My Top 55 “Must Have” Apps & Webtools for a Personalized K-3 Classroom

55 Must Have Apps

After four years of implementing a personalized classroom environment, I am often asked about my favorite apps and web tools to match our Common Core subject areas. This is just like asking a teenager what their favorite song is or asking an 8 year old what their favorite movie is. We are always evolving and changing our “Favorites”. So, I was finally able to narrow down a list in a clickable Google Doc below that includes my top 55 “Must Have” apps and web tools. This is by no means a conclusive list. It took me hours to prioritize my original list of 112. I know, I have issues! 🙂 I cannot help myself, I absolutely love finding and trying out new technology that will make our jobs easier and engage our students. Enjoy!

Here is my View Only link:

55 Top Elementary Tech Resources Used in High-Tech K-3 Classrooms

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Using Spelling City with Gifted Spellers- A Two Week Study Plan

Spelling City- Gifted Students Blog Post

Help with Word Study Differentiation? Yes, Please!

It would be very difficult for me to fully express how much I love using Spelling City in my classroom because this digital resource (App and web tool) alone has truly made differentiating word study for my students so much more manageable for me and more engaging for them. Those of us that are implementing the “Words Their Way” word study program by Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, have found a variety of ways to manage the daunting task using station activities and paper resources, which I do use as recommended in their book. As primary educators, we know that hands on activities and opportunities to work collaboratively are extremely important, especially for our “At-Risk” students. They need more targeted and frequent practice along with solid phonemic instruction, which Spelling City offers plenty of digital support for these students.

I used to use the free features for Spelling City but when I saw the advantages of the premium subscription, I was hooked and better yet, so were my kids! Right now and subjected to change, Spelling City’s yearly subscription is about $55 for up to 25 students and prorated after that but so worth it! I cannot imagine running my personalized learning stations without it. Spelling City gives my students independent opportunities to practice their own individualized list at school and at home using engaging activities that model necessary language skills in context, take practice tests with immediate feedback to monitor their own learning behaviors and allows parents and I “real-time” results to see progress! 

The focus of this post however, is to specifically address how I use Spelling City to enrich and motivate my higher performing students in the area of Word Study. At the beginning of the year, many of my students were performing beyond the “Primary Inventory” level and ready for the “Elementary Inventory” level skills. They quickly mastered the Within Word and Syllables & affixes stage. By mid-year, they needed more vocabulary development and their engagement level needed to be revived. Our standardized test scores also showed vocabulary development as an area of deficit for all of our kids.

That was when I decided to allow my advanced level word study group of five students to select their own words to work on, each student selecting five words. The engagement level and skill challenge increased 100%! It was fun to watch them at first, selecting the biggest words they could find and smiling with pride as they presented them to the group as optional words for their two week study. They quickly realized that not only was it was too hard for them to keep up with the expectation of spelling all 25 of those words but it was also a huge challenge to have the added expectation of knowing their definitions as well. Experience truly is the best teacher. 🙂

Here are the steps we came up with and have happily followed ever since. Basically, students spend two weeks on a list so the first week they select their words and spend the first week on vocabulary development/meaning and week two on actually spelling those words correctly, ending the week with a digitally administered test.

Day 1- Students Select Words- Students collaborate, select and write down their five words from various resources, mostly paper and digital dictionaries. I also ask them to try to choose at least one challenging word from our content units like “investigation” or “evaporation” depending on our current Science or Social Studies unit. You can see the actual picture of my students’ written list on the picture above with their words under each student’s name. I then check over the list to see if it is ready for Day 2.

Day 2- Day 5- Words Entered Into Spelling City & Begin– I train one student to enter the newly selected words into a new list on our class Spelling City account for me. From there, they happily train each other to complete the next list. Day 2 also brings the first day of developing student vocabulary acquisition of the words on their list through the Vocabulary and Language Arts activities located on the “Activities and Games ” page in the rows on the bottom right hand corner of the premium section show below. Looking over the menu of activities, they are sorted by content areas, Phonics, Spelling, Writing, Vocabulary and Language Arts.

Spelling City Vocab. Screen Shot

Here is a screenshot of one of my favorite matching activities from the vocabulary activites:

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 12.55.30 PM

Day 6-Day 13-  Students select from several activities to practice by hearing their words in context, sorting spelling patterns and applying what they learn. All activities are monitored in “Real Time” (Okay, I just keep refreshing my browser) by percentages in the “My Records” tab for Parents and the “Results” tab for myself. Day 13 brings a practice spelling test which we have affectionately called a “Gray Button Practice Test” that can be taken as many times as they want but students can only take one final “Red Button” spelling test on Day 14 that can only be deleted and retaken if the teacher deletes it so the student can retake the test for a better score. I require my kids to pass with an 80% before considering them to be ready for the next list.

