Tag Archives: Special Education

Using Technology to Support English Language Learners

10 May

Recent technology has really helped some of our English Language Learners with developing literacy skills and content knowledge.  One of the challenges is that there are so many websites and apps available that people don’t know where to start.  It is also tricky to find sites that are good for elementary-aged students so many of our recommendations were created for all students.

These are some of our top picks at the moment for early learners of English in elementary schools.  Many of them work well with any student who needs these skills.

For Literacy:

Unite for Literacy – www.uniteforliteracy.com – This site has numerous books arranged by categories.  Most of the collection is non-fiction so it can be used with more age groups.  The books are narrated in English but there are also 37 other languages that can be chosen.  The student can hear/read the book in two languages to help with understanding.

Epic- www.getepic.com – There is a vast collection of books all separated by subject.  The books have a suggested age range for interest.  The books can be read aloud.  Audiobooks and some videos are also included.

Pebble Go- www.pebblego.com – Non-fiction books are sorted by categories.  The books include narration and there are related articles about the different subjects.

Reading a-z – www.readinga-z.com  – There is a yearly fee to use this site but it has a complete levelled library of resources for 29 reading levels.  There are worksheets to go along with each of the books.  Flashcards are included.  Spanish and French books are also available.

Early Literacy Skills:

Starfall- www.starfall.com- Still one of the best for teaching the names and sounds of the letters in the English alphabet.  Graphics and music are engaging.  The games are great practice for early learners.

Endless ABC (app) – The individual letter sounds are highlighted with fun graphics and sounds.  Higher level words are illustrated and practiced.

Phonics Island (app) – The student gets to practice upper and lower case letters and traces letters to learn the formation.  There is also some identification of animal names.

Early Writing:

iWriteWords (app) – For practice in forming the letters of the English alphabet, this is great.


Vocabulary Builder (app) – There is a series of these apps.  Body parts, verbs, and shapes are only some of the categories.

Rewordify- rewordify.com – English text can be placed in the text box.  The text will then be simplified so that students can more easily understand the content.  Students can also get definitions of unknown words.

http://www.manythings.org/vocabulary/games/g/ – For older students, this is spelling practice in the form of a video game divided into categories of vocabulary words.

For current events:

https://newsela.com/ – This site provides articles at different reading levels for numerous current topics in the news.  (Easily adapted for the whole class.)

Content Knowledge:

Britannica School- http://school.eb.com/levels/elementary  – Articles on topics can be selected and then three different reading levels can be chosen to reflect achievement level.  Images and videos are realistic.


To Dolch, Or Not, To Dolch

7 Jan

The Dolch Sight Words were put together in the 1930’s.  In our fast-changing world, that seems like a very long time ago.  In Education, we have an awful lot that has changed drastically from that time period.  Yet, these lists of common words are still around.  Granted, there have been a few changes but the lists remain.  The words are divided into grade levels.  The lists start at Pre Primer and move up to Grade Three.  These lists are used to provide students with a “sight word bank”.  They are words that are often used in English literature.  Some of them are exceptions to phonetic rules.  That doesn’t lead to “sounding out”.  Therefore, the word must be memorized.

We are always questioning the effectiveness of certain teaching strategies.  Dolch words came under our lens just recently.  We have seen students struggle to read simple passages.  Even when the “key vocabulary” has been pre-viewed, the student still struggles.  It is difficult to watch the struggle.  It is even more difficult when words such as “the” and “to” are the words that are causing the most difficulty.  By the time a student tries all of their “sounding out” skills and still can’t come up with the word, they have lost most of the sentence, attention, and interest.  It is impossible to have full comprehension of a passage when you struggle with many of the words.

We have seen that when a student learns these words, their comprehension with written passages increases.  Since these “little” words aren’t the key vocabulary in the story, how does it help the student with their comprehension?  It could be that they are reading the passage more quickly so their ability to remember is not impeded.  There is the possibility that less frustration aids in their ability to understand.  It could be that the reader’s confidence is higher when they are able to read the majority of the words.  There could even be a third variable at play.

Based on our personal past experiences…and with no scientific data to support our continued use of Dolch lists…we will continue to use the idea until we don’t see positive results.

Therefore, we have taken the words…and borrowed some ideas from everywhere…and developed some fun games to help to teach Dolch words.

Check them out on our Downloads page or on our Teacher’s Notebook shop page at  http://www.teachersnotebook.com/shop/2writingsisters