Top 5 apps for younger learners


Kids these days. They’re what we call digital natives and have grown up with tablets, smart phones, apps and Facebook, compared to us, more mature lot, who still remember furiously scribbling notes with a cramped hand, and during orienteering at school, trying to hold a map the size of China while it flipped around in the wind, trying to figure out which way up we needed to hold it! These days, students can use a clever note-taking pen that records everything you write (yes, really!) and can use GPS technology on their smart phones to figure out where they are. This month then, I’ve compiled a list of apps that would be great if you’re teaching really young learners, and want to incorporate some digital materials to keep their young minds engaged and entertained, and keep up to date with the digital generation.

ABC Slate .. Remember those books you used to have when you were learning to write, where you traced the faint grey lines of every letter? Well, this is the digital equivalent! It’s very child friendly, guiding the user with an example and then providing space and those helpful grey lines to trace over. Once your learners have mastered the letter, this app gives them a blank space (both lined and non-lined paper) to practise writing more extensively. All their writing is automatically saved which is a great feature for teachers to mark progress and action points. Finally, there’s a voice prompt if users hesitate for a long time, reminding them which letter to write. This app would be especially useful for young learners (or just students in general!) whose native language uses a non-Latin alphabet. There is a free version, but it only includes the upper case characters; at just 99p per download, it won’t break the bank but will give hours of interactive practice to your little ones.

Rating – 5/5 Cost – £0.99

Read Write Phonics This is one of the best-rated phonics apps on the market, and one of the only ones in a British English accent. You can download the demo version for 10 example sounds and then decide whether you want to invest in the paid version for all 44 phonic sounds. Users can also work on blending individual sounds to make full words. Another great alternative phonics app is Phonics Awareness, which is free and definitely worth checking out for more advanced younger learners.

Rating – 4/5 Cost – £1.49

Smories  Excellent for listening practice, Smories is a website rather than an app – I’m cheating but it’s worth it! It was developed by two parents who were inspired by their own children who used to record each other reading their favourite stories and would then play the recordings back to themselves. Smories is a database of simple stories read out loud by children. You can have the subtitles on so that your own learners can read along (of course, these subtitles are also very useful from a teacher’s point of view), or you can switch them off. The database is really sizeable, so there’s plenty to choose from, and they are divided by age appropriacy so you can choose the right story for your class. Children will find it really engaging to be read to by other children, and you could even do votes for story time for which one is picked!

Rating – 4/5 Cost – free!

Kids Animals  Most children love animals and this bright and colourful app will keep them engaged for hours while they learn all about a whole variety of different animals. It’s divided into four zones – Farm and Domestic, Forest Wildlife, Africa Wildlife, and the North and South Poles – and through each zone a friendly teacher guides users through the app, telling them all about different animals and their habitats. Text snippets describe the animals, while games allow little ones to guess which animals are being described. A really nice little app for teaching young learners English while keeping them interested with bright graphics and fun characters.

Rating – 3/5 Cost – £0.94 (free version also available)

iStory Book  This app is essentially a library of books suitable for younger children that are accessed off the smart phone or tablet. The books come with audio as well as lovely illustrations, meaning they’re brilliant for English learners because they can follow the text with their finger as it is read out loud by the app. A new book is added every fortnight, so you’ll always have plenty of material on hand. You can preview the types of books they have on their website, but they include fairy tales and popular children’s stories as well as more factual books about dinosaurs, sea animals, and fruits and vegetables. A wonderful resource if you want a catalogue of reading materials right at your fingertips. It’s free but you have to upgrade to a premium version to get certain books in their catalogue.

Rating – 4/5 Cost – free!

Do you teach young learners? Check out Animal Explorers for a more complete digital solution for children in the EFL classroom.


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