Monday, 16 August 2010

Apps on the ipad for ESL teachers and students

I’ve been using the Kindle app on the ipad since I bought the device and it’s now become my primary means of consuming books. To start with, there is a huge selection of books to choose from, you can buy them directly from the device, you can get samples of any book to see whether you want to purchase it and you can sync the books across multiple devices. So, for example, I sometimes read books on my Android phone and I can stop reading at a page in a book on my ipad and when I go to read it on my phone, it will be bookmarked at exactly the same page. Very, very cool.

One thing that they added in the latest version of the app is a dictionary look-up option. So, you can touch on a word in a book and it will bring up a definition of it at the bottom of the page. If you then want more information about the word, you can click on ‘full definition’ and it will pull up the word’s entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary. You’ve also got the option to do a Wikipedia or Google Search on the word. 

I began to think that this would be very useful for ESL students when reading books to be able to look up words and check their meaning. There’s also the option to annotate words/sentences on the page, so students can write their own notes about words or content that interest them.

And while I was looking at the Kindle I wondered what kinds of ESL books are actually on offer for the device both for teachers and students. Not much at the moment to be honest, but I think that's because so many ESL books are heavily formatted with pictures, diagrams and tables and those are the most difficult books to digitize. But there are some available on the market, a few grammar reference and exercise books, some teacher resource books (e.g. from the Cambridge series). But at least the ones that are available are slightly or in some cases quite significantly cheaper than their hard copy equivalent.

Another app I downloaded that I thought could be very useful in the classroom is iAnnotate, a PDF reader for the ipad that gives you the option to highlight, underline or make notes on the document. I think this was one of the initial concerns about the use of the ipad in education, whether it could adequately cope with the daily academic needs of students (textbooks, extensive notetaking) but I think there are enough apps out now to suggest it can. 

It’s a little expensive (about £5) but it is very easy to transfer PDFs from PC to ipad and annotating the documents is easy. Certainly for the students at my school this would be a very useful app as they have to read quite a lot of articles in their various academic skills classes.

One more app I thought might be useful in the classroom is Mobile Mouse, an app that lets you control your computer’s screen via the ipad. This means that from a distance you can open and close programs, surf the web, open and type Word documents and you can use the multi-touch on the ipad screen to zoom in and out. 

I think this would be a useful tool for adding things to the smartboard while moving around the room and students could do the same.

So yes, there are lots of apps out there that could easily be used in the classroom and I’ll give some of them a go in the next couple of months.


  1. If it does the job it's worth it, i'm going to check it out!

  2. The revolution has started. The first ever interactive, "multi-touch" textbook, a resource designed to maximize oral output in the classroom, has just been published for iPad. This new classroom resource is called Catalyst: A Conversation Taskbook for English Language Learners and you can find out more by visiting or you can just download the free sample on iTunes here: Catalyst is also available in traditional paper.