to recognize and understand the learning needs of students impacted by trauma is critical. One of my primary roles as a teacher the first few weeks of school is observing my students and how they interact with each other. Pedagogy (instructional practices) MUST change in a classroom filled with students who have experienced different kinds of trauma in their lives. By building a supportive, loving, accepting as well as engaging and challenging classroom culture, I know I can help positively impact the life trajectory of my students. These are some of my reasons for teaching and working with children, and it all begins in the first few weeks of school.

Preparing the Classroom

I do everything I can to create a physical classroom environment for my students where they feel safe and welcome. I want my students to start feeling, from the first day, that they are part of our classroom family. While we are fortunate to have many generous donors who help support our school, each year I have spent several hundred dollars to enhance and improve my classroom furniture. This year, I purchased a new shag rug and two comfortable chairs for our classroom reading nook. I use lavender essential oils to establish a pleasant and calming atmosphere in our room. I think I have stopped smelling it, but whenever others come into our classroom they usually comment on how good it smells. Students love the shag rug in the reading corner. It’s important there are appealing, tactile elements to our classroom, and that my students have choices about where they choose to sit, work and learn. We have plants in our classroom, and it matters that there are living things in our environment that we take are of. One of my students found a small snail on one of the plants, and has been taking great joy in caring for it since our first week together. Visually, most of the walls of our classroom started off blank, ready for student work which we will post, share and celebrate together.

First Week Activities

When my students come into our classroom in the morning, we start each day with a class meeting. Class meetings are one of the most important activities I use to build our classroom culture. Today I asked my students what they want to do differently this year than last. One of them said, “I don’t want to be bad anymore.” I responded by assuring him that he is NOT bad, that he is perfect just the way he is. I explained that sometimes we make wrong choices, but we can always correct our mistakes and do better next time.

One of my goals in the first few weeks of school is NOT to overwhelm my students academically.  I am constantly monitoring and noticing how my students are interacting with each other and learning as they engage in classroom activities. I am looking for students who may be shy or timid, who need extra academic support, and students who exhibit leadership skills or are comfortable helping their classmates. The ways students interact with each other, the length of their attention spans, and the tendency some students have to become quickly frustrated are all important traits I watch for and seek to understand.

We play a variety of different games together to learn each other’s names and to learn how to look each other in the eye. I also encourage my students in these games to be silly and have fun. I want to build a classroom culture that is relaxed, where students feel free to be themselves without fear of judgement or teasing.

The academic skills we have practiced these first few weeks of school have been naturally embedded into games and activities. For example, we have been graphing several things which we’ve discussed in class meetings. We have graphed how many letters are in our names and the things we want to learn about each other. We have created “name glyphs” which help us get to know each other bertter. These are some of the questions students responded to in this activity:

  1. How old are you?
  2. How do you get to school?
  3. Do you have any pets?
  4. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  5. What activities do you enjoy?

I also have started our classroom podcast earlier this year than I have in the past. In our first episode last week, students reflected on what they love about our school.

To learn more about classroom podcasting, check out the resources from my June 2016 presentation at iPadPalooza, “The Room 108 Radio Show.” 

Influenced by Student Interests

Today I had a student who shared that one of his hopes for the year is to learn more science. He found a science book in our classroom library and found an experiment he wants to do. He listed the supplies and steps which would be required, and made a plan for how he would do it during our “Maker Studio” time. I told him, “I love how you love science. You are going to challenge me as a teacher to create and share more science experiments with our class.” Already I am thinking of some “kitchen chemistry” lessons my husband did with his 4th and 5th grade students a couple years ago. I’m sure my students this year will love those kinds of science activities!

When I read over the experiment about iron oxidation my student wanted to do, I asked him what he thought would happen. He wasn’t sure but thought maybe it would turn brown around the edges. I told him we might have to get a microscope to help us gather data for the experiment. He excitedly asked, “We have a microscope?” I love it when my students are curious and always try to encourage their curiosity with questions and suggestions for future learning projects.

Saying “I Love You” and “You Matter

In our class meetings and activities together, I’m very intentional about the words and vocabulary terms I use with my students. This includes recognizing and celebrating student curiosity and creativity, but also extends to more basic ideas. Today I asked one of my students, “Have I told you I loved you today?” I want my students to know that THEY MATTER. I want them to hear me say that I love them before they even believe it themselves.

