The Collins Big Cat apps are free interactive books that feature voice narration, independent reading, and a story creation mode that lets children record or type their own narration and create scenes using the basic elements from the original story. Collins’ interface is excellent and has easy ‘tap to add’ and ‘hold and drag’ elements that make creating stories easy for younger users. The apps’ only major drawback is that there is no way to export an original story once it is finished. Still, the multi-functionality of the apps and the variety of stories make these apps an excellent for educational use.
Collins Big Cat apps are suitable for Early Childhood and Lower Primary.
Word Clouds by ABCYa.com is free app that allows users to create graphic representations of word frequency. It is very similar to the popular website Wordle. Users type in words or copy and paste lists, speeches, etc into a window. Word Clouds then translates these words into a ‘cloud’, making high frequency words appear larger the more times they occur. Users can change font, color, layout and word count. Recent updates also allow users to input numerals and edit word clouds without having to start over. Once a word cloud is complete, it can be saved to the camera roll as a photo. Word Clouds is beautifully laid out, easy to use, and widely applicable for educational use.
Thesaurasize is a small and simple free app that allows users to type in a word and receive a short list of definitions and possible synonyms. It is lower profile than the traditional full-size dictionary app: more simple, but also equipped with less, i.e. no voiceover option or graphics. The app is perfect in a pinch for users who need to quickly find a synonym or check a definition.
Thesaurasize is suitable for Upper Primary and Secondary.
Sight Words by Little Speller is a free app that looks deceptively simple but its complete customization possibilities make it one of the most dynamic apps of its kind available. In its default form, Little Speller offers a simple interface: click the blue ‘play’ button and a word pops up on the screen with letter tiles that the user drags to their respective locations under the word. Voiceover narration says the word, each letter as it is dragged into the correct location and then spells the word again once a user successfully completes it. All voice narration, sounds, letter and word hints can be turned on and off via the settings menu in the top right hand corner of the home screen. The default combination of voiceovers, letter hints and spelling repeats can sometimes feel like overkill, even for young students, so I’ve found that turning letter hints (and potentially letter repeat) off makes the visual and audible clues a little more bearable. Think of this app as the ‘Mad Minute’ of spelling and sight words; there’s nothing fancy, it’s designed to commit the basics and reinforce fundamental spelling skills. The app’s real genius though is in its ability to be completely customizable. Teachers and parents can add words to any of the five levels via the ‘Customize Items’ option in the settings menu. Custom words, visual cues, and letter sounds can all be uploaded and recorded in the app. This feature allows for custom spelling or word lists from a class sheet or increased differentiation in a standard classroom, learning support or EAL environment.
Sight Words by Little Speller is suitable for Lower Primary, Upper Primary and students in EAL or Learning Support.
ICDL – Free books for Children is a free app published by the International Children’s Digital Library that makes the ICDL collection of thousands of free e-books easily accessible through the ipad. The catalogue interface is searchable via a number of different indicators including languages, length, age level, genre and the ICDL curated collections. ICDL specializes in language variety, so users will find books in dozens of different languages available for reading. A simple reading interface and summaries of every book in English make it easier to search the library’s vast offering of e-books. Most of the books are in the public domain, so be aware that they may be older editions and that the language, text, and themes in the books may reflect that. ICDL’s suitability is widely varied and depends on the book and the audience.
ICDL – Free Books for Children is suitable for EC, Lower Primary, Upper Primary, and Secondary.
Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe is a fun way to practice basic English language phonics and letter blends in the game interface of Tic-Tac-Toe. In this free app, users select a team, ‘x’ or ‘o’ and earn a square on the board by answering a phonics related question. If a user chooses an incorrect answer, the square is not filled in and play resumes with the other team. Strategically answering questions correctly to get three team shapes in a row wins the game. This game is simple and effective practice, but it benefits from having two players, one of whom can confidently read the questions as there is no sound narration in this app.
Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe is suitable for Lower Primary and Upper Primary, as well as EAL learners.
Little Writer – the Tracing App for Kids is a free app published by Alligator Apps that offers a colourful and simple interface for young children to practice tracing the letters of the alphabet, numbers up to 10, as well as basic shapes and words. Both capital and lower case letters are available for practice. A unique and memorable feature of this particular app is that it allows for complete customisation via the settings menu. The accents and additional letters found in most languages using the Roman alphabet are present and users can customize all the words, letters and numbers by recording their own voices, which makes this app completely customizable to a number of languages in addition to the default English. Note that there will be some considerable time needed to completely customize the app, but it is very easy to do. There is also a companion paid Little Writer app that offers phonic sounds.
Little Writer is suitable for Early Childhood or students practising the basic fundamentals of a language.