Terrific Apps for the Primary Classroom
Overwhelmed by all of the apps to choose from that you can use with your students? And did downloading a great app seem promising until you realized there were a bunch of things you needed to do to get it ready for your students? There are a ton of apps out there, but honestly, in today’s busy classroom, and with an increasingly overwhelming to-do list, teachers don’t need one more task.
I have tried many apps over the last 3 years in my second grade classroom, and I finally feel like I have a good handle on what some of the best apps out there are! Here are my choices for the best apps for primary grade students that are easy to use, useful and don’t create extra work for you! (Unless I specify, the versions of the apps I have used are free. Many have ads, in app purchases and/or options to download an ad-free paid version though).
I also have a freebie that may help you with one of the apps on this list, so keep reading to find out more!
APPS FOR STUDENTS
Sushi Monster by Scholastic Inc (Math)
Sushi Monster is one I downloaded about 3 years ago and STILL use it. It was free then and still is! It would be great for 1st-3rd graders or even 4th graders who need to work on multiplication skills. The free version allows students to work on addition or multiplication. Sushi Monster gives a target number (for example 18) but there is the option to skip it and try the next number. Students are then given a bunch of plates of sushi and need to choose 2 plates with numbers that add up to the target number. This screen shot doesn’t show all the plates, but students would want to choose 10 and 8 (not shown) to equal 18. If he gets 2 numbers that don’t equal the target number he gets mad and then you move on to the next number and try that one. Sushi Monster tracks progress without logging in so students will proceed through the levels. Occasionally I delete the app and reload it if someone has maxed out all the levels but this is a rare occurrence.
Splash Math from Study Pad Inc. (Math)
I have used Splash Math for grades 1, 2, and 3. The free version for second grade includes quite a few math concepts students can work on such as place value, addition, subtraction, and time. The prompts/questions are read aloud to students which is terrific since math practice should not be dependent on reading skills. There are cute characters and fun sound effects. Splash Math only lets you do so much for free, so I only use it with individual students who need extra help or with small groups.
Monster Math by Makkajai Edu (Math)
Monster math would work for students in grades 1 and 2 and for third graders who needed more work on basic addition and subtraction skills. When students first open it, there is an option to create user names. Students can play by themselves or with someone else. There is a little story that plays out and it tells students that the cute little character is in trouble due to a creature named TikTok. In order to defeat him, students need to complete math problems. For example here, students need to choose the candies with equations that equal 4. Just a disclaimer, TikTok is defeated by “blasting him” and the app also tells you that some of the candies are “poisoned” and that’s why you shouldn’t select them. If you don’t mind that, it’s a pretty creative way to practice math.
Endless Reader by Originator Inc (Math)
Endless Reader is an app that is great for early readers – anywhere from preK-1st or 2nd grade. Students begin by working on spelling basic words like sight words, silent e words, and words ending in double consonants. Students drag letters to spell words, then the app gives them a sentence with the word on it, and they have the drag the word they just practiced as well as new words into the correct spot in the sentence. The sentence is read aloud and then one of the cute characters acts out the sentence. It is pretty adorable and overall good practice for spelling and reading. It doesn’t seem like you can log in individual students so wherever the last student ended up is where the next one starts so this is an app I use with just a few students, not the whole class.
Alien Assignment by Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College (Direction Following/Problem Solving)
Alien Assignment is an app which is great for your little ones – maybe 2-5 year olds. I included it since kindergarten teachers might like it, and it might be useful for special education teachers who are working with students who are a little older on direction following. The gist of it is a story where an alien family gets lost in space and needs help fixing their spaceship to get back. This app has kids practicing using the camera on the phone or tablet and following directions. Activities sometimes have a vocabulary component so it could be good for young ELL students. For example, the first few activities involve taking pictures of a doorknob, light switch and “something you use to clean”. Children then are supposed to show an adult and the adult checks off they have the right things photographed. Then the aliens give a new assignment. It is appealing to kids and adults and if you noticed, created by the Fred Rogers Center.
Tinker Box by Auto Desk (Science/Problem Solving/STEM)
This app is really neat! Students can’t log in individually so if you want everyone to be able to experience the “training”, put them in small groups or partners (unless you’re lucky and have enough iPads/Tablets for everyone) to do that part together. In any case, students go through a brief training where they learn how to use all the different pieces and tools to solve puzzles and create inventions. Then they can go ahead and solve puzzles or go into invent mode. As students solve easier puzzles, they unlock more challenging ones. This is an app I introduced for fun and several students became really interested in it and started doing it during indoor recess during our long winter.
Imagination Playground 3D builder (Creative Thinking, Problem Solving, STEM)
This creative, designing app would suit anyone from 1st graders-adults! Although certain younger students (and adults) might be prone to get frustrated with it if the design was not coming out the way they intended. But with a little practice and patience, students can design some pretty neat things. The introduction shows students how to use all the viewing and placement tools. Then a menu pops up showing all the different pieces that can be used and you can start designing! Check out my little design in the bottom right of the collage! A bit sad, but I didn’t spend much time on it. A downside would be time. If you don’t have a lot of time to let students play with this it may not be the best app for your classroom.
Stack the States or Stack the Countries by Free Cloud Design (Geography/Social Studies)
Many of you have probably heard of the app. If you haven’t you need to download it! Adults and children get really into it. The States app, shown below involves answering geography questions about the states and some questions about the different states (like “What state is the birthplace of 6 US presidents?”) Then if you get a question right, they give you a state (show in relative size to other states) and you position it, then drop it onto the platform (look at how tiny Delaware looks compared to California and New York!) and the goal is to stack them up to reach the line. Then you earn a state on your map. My students sometimes asked me for help but most of the time they ran back and forth to our map and globe and figured out the answers themselves or just guessed. They had fun even when they got answers wrong!