Day 14-  “Red Button” test day! The beauty of using Spelling City on this day is that the kids get immediate feedback on their score and a huge time saving feature for me. Now, reverting back to the belief that our young kids still need to handwrite their work, I alternate a digital test with a written test every other list, so grading a paper word sort once a month is so much better than twice a month. In my initial picture above, you can see a student playing his auditory list on his iPad and writing the words sorted in the correct columns, also a huge time saver for class time. Kids do not need to wait their turn to hear me orally give four to five spelling tests. Pretty amazing!

I have received a great deal of positive feedback from students, parents and my colleagues on this study plan. I would love to hear your story as well! 🙂

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Personalized Learning Rotations/Centers. What Are Kids Doing During Independent Work Times in a Personalized Learning Classroom?

Personalized Learning Stations

We hear more and more about research surrounding the utilization technology and it’s importance in a “Personalized Learning Experience” in our public schools around the country. But what is it really and what does it look like? Wikipedia defines it – “Personalized learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments by learners or for learners in order to meet their different learning needs and aspirations. Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.”

No matter your philosophy or how you interpret this idea, we all have a responsibility to prepare our kids for their future. We cannot even fathom what that environment will be like but one thing is for sure, technology will be a huge part of their learning and daily functioning, so we owe it to them to keep pace with the reality of their future education.

I began my own “Tech Journey” when my sweet husband gave me my first iPad in 2011. I began using it for many personal interest ventures, such as banking, easier access to social media and email. Then the magic happened….apps! It was so overwhelming at first but I could see the immense value of utilizing technology for Personalized Learning in my second grade classroom. Since then, I have found myself in a more mature and streamlined approach beyond finding an app to support targeted skills. The tools need to be targeted, easily accessed and collecting meaningful data that I can use to formulate my lessons and flexible groups.

As my previous posts have indicated, I have found many useful tools that really do make my job as a full-time second grade teacher more manageable and engaging for me and my students. This search will continue to require a lot of thought about prioritizing pedagogy over products but the big question that most of my fellow teachers want to know the answer to is, “How do you manage the devices and what are the kids actually doing?” My previous post about how I manage my devices answers the first question for me but the deeper question remains…”What are they actually doing?” I have struggled with this topic for over 20 years, knowing that 1:1 and small group instruction is the best way to differentiate but I had trouble letting go of that accountably piece of what the other students were doing while I worked with my groups. Was it purposeful and were the kids engaged? I can say that it takes training and diligence but with the right tech and routines, it can be done!

My students follow daily routines using a visual rotation board during their independent work time so that I can work with my flexible groups during my Reading Workshop and Math workshop. Creating independence and critical thinking in our students is a pretty high calling but I truly feel that the kids can do it!

Center Rotation Charts for LA & Math with Free Recommended Management App

Here are my charts and checklists that I have created, used and posted in my Teachers pay Teachers Store that includes the evolved version, a visual student checklist for each day, charts for display and even a suggested free app- “Timer +” that I use to run four sets of a previously selected time based on how much time I have for that group. Look for the “Miramba” ringtone. It is a nice, non-startling tone that does not make us all jump when the timer goes off! 🙂

So, I basically adjust my boards once a week and push “Start” in this app and watch the kids go about their work. My previous posts break down in greater detail the digital tools I use in those stations but a quick overview:

Reading-, Spelling, Apps- Fafaria, Epic app and web tool, Word Wizard, News-O-Matic, Hairy Phonics, Lakeshore’s Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe, Short Vowels / Long Vowels app by This Reading Mama, Whooo’s Reading online reading log, and Qr Codes from products I have purchased on TPT that have books read to the kids online. 

  • I do include paper choices too for a “Plan B” when our internet is acting up.

Math-,, LearnZillion Lessons, Apps- Timed Test Arcade, Door 24, Number Frames, Subtilizing, Number Bond Blasters, NumberLine, Teachley’s Addimals and Subtractimals and Math Fight.

5 Rotation Stations Thumbnail TPT jpg Paul Edit.001 5 Math Rotation for Thumbnail 1 small jpg.001

I used these images to create larger boards for display.  You can see that “Post-its” are used assign names to groups so they can be easily changed and you can also see in the pictures below that I have laminated the app tiles and taped down the ones I want them to use in that station for the day. I often use the same ones for a week or so, depending on what the group needs at the time. Since my room is lacking visual space, I have the boards adhered together, laminated and on rings so I can flip over from Reading in the morning to Math in the afternoon. I have finally found a routine and resources that fit the tech available to me. Right now I have 15 iPads that we keep in the room at all times and we share an older set of 30 iPads in a chargeable cart. We also visit a computer lab once a week to work on our “Google Ninja Skills”.
IMG_2182Reading Stations 2015-10-14 10.36.42

  • This recording booth, we affectionately named- “Chatter Box” with acoustic tiles will be available in my Amazon Store after this Thanksgiving, 2015. So, check back then for my detailed post. I have surprisingly had many requests for it. It has been revolutionary for our digital projects. Trying to record audio in a tiny room with 27, 7-8 years old can be a challenge and I cannot let kids leave my room unsupervised. The tiles are adhered using velcro and fully collapsible for greater storage. I have been very happy with their recording results and this year, my students are not coming up to me frustrated about someone talking in the background of their recording.



