Making Literacy APPier by Des Hegarty

Making Literacy APPier by Des Hegarty

In attempt to make this article both interesting and useful (!) I’ve been routing round the internet to recommend some literacy apps.

I am a tablet novice.  Tablets have seemingly passed me by, so when a friend suggested I borrow an iPad for the weekend I duly obliged with some hesitation. I had survived so far without one so I wasn’t expecting it to bring anything to the table. However, the draw of the screen and the graceful glide of my fingers, as they slid across the surface like Torvil and Dean, was far too tempting. Alright, so perhaps I am romanticising slightly but I came to the instant conclusion that they are so addictively good! There’s bags of learning opportunities to be had too with each month bringing a slew of educational apps ripe for discovery. My Year 1 class of 5 and 6 six year olds have been very enthusiastic test subjects. Their fingers have furiously flicked from app to app in an attempt to channel and challenge their creativity. (It’s at this point I would like to say that the whole class get a higher score than I do on ‘Temple Run’. Sigh!)

My advice when roaming around for the best education apps are:

  • Go by recommendation. Read the reviews – see what the public have to say.
  • Find out what you can get for free. Some of the more expensive apps are too distracting with unnecessary add-ons and showy graphics. Keep it simple to allow the learning to embed.

Handwriting and Phonics

Pocket Phonics (£1.99)

This has been designed and tested by teachers in the UK – so if it isn’t any good, then you’ve got them to blame! Having said that you shouldn’t have any real complaints as this is pretty perfect for letter sounds, handwriting and first words. Children are guided to write each letter with a ‘follow me’ arrow. An award winner, and a thoroughly decent app!

Alphabet Tracing (Free)

For beginners this is a must have app. It is not a phonic app so don’t expect it to feature, but it does have the means to practise upper and lower case letters as well as numbers and words.  There’s also ABC Letter Tracing too which again doesn’t phonetically sound out the letters. It could use a starting arrow too for each letter but on the whole it’s not bad at all!

Cursive practice (Free/£0.69 for Full Screen version)

This is very loopy indeed! It has famous quotes to copy and the full screen version will set you back £0.69.  Something I have discovered is that even the most stubborn pupils who don’t like to write are easily convinced when presented with an ipad and a splendid app like this.

Pop Words (Free)

This is challenging and awfully addictive. This is an interesting twist on ‘Boggle’. Some of my Year 6 children were puzzling over it for some time. There would be occasional shrieks of ‘I’ve got GLEAMING!’ and ‘I’m one letter off of FORTUNE!’. I would use this as a starter to a lesson or as early morning work to get their brains into gear.!/id472853634?mt=8

Grammar and spellings

Squeebles spelling test (£1.49)

This comes with three test modes and there’s a mini-game with bonus rewards for high scores. It allows you to set up tests, enter words and then record audio versions of those words for the children to listen back to before they spell them. Stats are available too on each child so that you can see which words they are struggling with. I recently trialled this at school and it went down well with a group of Year 2 children. Thankfully their spolling spelling has got bitter better through the experience!

Grammar Up (Free)

Grammar Up provides 1800 multiple choice questions for English in over 20 grammar categories. I tried it and quickly discovered that my grammar ‘weren’t goodish’! So back to the drawing board for me! Also LearnEnglish Grammar by the British Council (Free) gives you a series of tests which you can improve on and build your score. The pupils can work up the levels to be a grammar master!

Stories for Reading and Retelling in Key Stage 1 (Nosy Crow steal the show!)

Pip and Posy (£1.99)

This is one for nursery and Foundation stage but a great app to start off with. Axel Scheffler’s drawings are as delightful as ever. The games are spot on with ‘matching pairs’ and ‘making a face’. I found the ‘spot the difference’ quite tricky but observational skills have never been my strong point!

The three Little Pigs (£3.99)

When it comes to story apps, Nosy Crow are the ones to beat for sheer excellence.  They are consistent award winners – but plaudits aside – children are fascinated by their apps. Their apps entertain and educate effortlessly and they have chosen a winning formula by updating the fairytale classics. There are loads of characters to discover and plenty of interactive surprises too. The best bit of course is when you get to be the wolf and blow the houses down through the microphone. Who hasn’t wanted to do that?

