Technology Integration

Free Apps to Support Vocabulary Acquisition by ELLs

May 8, 2013
Photo credit: leondel via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of my favorite aspects of integrating technology into instruction is the availability of resources to support students with different learning needs. Students who are struggling can benefit from the excitement and engagement offered by a tool like the iPad. Teachers of English-Language Learners (ELLs) can use technology to promote growth in their students. Developing a strong vocabulary is an important area of focus for ELLs who are building their reading comprehension. Educators use a variety of strategies to grow readers in their classroom, and there are many free iPad apps that support vocabulary acquisition.

Kids' Vocab by MindSnacks

This is one of my favorite literacy apps for all students, and it is a great tool for ELLs. Kids' Vocab by MindSnacks introduces students to Tier 3, low-frequency, context-specific vocabulary words. Each set of words is organized around a theme and built on games that keep children excited about learning. With supports and positive reinforcement, students who struggle won't feel defeated, since words are repeated as they work toward mastery. The high-quality graphics and engaging activities will grab your students' attention as they increase their Tier 3 vocabulary.

English First High Flyers

EF High Flyers is an easy-to-use game that helps students learn new vocabulary words starting with numbers and everyday objects. After studying a set of words (with audio and picture support), they test their knowledge through spelling, vocabulary listening and reading quizzes. The emphasis on a variety of skills holds students accountable for having a comprehensive understanding of how to use each new set of words.


If you're looking for a way to load your students' iPads with custom vocabulary, check out Flashcardlet by Quizlet. It allows students to access decks of flashcards you've made right from their iPads. Quizlet is a free website where you can create flashcards decks based on your own list of words. Whether they correspond to the vocabulary in a social studies unit or simply help students learn new words, you can use this app to support a variety of ELL students. I love the feature on this site that lets teachers use one of Quizlet's definitions (instead of writing their own). It even has choices of images that teachers can match to their vocabulary words. Displaying pictures next to the vocabulary word and its definition will help students working to expand their English vocabulary. The Flashcardlet app loaded on your class' iPads (or iPod Touch) will let students swipe through the cards you've created on Quizlet, identify any words where they need extra practice, and monitor their own progress.


A great game for 1-4 players, Futaba presents players with pictures of everyday items and asks them to name each object. Simple and fun, this is a game that encourages player competition to see who can choose the correct name for an item from a list of four choices. Whoever gets the most correct answers in one minute wins the round. Whether students are playing in groups or practicing solo, this game is sure to add new words to their vocabulary. Futaba also has an upgrade that offers customizable features.

Have you had success using technology to support English-Language Learners? What are some of your favorite apps?

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Filed Under

  • Technology Integration
  • English Language Learners
  • English Language Arts
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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