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Using Word Study Apps and Managing Rotations for K-3 Centers

Best Word Study Apps Canva Blog Photo

“What apps can I use during my morning Language Arts center rotations that fit Common Core Standards for word study?” “Are there apps that collect formative data so I can hold my kids accountable for their work and to also help me form my skill groups more easily?” “How do you manage those stations with only a few iPads?” I have been asked questions like these many times as colleagues inquire about my Blended Learning format that I am using in my classroom. My answer is always, “I am so glad you asked!” They typically receive way more suggestions than they had in mind since I do get carried away sometimes, loving the opportunity to share exciting new resources that I know will help my friends engage and teach their students. I am going to give you app suggestions that I have been impressed with and answer both the content and the timing management questions below.

Managing Content-

To manage the content of those rotations, I post the icon and name of the apps that have been previously introduced for the iPad stations on our Class Rotation Board so the students know what their options are for that station. These obviously will change as the year progresses. I have created differentiated LA and Math charts that I use so I do not have to rotate them everyday. See my TPT (Teachers Pay Teachers) Differentiated Rotation Boards link below (One for LA and one for Math) if you would like a few ideas about organizing stations using iPads or whatever tech you have available to you.- Station Rotation Charts with Suggested Free Multiple Timer App

Managing Time-

 To help me manage the timing of those rotations, I found a fantastic free app called – Timer + App that you can preset a time to loop as many times as you want and give it a title to be saved within the app. You can see the screenshot below of my timer settings. I will have this iPad facing the students so they can manage their time, in my experience, amazingly enough, I find that my students do a much better job staying on task knowing they are being timed and using this visual from the app. I really like the alarms in “Timer +”. They are subtle and not too startling. My favorite is the Marimba tone. 🙂

Timer Plus App Directions Image.001

When my school received our first iPad cart, consisting of 30 iPads, I set off to find shiny new apps to download on them. I soon discovered that there were many apps out there that looked like they were going to target various reading skills, but were just not rigorous enough or not a good fit for Common Core Standards. It is very challenging to find appropriate and rigorous word study/phonics apps for young students. Particularly, ones that offer formative data on the skills students have acquired.

My shorter list below is in order of priority and sorted by apps that collect data. I will be adding to this Apps for Rotations List in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to get my top apps out here for you first, so stay tuned! 🙂

Content Apps for Rotations-

1. Spelling City App  Spelling City App- iTunes  – *Collects Data. Free app & Web tool. Spelling City is by far my heaviest hitting tool in my “Word Study Tool Belt” that collects data on everything my students do, even on the games that they play. The free version allows you to enter and save any word lists of your own or even search by teacher name or list from other teachers’ list to import into your own library! Many of us use the “Words Their Way” series and those lists are searchable by lists or by teacher (Feel free to search for me) however I have found that the numbers and words are not always the same but since the focus really is applying the spelling feature, you can decide which ones to use. You may also give spelling tests with the free version. Talk about saving time on grading and immediate feedback for students and the parents can login to the results tab on the website to see student data, I know…how awesome is that?! Like many other great resources, there is added value in the yearly subscription, which at the time of this entry, is now $53.00 a year. I do pay for this because the data tracking is more conclusive, there are many other vocabulary and grammar lessons, along with the additional 11 games that the kids absolutely love. Click here to see more details – Premium Spelling City vs. Free Account

2. Word Wizard app Word Wizard – Talking Alphabet (Currently $2.99- Subject to change) – *Collects Data. This app is truly a “5 Star” app. I love how my students can explore “Talking Movable Alphabet” by dragging letter tiles to create words. Seeing and hearing each phoneme is very helpful in our word study group activities. There is a funny feature, no naughty words will be pronounced, when it recognizes the naughty word and changes it to “Oops”. 🙂   There are three activities- Word Practice, Scrambled Letters and spelling quizzes. Give it a try!

3. Hairy Phonics App  Hairy Phonics 1 App -Hairy Phonics Series by Nessy Learning. There are three for higher level phonics skills and one for basic blending letters into simple words, called Hairy Letters. (Price Ranges from $2.99 to $3.99)  *This app does not track data.

4. Tic Tac Toe Lakeshore  Phonics Tic-Tac-Toe Interactive Game by Lakeshore (Free) *This app does not track data.

*I have more on lists on the way! 🙂

*Coming up in my next few posts will be management solutions that have worked for me, like how to organize all those student logins for you and the kids, more apps for LA rotations. Then to follow will be posts on sight word apps, reading comprehension, math apps and my favorite- “”.

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