This School Year’s Best Free or Cheap English/Language Arts Apps

By Scott Sterling

This is the continuation of a series for back to school focusing on the best apps that you might want to consider using this school year. The list is limited to apps that don’t require expensive site-wide licenses or subscriptions (although that might be an option for additional features). If there is a cost, it’s nominal and might mean the app is better used as a supplement rather than a mandatory download for the whole class.

Feel free to share these ideas with your colleagues during pre-school week.

Before we start, I’ve always been a fan of BrainPOP, which presents cartoons on a wide range of elementary and middle school topics (not just ELA). They’re great as introductory lessons before starting a unit or as a component in a flipped class lesson. Think of it as Kahn Academy for young people.

This list is breaks down English/language arts into its logical components: reading and writing.

Best Free and Cheap Apps for Reading

Starfall Learn to Read ($2.99)

Phonemic awareness is the basis of reading, so an app for beginning readers should focus on those skills. Starfall includes games, videos, and songs that help build phonics skills. Students can work independently of the app’s structure, but if they follow the progression they can earn some gamification credits. Available for both iOS and Android.

Reading Rainbow (Free, but with paid extras)

The companion app to the popular TV show Reading Rainbow includes more than 500 age-appropriate books and videos organized into various “reading islands” that focus on specific themes. This can basically expand your classroom library exponentially. Available for iOS and the Kindle Fire.

World’s Worst Pet (Free)

Through Snargg, the world’s worst pet, students work through a variety of games that focus on Tier Two vocabulary words that can actually be used in daily conversation (unlike some domain-specific vocab exercises). The production quality in this app is fantastic. Available only for iOS.

Subtext (Free)

Subtext might be the ultimate resource for online reading interaction between teachers and students. Teachers upload any text and can provide notes and activities through the app. Could be particularly useful in a flipped environment. Available only for iOS.

Best Free and Cheap Apps for Writing

Draw and Tell ($1.99)

For younger students, comics and drawing are a great way to exercise their storytelling skills without needing so much vocabulary. Draw and Tell is an easy interface for students to create their own stories and recordings. Only available for iOS.

Argubot Academy (Free)

This might be the most creative practice for persuasive writing out there. A cadet on a Mars mission has to create “Argubots” and enter them into persuasion duels about their life on the red planet. As weird as this sounds, it was actually backed by NASA, the National Writing Project, and GlassLab. Available only for iOS.

Explain Everything ($3.99)

Interpersonal communication, including presentations, is a big 21st-century skill. Explain Everything might be the most student-friendly tool for constructing multimedia presentations out there. Students can import any content they can find around the web, including YouTube videos, to add interest to their work. Available for both iOS and Android.

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