Apps, Programs and Websites
Apps, Programs and Websites for Parents, Teachers and Kids
Language Arts and Reading
LightSail

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Low to Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Evaluating, Understanding, Remembering

Costa: Level I and II

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Evaluation, Diagnosis,

Website: http://lightsailed.com/

Lightsail is a whole school reading program, which doesn’t teach students how to read, but which monitors their answers while they are reading books. There is a dashboard so teachers can identify how individual students in a classroom are performing. The essence of Lightsail is that kids will pick out books—some will always be recommended for them—and then respond to short answer, multiple choice and cloze questions. The multiple choice and cloze questions are scored immediately and the short answers are sent to the teacher for grading. What is different about Lightsail is that the assessments occur while the student is reading the book. The ability for teachers to assess short answers is a plus. Most assessments occur after kids are done with the book. The program does perform text to speech and dictation and kids can adjust the font size as necessary. Kids also get a lexile score—or a numerical way of telling us their reading level—at the end of the book and assessments.

Overall: This is a decent program for quick and simple scoring. As long as teachers and parents understand that Lightsail does not instruct kids how to read—you need a teacher or parent for that—it can be used in its appropriate place. Four Stars ★★★★

Litpick

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Evaluating

Costa: Level II and III

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Evaluation, Judgment

Website: http://litpick.com/

This is an interesting website to give your kids purpose in reading books. The essence of this website is that kids will sign-up—as long as they have a sponsoring adult—and then browse through the lists of books available, select one, and then either download it or get the book from another source, read it, and then provide a review. It’s a great way to give kids some power and voice in evaluating and reviewing adolescent literature. There are guidelines for the reviews, so kids can’t write anything they want, and timelines on when kids have to deliver their official book report. The reviews can be written by groups or individuals.

Overall: I really like this website because it gives middle school kids the opportunity to do something besides simply reading the book. Five Stars ★★★★★

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate to High

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Creating, Evaluating

Costa: Level II and III

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Planning, Influence, Describing

Website: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/

If you are looking for a structured and disciplined way to help middle school kids do lots of writing, this may be the app you are looking for. In NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, kids create a massive writing project—think novel here—between November 1 and November 30. This is when the official writing event takes place. The writing done by the kids can be completed inside the classroom or outside the classroom. If I were homeschooling children, this is one app I definitely would take a serious look at. When you go to the site, you will discover that kids can decide on their word count and topic for their month-long writing adventure. The site has ideas and time management hints and tips while also providing motivational activities to keep kids engaged throughout the writing process. Everything created by the kids can be shared.

Overall: What if we taught kids how to write by actually having them write? Imagine that. Five Stars ★★★★★

The Learning Network

Grades: 7-9

Level of Difficulty: Low to Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Understanding, Remembering

Costa: Level I and II

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Diagnosis, Causation

Website: http://goo.gl/k5JEB9

This is a middle school version of the New York Times, spiced up with extra activities. This website will primarily be used as a supplemental activity, whether it is used in the classroom or in the home. There are a number of interesting activities kids can do, such as the word of the day, a daily news story activity, crossword challenges, and an area for student opinions—provided they are old enough. There is also an “on this day in history,” which is rather interesting. The focus of this site is on current events. The curators of the site, to lure teachers into the site, have added lesson plans and some additional video and audio. There are also research articles. I can’t see a teacher using this website every day—unless they are teaching a current events class, but I can see, in certain situations, where a parent who is homeschooling will want to direct their child here every day for a short period of time.

Overall: This is a good current events format for middle school kids. As a bonus, nobody has to wait for the papers to be delivered. Three Stars ★★★

turnitin

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate to High

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Evaluation

Costa: Level II and III

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Evaluation, Diagnosis, Teamwork, Describing

Website: http://turnitin.com/

This program is loved by many language arts and English teachers because it helps to solve one of the biggest problems which drives them crazy—that of students copying work someone else has written and then passing it off as their own. Turnitin removes this problem because everything students write can be analyzed to see if it has been plagiarized from another source. Lazy students will, of course, hate this option, because now they will have to actually create something on their own. In addition to the plagiarism feature, teachers and students can also extensively edit papers online, without having to print off hard copies. This is a critical feature because it allows the teachers or parent opportunities to provide feedback for students or their child but it also allows kids to edit one another’s work. How cool is that? Teachers can also create rubrics and leave voice comments.

Overall: It is difficult to overstate how happy many language arts and English teachers became when this program became available. Turnitin can be used at a very high intellectual level, which cannot be said of many popular educational software programs. Five Stars ★★★★★

VocabularySpellingCity

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Low

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Understanding, Remembering

Costa: Level I

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Judgment

Website: https://www.spellingcity.com/

This app was better than I thought it was going to be when I first heard about it. Spelling and vocabulary development are usually as exciting to middle school kids as getting hit on the hands with a hammer. This apps works for middle school kids because, although there are some pre-set vocabulary and spelling lists, teachers and parents can insert their own lists. For example, if a teacher adds the words, the app will automatically pronounce the word correctly for the student and actually use the word in a sentence. The audio portion of this app is fairly important so if used in a classroom setting, all the students should have earphones. If this is being used around the kitchen table, the headphones aren’t as important—unless mom or dad is trying to watch Monday Night Football, then headphones might be mandatory. There are games and hints on this site, including phonics and phonological awareness activities. For additional money, you can upgrade to get more access to the site. Many teachers and parents will want to do the upgrade.

Overall: Knowing how to spell and have a decent grasp of vocabulary are important skills for middle schoolers. This app is better than most available. Four Stars ★★★★

Wordflex Touch Dictionary

Grades: 5-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Comprehension, Knowledge

Costa: Level I

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Experimentation, Causation

Website: https://goo.gl/aSe2ER

This is an interesting app which is currently only available through iTunes. The gist of Wordflex is that kids can put in words and quickly find out the definition, synonyms, syntax, voice pronunciation, and the relationship to other words through visual word maps. The app is used well on a touch screen and is a great way for kids to quickly find out all sorts of fun and interesting information about words. Word geeks will love this app but anyone trying to improve their vocabulary will find this a useful app. Vocabulary development is a huge part of middle school education because kids who don’t practice developing their vocabulary will fall behind their classmates.

Overall: I like this app because it supplants traditionally dull and boring vocabulary drill and kill exercises with a much more interesting semantic mapping approach and points out the relationships between words and phrases. Using this app is better than simply looking up a word in a dictionary or online. Four Stars ★★★★

Youth Voices

Grades: 8-9

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Bloom’s New Taxonomy: Creating

Costa: Level II and III

Schank’s Cognitive Processes: Influence, Describing

Website: http://youthvoices.net/

This is a social media site which allows kids to blog back and forth with one another via writing. It is possible for kids to also add video to their blogs. The primary purpose of this site is to allow kids the opportunity to communicate with other kids out of the immediate area and for them to also have the opportunity to have an audience for their writing. There are pre-determined topics for kids to write about and some additional “challenges” which require them to complete certain activities—such as responding to another individual’s blog. This is a perfect example of a site which has to be monitored by either a teacher or a parent. Because high school kids are also using Youth Voices, some of the material will be inappropriate for younger middle school kids.

Overall: This is a good social media website which also teaches writing. I think people will either love this site or not see much purpose in directing kids to this site. Three Stars ★★★

Print Friendly