iPad Apps for Guided Reading

As iPads become more and more common in schools, I am asked more frequently for suggestions of apps in so many areas.  Many of us have had the experience of downloading an app that looks like it will meet our needs - but once we download it from the iTunes store it isn't quite what we wanted.  So, having seen my rather large collection of apps, people keep asking me for my favourites list as a starting point or addition to their own collection.  I've started working on lists of my favourite apps for use in a balanced literacy program - and this is the first post to go with my first list in this area.

But before I get to the list, I wanted to explain that when I'm using the iPad for Guided Reading I have some criteria for the apps I use.  And I'm using this blog to explain the criteria that go with this first list.

Firstly, I look for a storyline that is clear and engaging - and there needs to be enough information in the storyline and/or the illustrations for me to set a number of purposes for reading the book repeatedly through the week.

Secondly, if the book has a "read out loud" option I want to know if it also has word-by-word highlighting - and then if the book has word-by-word highlighting, it is important to me that the highlighting synchronises with the speech.  There are quite a number of digital storybook apps where the word-by-word highlighting either gets in advance of the speech or lags behind it.

Word-by-word highlighting can be a valuable tool - it helps to reinforce that text is a code for speech by consistently matching text with spoken words. Word-by-word highlighting helps to reinforce the difference between text and pictures and that text carries the message. It also helps students to understand that text goes from left to right – and that at the end of a row a reader needs to sweep down and across to the beginning of the next line of text.  Some students find word-by-word highlighting extremely helpful - it can help to keep them on track with the progress of the story.  However, it is important to note that we don’t want to use word-by-word highlighting all the time - which is why I also include eBooks which don't have this feature. Particularly once a student becomes a more competent reader they need to develop eye movements to enable them to read more efficiently – which means they need to move away from a straight linear movement and if we always use word-by-word highlighting this may not develop.  For a summary of the research into eye movement click here. (edited to add: this link is no longer available)

I also avoid using enhanced eBooks - I don't want too many distractions. Music, animation and interactive features can be very distracting for some students and impact on their comprehension of the text.  I have observed this many times - and a study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center tells us that while many children prefer reading eBooks, "children recall fewer of the details of the content of enhanced e-books versus the same e-book".   On this topic, it's important to say that I like books which have extra games and activities built-in - but there needs to be a version of the book which is a "straight" book before I consider it as a text for guided reading or self-selected reading.  Harold and the Purple Crayon is a good example of this. This delightful digital storybook has a "read to me version" with word-by-word highlighting and minimal enhancements, a "read alone" version which is also a faithful version of the book but without the text-to-speech - and a "touch tale" version with lots of interactivity and extra bells and whistles.  This "read to me" version is a great book for guided reading - and the "touch tale" version is a great activity for a student in their leisure time or as a follow-up activity to talk about aspects of the book.

And finally - I don't like spelling mistakes!  It absolutely amazes me how many digital storybook apps I have downloaded that have one or many spelling mistakes.  Spelling mistakes immediately remove a book from my list.

So - having given you my criteria, if you are still interested you can click here to download a list of my favourite iPad Apps for Guided Reading.  At the moment there are only a dozen apps on my list - but I'll be adding more regularly and letting people know about the updates via Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments (12)

  1. Carol Van Der Wijngaart


    Thanks Jane, I find your comments and suggestions very helpful and informative. Looking forward to having you back to Adelaide West to work with and continue in motivating our teachers and SSOs in developing students' literacy

    • Reply

      Thanks Carol! And I'm looking forward to coming back next term too and seeing what you've all been doing.

  2. Reply

    Jane, I know that you've been consistently recommending resources for the iPad, but I was wondering what your experience has been with Android devices. In India, we're seeing a lot of cheap Android devices in the market but the penetration levels of iPads are very low. I'm also seeing that a few schools in the US have started using devices like the Kindle Fire in their classrooms - with the potential of marrying assistive technology with the vast catalog of books that Amazon has.

    Do you think Android tablets will eventually equal the pervasiveness of iPads in the special ed and AT space?

    • Reply

      HI Ajit, I guess I can only really talk about what I see happening here in Australia - which is really the opposite of what you are seeing in India - at least as far as education goes. I was actually at a meeting with all the inclusion consultants for one of our states/territories during the week and this topic came up - and they didn't know of a single school that had gone with Android devices. I know a couple in Melbourne that have done so (but only a couple out of a very large number of schools) and I also know a couple that have gone with Windows tablets. And I don't know that any of us can guess what will happen in the future - but I certainly don't see any shift to Android happening here at the moment. I know myself that I have both an iPad and an Android tablet and I can more easily find a bigger range of apps that meet my needs on the iPad - at the moment!

  3. Pingback: iPad Apps for Guided Reading | Jane's Blog | Communication and Autism | Scoop.it

  4. Peggy


    Do you know of any apps to help level trade books. I am in the process of leveling my classroom library. I would love to scan ISBN # to get guided reading levels! Thanks, Peggy

    • Reply

      HI Peggy, Unfortunately I don't know of any apps that do that - sorry. Let me know if you find one though. Jane 🙂

  5. Peter Cottle


    Hi Jane,

    Have you had any experience using the Fitzroy Reader apps? Our Learning Support unit at my school is using them to great effect.

    • Reply

      Hi Peter,
      I saw them in use at a school a few weeks ago - but I haven't used them myself yet. I'll have to check them out further.
      Thanks 🙂


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