Setting the Stage for 1 to 1 iPad Learning

This is the fourth year students in my classroom have all had their own iPads for learning. Before we get the iPads out, however, I need to establish our classroom culture of trust and responsibility. There are important classroom procedures and routines to introduce, model and practice with students in different phases.

This year, in addition to our classroom SmartBoard and projector, I have a LCD TV connected to an AppleTV. I have been mirroring my iPad for students on the TV to:

  1. Introduce students to some of the apps they will be using on their iPads
  2. Share photos of classroom learning I’ve captured
  3. Share videos students have already created this year during our “Maker Studio” time.

Some of the apps I’ve introduced and we’ll be using this year include the SeeSaw Learning Journal, News-O-Matic, Spelling City, Opinion, and Koma Koma,


I’m very thankful to have this opportunity to teach another year at Positive Tomorrows. I’m thankful for the curricular autonomy I have which allows me to truly put my students first and to create a classroom culture that allows them to love learning and school.

PBS Scratch Jr Coding Passion Project

This past year PBS Kids worked with the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Group to create an awesome PBS Scratch Jr App for the iPad.  Students love creating stories and games with familiar PBS Kids characters.  We ended the year with a fantastic series of Passion Projects.  These projects allowed students to select a topic of personal interest and gave them time to dive deeper in their knowledge and related skills about their topic. At the end of their research they selected a way to showcase their learning for others and present it to our class. Each student spent approximately 2 hours a week for a month working on their projects.

One of my fourth graders, Antonio, loves coding.  He joined our class this year just as we were learning to code with Scratch Jr and Hopscotch.  I recorded a video of him as he showed his project and explained the coding sequences he used to build it. The video is about 4 minutes long . 

One of the best and most important things about these projects was the opportunity for students to present them in front of our entire class.  A big part of their presentations was the opportunity to get feedback and answer questions from classmates. One of the students favorite questions to ask was “What inspired you?”

Since we had created a variety of media projects throughout the year, students were able to  select their own media product type to demonstrate their learning. These included:

  1. Enhanced E-Book using Book Creator
  2. Photo Slide Show w/music using iMovie Trailer
  3. Narrated Slide Show using Shadow Puppet Edu
  4. Stop Motion Video using Lego Stop Motion
  5. Quick Edit video using iMovie
  6. Green Screen video using DoInk Green Screen
  7. Photo Collage using PicCollage
  8. Video Diary using SeeSaw
  9. Music composition using Garage Band
  10. Audio Recording using Voice Record Pro

As I look back on this list, it is exciting and rewarding to see how much app literacy my students developed through out their time in class. Some of my students were with me all year, and some only a few weeks.  The show and share time was an essential part of these Passion Projects. Since the student projects were recorded videos, and saved into their Seesaw learning journals, this took a lot of pressure off of them when it was their turn to present.  The feedback students received and were able to give each other helped further build our supportive classroom culture.

Check out more of our Passion Projects in this Youtube playlist.

Sharing Our Learning on Our Classroom Radio Show

In two weeks, I will be attending and presenting at the iPadPalooza conference in Austin, Texas.  Today, Wes and I spent several hours planning and creating my third presentation about classroom podcasts and radio shows: “The Room 108 Radio Show.”

I create our podcast episodes on my iPhone using the free app, Opinion. Our shows are embedded on our classroom website and linked on the Opinion website for free. I also share links to our episodes on Twitter.

I never imagined myself as a podcaster. This is one of the things Wes encouraged me to do as an activity in our classroom when I started teaching again 3 years ago. Wes has been creating and listening to podcasts for many years.

Podcasting turned out to be one of the best things we did all year to integrate our learning and help my students share their voices outside our classroom walls with others. Our classroom radio show was instrumental in helping me build our classroom culture throughout the year. We used our podcast in our closing classroom meetings to share out our learning, and also to showcase and highlight things we learned from visitors who came into our classroom. This year, those visitors included Kevin Durant and Enes Kanter from the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team. Visitors also included Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister, Kevin Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, and Stillwater author Alton Carter. Last year Oklahoma Senator James Lankford visited, among other people. Our classroom podcast has provided a great way for us to reflect on and share about these experiences with others.

