It is the middle of the school year and you get the message from your school secretary that you have a new student. Your adrenaline starts to rush at this point as you have a mix of emotions with a million questions running through your mind. So much is unknown at the mention of a new student. When the secretary announces that the student does not know English, it adds a whole new element into the mix. This isn't a bad thing by any means, but it is merely a challenge that happens to every teacher from time to time.
Being the technology coach in a 1:1 district (iPads or PC laptops for each student), I frequently am near the top of the list of people the teacher emails about what to do in this scenario. I by no means am an expert, but I've found a few free tools that might be of help on the iPad to help get the student acquainted with the language.
These apps were selected because they are free and not loaded down with advertisements that can be distracting to students.
ABC Ninja (free)
ABC Ninja is much like the famous Fruit Ninja game that is available on almost every tablet. Instead of slicing fruit, you slice letters. The device announces the letter name, and the user must slice the corresponding letter. The app provides lower case and capital letters. It also will do letter sounds. This can be adjusted by selecting on the gear on the top-right corner of the opening screen.
Sight Word Ninja (free)
Sight Word Ninja is much like ABC Ninja. Selecting the gear on the opening screen will allow the user to adjust the sight words according to grade level. If the teacher wants to get more specific, there are arrow options on the right side that allow the user to select/deselect words.
Monkey Match comes from the PBS show Between the Lions. It is designed for the iPod Touch or iPhone, so the resolution may seem a little off, and you'll have to hold the iPad in a portrait position. The user can match capital and lower case letters, letters to pictures, and sounds to pictures.
When my school district first started the 1:1 technology initiative, teachers scrambled for apps that helped students learn letters. However, all of the free ones included just a minute part of the app. Leaving the user with only a few letters to practice or only the lower case set. Little Writer came along and changed the game as it provides a complete package. There is also a paid pro version that includes more features.
My Backpack (free)
My Backpack is provided for free by the Waterford program. It contains texts read aloud to students, fun songs, and some math games. It is mostly intended for early literacy learners (preschool-first grade) as many of the apps listed here are. However, a good quality free resource is hard to pass up.
Sentence Creator (free)
This app is great because the teacher can set it to have visual/audio hints. The user can tap on the words to check the sound. As the student becomes more fluent, these settings can be adjusted. "Trick Tiles" are also a part of it as students need to learn the proper spellings of words even though phonetically the trick tiles are accurate. It is also nice because a scorecard shows up at the end displaying for the teacher how the student performed. There is another app that it could be imported into (Bitsboard). However, a teacher could just have the student take a screenshot and send it his/her way via email or other learning management system.
Sight Words by Photo Touch (free)
This app is very simple and easy to use as the user just practices sight words. The lists can also be customized by the user or teacher. The recording tool is of obvious use to the teacher, but the student could create their own recordings of the words as they progress.
Montessori Rhyme Time (free)
Rhyme Time fits students that have no experience with English. The students can tap the images to hear the word aloud. Then the user draws a line to match the corresponding rhyming sound. Again, this app is very primary-student oriented. The user really does have to tap on the picture to hear the word. There were a few items that I had to tap the image to figure out what word it was intending for me to rhyme. :)
Learn English with Lingo Arcade
Learn English is another app that matches audio with images. As the student progresses, new games and more difficult activities are unlocked (see image). As the student progresses, they must identify full sentences that match an image. One nice feature is that the teacher can also setup separate student accounts if you are in a classroom with limited number of iPads.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. So if you have any suggestions of websites/iOS apps that are helpful with ELL students, please feel free to list them in the comments.