Cinderella: a 3D Fairy Tale (£3.99)

Again, Nosy Crow have come up trumps. So often app animation can look so formulaic but this looks stunning thanks to the creative eye of Ed Bryan. Children can read along and interact with the story . Highlights include building the magical carriage with the Fairy Godmother, and selecting music for the Prince and Cinders to dance to. (Which would you choose – Bollywood or Disco?) With ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs’, children are guaranteed a different reading experience every single time. It’s magic! Seriously, I can’t wait for ‘Little red Riding Hood’ which should be downloadable sometime this month.

The Grunts: Beard of Bees (Free)

(Just as a little free extra, it’s worth downloading The Grunts: Beard of Bees. This is also produced by Nosy Crow taken from the enormously enjoyable books by Philip Ardagh . He also narrates this ‘bees’-tly game as you try and attach as many as you can to Mr Grunt’s face before the timer runs out.  Though please take care of stray butterflies and flowers as Mr Grunt will tell you off for trying to add them to his ghastly face. I should also like to point out that Philip has the most wonderful beard in real life but thankfully it is not made of bees.)

Sir Charlie Stink Socks and the really big adventure (£2.99)

You can download the lite version of this but don’t be put off buying the real deal as it is a lovely app. It is brilliantly written and illustrated by Kristina Stephenson. The children can interact by playing with the Wiggly Woos, or press the words to hear Michael Maloney’s narration;  or simply use the painting mode to colour their own pictures from the story. It helps with learning and literacy development and is a whole heap of fun to boot! (lite version!)

Creative Writing Apps

Poetry Creator (Free)

I don’t know about you but my refrigerator is covered in magnetic words to make amusing little phrases as I burn dinner for my family. This app essentially does the same but it doesn’t come with a fridge!  This app has brought tears of laughter to a collection of Year 4 and 5 pupils as we were testing its mettle. It inspired the glorious poem that we called ‘Florist Robber’.  It is a pretty little ditty that goes like this:

‘The Florist Robber’ by Wilbury School

‘Everyone of you Freeze!’

Said the ‘balaclava wearing’ cheese.

‘Give me the money please!’

Raged the banana-wielding cheese.

‘Those flowers make me sneeze!’

Gasped the allergy ridden cheese!

‘Atchoo- Atchoo-Atchoo!’ – and he surrendered to his knees!

Surreal beauties like this can then be shared via email or saved to your devices’ photo album. A simple, effective app for any budding Shakespeare or would –be rapper.

Writer’s Hat (£0.69)

This a great table top app to help generate ideas for stories. The word prompts help to stimulate creative thinking for writing, speaking, drama and art. Once your class has generated some words they can be plan and piece together a narrative independently or in a group. Again, simplicity is the key here. By listing words to accompany ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’ and ‘When’ the student is given the opportunity to play around with their imagination. It’s easily reset and there’s also a bank of words which can be added to.

Here’s a sample for you to try. Make a story from the following:

Who: Policeman

What: Spaceship

Where: City

When: 1970s

What are you waiting for? Go and create a masterpiece!

Mind Over Monsters (Free)

Those darn, pesky monsters! Perhaps I’m being unkind as while they are causing havoc in the stratosphere, they are enabling children to brush up on their literacy skills. Each level poses different problems to solve by bashing the critters that have the right answers.

APPy Endings!

As an extension to all these apps is the teaching that accompanies them. The speech and language opportunities are plentiful and it’s just as important to ensure that time is taken to discuss collectively what you are setting out to achieve. They key is to not let apps take over but to use them selectively and purposefully to back up the pedagogy.

Happy APPing!


(Des Hegarty is a teacher at Wilbury Primary School. You can follow his book blog ‘Storysplat’ by clicking here:

Also you can watch Des in action telling stories on Youtube:

‘Gus You Are a Superstar’

The Grizzlegrog’

Mr Gum and the Goblins – by Andy Stanton

..and finally you can follow him on Twitter @The Grizzlegrog)





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