5 Top Middle School ELA Apps and Websites Reviewed
Looking for great apps that match standards you need to teach? Common Sense Media’s new service Graphite, which offers independent ratings and reviews on learning apps and websites, has compiled a list of its top picks. Each month as part of the K12 Mobile Classroom newsletter, THE Journal will feature a small selection of apps around a particular content theme or subject area (this month: math and ELA for middle school). All apps listed are compatible with iOS and Android. For complete reviews, and for each app’s “Learning Rating,” visit the Graphite website.
Price: Free; premium subscriptions available.
Concepts: language, reading, and writing
Grade levels: 6 through 12
This productivity app can shift the way kids manage information in school and the way teachers share it. As a cloud-based storage system, it allows teachers and students to access information from multiple devices and locations. The interface is easy to use, especially for the touch-screen generation. Notes save quickly and can be accessed easily. With audio, text, and image capabilities, Evernote can track almost any piece of information. The search function makes finding notes easy, even if kids forget to tag topics. However, the text-within-image searches are hit or miss. The portability of data is really impressive. In a time when many teachers have their personal smart phone and a tablet for school, Evernote takes away the worry of not having the right device when needed. Read the full review.
2. Grade 7 Vocab Audio and Pics
Concepts: decision-making, memorization, academic development, self-assessment, and more
Grade levels: 5 through 7
Grade 7 Vocab Audio and Pics is one in a series of highly effective vocabulary building apps from Lafazi Inc. that make learning words fun. Through study, flashcard, and multiple-choice quiz modes, tweens can learn 226 middle school-level words such as vicious, legitimate, and harmonious. The graphics are crisp, navigation is intuitive, and the audio feature is great for kids who struggle with reading or who are auditory learners. Entries also feature spot-on definitions and part of speech, sometimes left out of competing products. Even with all these great features, there’s some room for improvement. Cartoons are sometimes a bit off, settings don't seem to work well, and performance statistics are only available at the end of quizzes. The ability to create multiple profiles would also be a boost for classroom use. Read the full review.
3. The Learning Network
Concepts: discussion, reading, reading comprehension, text analysis, citizenship, cultural understanding, global awareness, government
Grade levels: 72 through 12
There's not a more trusted name in the newspaper business than The New York Times, and its site for educators--The Learning Network--lives up to that reputation by providing a rich, engaging resource for learning about and thinking through the current events of the day. Great features include a word of the day, a cloze-based fill-in-the-blanks news story activity, a visual thinking activity that poses an image with questions of inference and comprehension, and even the Six Questions, which regularly use embedded video and audio. The Learning Network is a place built for student voices, with an entire area dedicated to inviting students to add their own thoughts to news stories. Young people have taken up the challenge, as evidenced by active conversation on the site. For teachers in states that have adopted the Common Core, the site provides a reliable place to make connections with reading, writing, and content-area topics from social studies and science. Read the full review.
4. uVocab – Vocabulary Trainer
Grade levels: 6 through 12
uVocab can help kids learn challenging vocabulary words and their definitions. In the Learn Words module, students can browse words, scrolling through the definitions and clicking the sound icon to hear the pronunciation. Hearing the word is especially helpful for making sense of the word in context, though such a tool would not be available in most testing situations. In the Browse function, kids have the option of jumping to a certain letter or starting from the beginning or end of the list. There is no search function to find a specific word, though. The app does not have a teacher dashboard, nor does it offer log-ins or multiple users, so each student needs a device to make the most of uVocab. Read the full review.
5. Youth Voices
Concepts: discussion, presenting to others, writing, events, global awareness
Grade levels: 7 through 12
The teachers behind Youth Voices carefully built and nurtured this site over many years. The result is a vibrant home for young writers seeking an authentic audience and a space to publish writing across a wide range of genres. The site is essentially a social networking space, so students can easily align their interests and make meaningful connections with other young writers. The commenting feature on posts opens up a range of discussions, and writing at the site can be very powerful. Students touch on issues ranging from the environment and politics to personal narrative stories and video gaming. Some students also add multimedia components such as videos. For teachers, the community of other educators on Youth Voices can be a powerful support group. Read the full review.