• Teaching Tips

Your Classroom Got a New Tablet Computer—Now What?

by Karen Lirenman
February 21, 2012
A classroom tablet computer is an amazing tool but heading over to its app store can be quite overwhelming—there are literally thousands from which to choose. So, where do you begin?

Apps tend to fall into specific categories. There are many drill-and-practice apps that help with basics like spelling words, but the power in a classroom iPad lies in the creative apps, such as voice recording, story creating, and draw-and-tell apps. These types of apps allow your students to demonstrate their learning.

The abundance of educational apps increases the tablet’s incredible potential for classroom use. Below are some favorite apps that I use in my grade one classroom with our class iPad.

[Please note: Most of the apps discussed are free, but I’ve noted cost when there is one. Also, many of the apps are only available for iPad at this time, but when available, Android apps have been listed as well.]

Voice Recording Apps

Voice recording apps are those I use to record my students’ voices, and have provided a great way for me to document my students reading orally over time. They are open-ended apps—unlike the drill-and-practice ones, open-ended apps aren’t set up with right or wrong answers—so their potential for learning is unlimited. Here are three of my favourites.

Audioboo (available for iPad and Android) is an easy to use recording app. It creates short voice recordings that can be stored on the website, or easily embedded into a blog. Here is an example of an Audioboo embedded on my class blog.

VoiceThread (available for iPad) allows you to add oral comments to a photo or drawing. VoiceThreads can easily be shared between users (including ones one the other side of the globe!) and are great for collaborative projects.

Dragon Dictation (available for iPad) is an app that turns speech into text. In my classroom it has been great for one of my learning disabled students. This student has a ton of great ideas but has difficulty writing them down. Dragon Dictation allows this student to speak his ideas and then the app transforms the speech into text.

Story Making Apps

Story making apps allow my students to use their creativity to create or retell stories digitally. The story making apps that I recommend are open ended and the final product can be shared with others.

All of the story making apps below have been used in different ways by my students. Sometimes my students work on their own creating their stories, while other times they work in partners or small groups around the one iPad. It’s important to note that these story making apps can be used to share a variety of content, not just creative stories.

My Story ($1.99, available for iPad) is an app perfect for primary students eager to create stories. This app enables students to draw, write, and/or speak their stories then publish their finished stories for others to read.

Scribble Press (available for iPad) is another app for primary students. This app has preset story frames that can be personalized by filling in blanks. This text can also be edited and changed, or you can completely type in your own text. This app allows you to add photos and/or stickers, and create drawings using a large variety of drawing tools. Once you have completed your story, the app allows for stories to be easily uploaded and shared via the Scribble Press website.

Book Creator ($4.99, available for iPad) allows you to create personal stories that can be published. It is very easy to import photos and add text as well as play with page features such as colour and font.

Toontastic (available for iPad) is an app that allows you to create cartoons to tell a story. There is no writing involved with this app; instead, you create simple animation movies and record your voice to go with the movement. The app provides the user with a lot of different backgrounds and characters to choose from as well as a framework that allows the user to remember key elements in story telling. These key elements include setting, conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution.

Puppet Pals (available for iPad) is another animation app (made by Polished Play) that allows you to create simple movies. You can use this app to retell stories, or create your own. The free version of Puppet Pals comes with a small selection of characters and scenes, but I highly recommend investing in the $2.99 “director’s cut” for a very large selection of characters and scenes.

The beauty of story making apps is that they allow every student to create a story in a way that works best for them. For example, when we worked together with a buddy class from another school using their iPads, we used ScribblePress to easily create a collaborative story about working together. We were able to use the iPad2 camera to add photos of our experience, too.

In addition, some of my students have used our class writing time to draw, write, and tell their personal story using the My Story app. Puppet Pals was a great retell some of the Fairy Tales we studied in January. Puppet Pals can also be used to create math number stories, or to review skip counting. So, while I’ve listed many different story making apps, each app seems to meet a different teaching, learning, or student need and it’s wonderful to have such a fantastic selection.

Draw-and-Tell Apps

Draw-and-tell apps allow you to draw a concept and explain what you’re doing as you do it. They act like interactive whiteboards. For example, my grade one students will be drawing the life cycle of a frog. As they draw the life cycle they will record what they are drawing. Draw-and-tell apps bring voice to those drawings.

The following four apps do pretty much the same things but in slightly different ways. It’s best to explore all four to find out which one is best for your age group; the ones listed here are available for iPad only. One of the benefits of draw-and-tell apps is that students can work together easily—one can draw while the other speaks. In addition, they are great for retelling stories while drawing simple story maps to go along with the retell. They can be used to create graphic organizers to compare and contrast different characters in a story, or different versions of the same story.

Draw-and-tell apps also provide an excellent way to document reading comprehension. One teacher I know used these apps as a back channel during a class movie. The students using the apps took notes (in words and in pictures) about the movie as it was happening so that they could go back afterwards and revisit what they had learned.

Draw-and-tell apps really do have an infinite number of ways to be used. Think of them like your whiteboard in that they can be used over and over again, but the results may never be the same twice.

Word Work Apps

My grade one students spend part of their day learning and working with letters and words. Here are some of my students’ favourite apps to practice their word work.

Magnetic Alphabet ($1.99, available for iPad) is just like those magnetic letters you grew up with on your fridge at home.

Word Wizard ($2.99, available for iPad) is a fabulous app for those still learning letter sounds, or for those phonetically writing. This app allows your students to hear letter sounds as they manipulate them to create words. In addition, this app has a large selection of sight words and provides an exciting way to practice spelling them.

ABC PocketPhonics ($2.99, available for iPad) is a great app to help your students learn to read, write, and say a variety of letter sounds/words. This app allows you to set up individual accounts for each student so that everyone can work at their just right level. There is a free version available for this app, but it only has a very small selection of what the full app offers.

My students love all three of the apps listed and when given the choice they love to use the magnet letters first. ABC PocketPhonics has also been well received by my students that are having trouble learning their letters and sounds.

However, as their teacher, my absolute favourite is Word Wizard. Word Wizard has helped my newest student to Canada a lot. This student has very limited English. He can say a simple sentence such as “I like Christmas” but he doesn’t yet have the skill to isolate the sounds in Christmas, nor is he sure which letters make which sounds. But when I help him stretch the word Christmas into the c, r, I, s, m, a, s, sounds he is able to use Word Wizard to figure out which letters actually make those sounds.

As you can see by reviewing this long list of apps, your classroom tablet computer is an amazing tool for teaching and learning. Hopefully these suggestions will get you thinking about ways you can integrate your new technology into your classroom!

UPDATE, 7/12: Read Karen's account of adding a class set of iPads through a grant program, and an overview of the apps she's loaded on to her students' iPads, here.

Karen Lirenman (@klirenman) is a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. She has been teaching for 20 years and discovered Twitter for educational purposes in July 2011. Her interests include utilizing technology, improving her teaching, and sharing with others. Karen spent the 2009 school year teaching in Melbourne, Australia. She loves to travel and is a five-time Ironman finisher. Karen's professional blog can be found at

© 2012 Karen Lirenman. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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