Feltboard by Software Smoothie
Feltboard is an app that is very easy to use. When you first introduce it you may want to give students time to just explore it. They create images using backgrounds and pieces from a virtual felt board. I often have students then save their feltboard images as pictures to the device and we use them in videos, popplets, and other apps! There are so many ways to use feltboard images.
Pic Collage by Cardinal Blue
Simply put, Pic Collage is a collage app! It can be used for many different things. Since it is the beginning of the year, we don’t have student collages yet, so I made a few samples to show you – a pets collage and a Halloween “card” using one of the fun backgrounds that are available and a picture from last year (I was the Grammar Police and my dog was a canine officer). Like Feltboard, we use our collages in other apps and for other projects. It is easy to save the images to the camera roll too. Check out all the sharing options as well! There also is a kids’ version of Pic Collage but my school only just added it to the iPads so I haven’t played around with it, nor do I know why there needed to be a kids’ version.
Picstitch by Big Blue Clip LLC
Pictstitch is an alternative to Pic Collage. You could check them both out and see which interface you like better. It is also easy to save to the camera and has a lot of options to export pictures. I feel like it is easier to resize images and get them to fit the collage in Picstitch.
Skitch by Evernote
The best way I can explain Skitch is it is a marking up app. You take or import images and mark them up with arrows, labels, captions, and more. You can use emoticons and stamps too. I have used it a lot for science activties. For example, when we study rocks, students photograph different size rocks and add arrows and labels to show pebbles, gravel, cobble, and so on. I also have used it for reading comprehension and with reading skills, such as taking a quick snapshot of a character and marking it up with adjectives to describe that character’s personality or appearance. You can use Skitch in a very basic way or really individualize it by using different colors, font sizes, outlines, and more!
Our school participated in the hour of code last year and we did it on desktop computers but there are some solid apps for coding now. Scratch would be good for 2nd graders and up. There are great videos that teach students how to solve each coding challenge and it builds from easier coding activities such as adding backgrounds to more difficult ones.
APPS THAT HELP TEACHERS
Class Dojo by Class Twist Inc (Classroom Management)
Class Dojo has changed my life! Seriously. Class Dojo is a free classroom management app that you can use on a phone, tablet, or with their website. You create a free account and can create multiple classes (I have about 12 classes set up right now). For each class, you can enter student names manually or import them from another class, and assign everyone a monster/avatar. Then you choose behaviors you want your students to work on and you can give positive and “needs work” points to students. You can use it as is, or include rewards or incentives students can earn by reaching certain dojo point levels. For example, my students can earn things such as an extra ticket into our weekly prize raffle, the option to change their avatar (I assign everyone the same avatar so they have to earn points to choose their own), to win a prize, and more!
Some teachers reset the dojo points every day so the students start at 0 each morning. Others let students continue to accumulate points. Class Dojo also saves the point information for your students all year and you can look up to see how many points they received today, yesterday, this week, this month, last month, or enter a custom date range. The custom date range is handy if you’re setting a long term goal such as getting students to 50 or 100 points. Plus Class Dojo has a secure parent communication component which is terrific (you can even include pictures in the parent messages -last year I included a picture of someone’s very messy desktop in a message to show his parents why cleaning up his desktop was a good goal). They also have a new feature called Class Story which I haven’t tried, but looks kind of like you’re making a blog post on Class Dojo for parents to see!
This image shows in the top left the options to edit your class, the top right shows what the avatars and your class would look like on the app. As you give points, you can see everyone’s individual points and a class total too. The bottom right shows that you can look at reports for students. This one shows that “Johnny Depp” only has 33% positive points for the day so far so he can improve!
Ready for a freebie? I have a free resource up at Teachers Pay Teachers that is packed with ideas on ways you can assign positive Dojo Points to your students. Click here to download it for yourself or on the image below! Please take a few seconds to leave feedback afterwards (you may have to hit the back button at TPT to get back to the screen where you can leave feedback). Thanks!
There are also a couple apps I do not have images for but they are worth a mention.
Remind by Remind 101
I usually use the website for Remind, but a lot of teachers love the app. It is an easy and safe way for you to send text messages to your students’ parents or with older students, the students themselves. They cannot reply so you do not risk getting your phone spammed or giving out your private phone number. The interface is user friendly and you can schedule texts in advance which is great because you can set them up for the whole month at once if you want (that’s what I do). The messages have to be short though-Twitter length or so-which is fine with me!
It gives you a Lexile level, guided reading level and DRA level for all the books in your class library by scanning the bar codes. A lot of other reading specialists have recommended it to me and many of them and teachers say the $3.99 cost is well worth it!
Literacy Leveler by Fikes Farm LLC ($3.99) gives you a Lexile level, guided reading level and DRA level for all the books in your class library by scanning bar codes. A lot of other reading specialists have recommended it to me and many of them and teachers say the $3.99 cost is well worth it!
What app do you like that is useful but doesn’t create extra work for you? Comment and let us know!
Bex has been teaching second grade for 17 years and now is an expert on Pokémon Cards, American Girl Dolls, and thanks to her most recent class, Stack the States. She is also a certified reading specialist, lover of giant breed dogs, and is the owner and author of the blog Reading and Writing Redhead. Find her on Pinterest, Facebook, and Teachers Pay Teachers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.