Impact of Digital Media Creation & Sharing in My Classroom

I’m getting ready for a presentation that I’ll be sharing in Chicago in May for PBS. After several drafts of a script, I recorded the audio for the presentation using the Voice Record Pro app, and then combined it with related images using the Green Screen by Do Ink app on an iPad. This will probably change before May, but these are some of my ideas about how creating and sharing digital media impacts my classroom. The video is 7 minutes long.

iPad Literacy Apps

Next Tuesday I will be sharing an after-school workshop at my husband’s school on “iPad Apps for Literacy.” Since this is the third school year my third and fourth grade students have all had their own iPads to use in our classroom (but not take home) I’ve learned a number of things about different literacy apps. These apps help me differentiate learning for my students who  vary widely in their reading abilities as well as interests.

Why Do This?

Before exploring available iPad apps for literacy development, it’s important to understand why teachers should consider differentiating literacy instruction with apps in the first place. These reasons can vary depending on your goals for literacy instruction as well as the technology situation in your classroom.

I have several key goals for reading, writing, and literacy development. I want my students:

  1. to love reading
  2. to realize we often READ TO LEARN (informational learning about topics like electrical circuits, coral reefs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and George Washington Carver)
  3. to enjoy reading more complex texts which are above their instructional reading levels

I use these apps in two different ways:

  1. During instructional time when we are assessing reading skills or assigning specific topics for students to explore.
  2. During free-choice reading time, when students are able to self-select texts as well as the platform they prefer that day for reading and experiencing literature.

When you choose literacy websites or apps to use with students, here are several important considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Cost: Some of these apps are very expensive. They may be worth the cost, but there may be ways to share the cost with other programs or organizations in your community. We are able, for example, to use Lexia Core 5 because of  our relationship with the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma City. We use Title I funds to help us pay for Raz Kids. None of the five apps and websites I am sharing in this post and workshop are free, but that is because they provide differentiated literacy content and sometimes “adaptive” content with educational support.
  2. Time: Consider what you have time to support and work with, and what kinds of outside support you have from your school technology department or family. All of these apps require that students have individual logins, which must be created as well as managed on teacher dashboards. This takes time and can be complicated, especially with large numbers of students. (Thankfully I have a small class.)
  3. Platform: Consider what technology devices your students have access to. All of these apps and websites permit home access, and some are cross-platform. This means students can use our classroom iPads, or our classroom Windows computers, or the Chromebook laptops I’ve been bringing from home lately.

myOn Reader

The first iPad literacy app I learned about and started using with my students was myON Reader. I learned about this from other teachers in Lewisville, Texas, when my husband (@wfryer) was teaching a workshop in January 2014 (which I attended as a participant) on “Improving Student Writing Using iPads.” I have only used the demo version of myON.  This is a 14 minute overview video about it.

Here are some things I love about myON:

  1. myON has a great selection of both fiction and nonfiction reading options for students on all levels. It also includes many different reading genres. It’s also easy for my students to explore these different options and find books they both like and can experience.
  2. myON provides great reading support (highlighted text and audio text-to-speech features) so students can self-select books which are beyond their instructional reading level but on their interest level.
  3. myON encourages and builds vocabulary for my students.
  4. I like the real voices of the audio version readers in myON. myON does NOT just use computerized voices. This makes my students truly feel like they are being read to, and every child can benefit from being read out loud to.

One of my favorite classroom stories is from last year. One of my students told me about “that woman who reads to him in the afternoons.” I was confused about this for a bit, until he explained this happened during DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read) when students were using myON.

Lexia Core 5

Lexia Core 5 is an adaptive reading program. It uses a pre-test of skills to assess students’ instructional reading levels and provides lessons to further develop students’ phonics, comprehension, fluency, and other literacy skills at their appropriate instructional levels. Students are able to set their own pace as they use the Lexia platform. This 4 minute video provides an overview.

