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8 tech tools that encourage literacy skills

Some of them are low tech. Some are more sophisticated. Some are mobile apps. Some are not. Some are completely free. Some start free and allow for upgrades. None of them are silver bullets. None of them are going to save the world.

But I think we need to be using them more. These eight tools, and others like them, can change how we teach and how students learn. And I think any tool that does that – whether it’s paper and pencil or a mobile app – is a good thing.

In a recent article over at Huffinton Post, Dylan Arena, Ph.D., co-founder and chief learning scientist at Kidaptive states that

Technology by itself will almost never change education. The only way to change educational practices is to change the beliefs and values of teachers, administrators, parents and other educational stakeholders–and that’s a cultural issue, not a technological one . . . It’s about processes and people rather than bits and bytes.

These eight tools seem particularly effective at encouraging and supporting literacy skills. I’ve talked about many of these before but I think when they are clumped together, they become especially powerful in helping kids read and write in new and impactful ways.

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of conversation about reading, writing, and communicating skills. When I get to be a part of those conversations, I share the following lists with social studies folks. Pretty sure they’ll work across a lot of other content areas as well.

Reading so it’s possible to

  • evaluate an argument or claim
  • determine the main idea, identifying and analyzing evidence, relationships, and supporting details
  • comprehend complex and difficult text
  • identify and evaluate critical information communicated in multiple forms of media

Writing clearly and coherently

  • to make an argument using evidence, logic, and reasoning
  • to tell a story
  • by applying the appropriate technologies for the purpose and audience
  • by gathering multiple sources of information and integrating them into short and long term 

Communicating effectively by

  • preparing and collaborating with diverse partners
  • designing and delivering a presentation on a specific topic
  • presenting information and evaluation to others in a manner that is not totally written text
  • using multiple modes of communication

I know that these lists don’t include the entire package of skills that some states and districts are asking us to check off. But they cover a lot of ground. And the following tools can help you and your kids develop the skills highlighted on the lists.

  • Our Story
    Great digital story telling mobile app for younger kids
  • Storehouse
    A sweet mobile app that forces kids to focus on content rather than just bells and whistles
  • Adobe Voice
    Mobile app that encourages oral communication skills
  • Newsela
    Online leveled reading site that uses current events as content
  • ReadWriteThink
    The title says it all. Tons of lessons / digital activities searchable by grade, content area, and learning objective
  • Zaption
    My new fav. Lets you create interactive videos that are perfect as writing prompts
  • Padlet
    Collaborative online tool that supports using evidence to make claims
  • Kahoot
    Online student response tool

A couple of extras:

12 Comments Post a comment
    • glennw #


      Thanks for the link. Nice article. It reminds me of the discussion we often have in history/social studies classes about primary source documents. Do you give kids original documents to analyze that are often very difficult to read or do you modify them to make them more accessible and useful to students? As in the case of leveled reading activities, probably a balance of both.

      Does this article detailing the “dumbing down” of presidential speeches over time fit into this conversation at all?

      Thanks for the comment!


      October 15, 2014
      • I think the analysis in the article is right on. Dumbing down? Perhaps, but more a democratization of the speeches.

        October 15, 2014
  1. Terry Friedlander #

    Terrific ideas and suggestions for literacy tools. Add our site to the list. We are on par or even exceed your list. PicLits is about the two key literacy skills that precede all others. WRITING and READING. Check us out and feel free to reach out to me. Thanks. Terry Friedlander, founder ( ). FAQ page has been update with new links for teachers on ideas for using PicLits ( K2-K12).

    November 23, 2014
  2. This paper is both informative and attractive. I have read it with great attention because it is questioning us as teachers and as practioners of technology who expect to do their best during their career. Thank you so much.

    November 25, 2014

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