Here are some of the things I like about Lexia Core 5:

  1. Lexia is an engaging learning environment which most of my kids like. They can use Lexia independently, and it is heavily focused (but NOT exclusively) on phonetic skill development.
  2.  We use Lexia as an instructional baseline for student reading skills. We are able to track student reading growth over time, and this is important for parent conferences as well as monitoring literacy development across our school. Our entire school (in grades K-5) uses Lexia Core 5. Lexia Core 5, Dreambox (for math) and Raz Kids are currently the only three apps EVERY teacher/classroom at our school uses on our iPads.
  3. The adaptive power of Lexia (as well as Dreambox) is really what sets it apart as a tool for instruction, assessment and student literacy development.


News-O-Matic is one of my favorite iPad apps to use with my students, and I started getting really excited about it with my students last year. News-O-Matic is a daily newspaper for kids, which (in the education version that requires a subscription) provides Lexile-specific articles for individual students. As a teacher, I am able to set the Lexile level for each student, so they are reading about the same topics but don’t realize they are reading different versions of the same article. This 3 minute video provides an overview of News-O-Matic.

Here are the things I like the best about News-O-Matic:

  1. News-O-Matic is very affordable. I pay the subscription costs for it out of my classroom budget.
  2. Because News-O-Matic is all about current events, it opens up a wider world of ideas and information for my students to learn about and become curious about. I love how the News-O-Matic staff emails me about upcoming issues, with suggestions for how to use the articles in my lessons.
  3. I also love how News-O-Matic encourages interaction. There is a class chat feature, which teachers can turn on or off. There is a “Write to the Editor” feature, so you can read and respond. Last year, one of my student’s responses was actually featured by News-O-Matic for other students around the world to see and read. This was very exciting and motivating for my students to realize the power and potential of their voices and ideas to reach others.

Raz Kids

Raz Kids is a cross-platform app and website which  is an eBook library similar to myON Reader. There are a lot of differences between these tools, but I like them both for different reasons. The Raz Kids website has a 4 minute introductory video as well as other instructional videos about using it. The parent company “Learning A-Z” has multiple literacy apps.  Our school uses Title I funds to pay for both Raz Kids and Reading A-Z.

These are the things I like and my students like about Raz Kids:

  1. All of the books in Raz Kids are leveled. For many books, students can read about the same topic but be reading at an instructionally appropriate Lexile level, like News-O-Matic. The Raz Kids app does a good job working with “leveled books” and different assessment systems for reading levels.
  2. Some of my students find the quizzes and points available after reading Raz Kids books to be motivating. They can earn virtual coins to spend within the app, to build robots and do other things. This gamified/badge-based feature can be attractive for some of my reluctant readers. I have had some trouble with students “hacking” into other student accounts and “spending their coins,” however. This provides us with chances to talk about digital citizenship, but also can be distracting. None of the other literacy apps we use have this “coin feature” or the related issues which can accompany it.
  3. I like how Raz Kids allows me to print out student books. Even though we are 1:1 in our classroom with iPads, our students are not permitted to take their iPads home. It’s great for my students to be able to take their printed Raz Kids books out of our classroom to use with their mentors or read at home in printed form.


The final iPad app I want to recommend and share in this post is SeeSaw. SeeSaw is not just a literacy app, it is the app we use as a digital portfolio for “inside sharing” in our classroom. This 90 second video provides an overview of SeeSaw.

I use SeeSaw to collect fluency and reading examples from my students. This is an example from one of my 4th graders last semester. They are able to take a photo of a reading passage with their iPad in SeeSaw, and then immediately record their voice as they read it. We do this at least once a week, and this has allowed me to have concrete examples of how their reading skills have developed over time in our classroom. I use these recorded fluency examples in conferences with parents. Parents love being able to not only hear their child’s voice, but also hear how their child has grown and changed as they have been learning in our classroom during the year.

There are MANY other beneficial ways to use SeeSaw in the classroom, but if you are going to choose only one this is a powerful choice.


This list of iPad literacy apps is certainly not comprehensive, but I hope it provides you with additional information about apps to explore and how you and others at your school might decide to spend limited budget funds on literacy apps. Here are 3 other literacy apps to consider using and exploring. I use Spelling City extensively with my students now, but want to learn more about Newsela.  Curriculet is a platform my husband has told me about, and our librarian colleague Cathy Benge (@cathybenge1) recommends.

I hope to share this presentation in June 2016 at the iPadPalooza conference in Austin. If you have other suggestions or experiences to share, I’d love to hear about them! You can leave a comment or tweet to me at @sfryer.