Developing an Appetite for Apps

I can’t say that my own use of apps is on par with many others. I rely heavily on my iPhone, but mostly for email, appointments, photographs, Internet searches, and alarms. My children, however, love the iPad and all that it offers.  I try to limit screen time, but it’s hard to deny their rather frequent request to play educational games which develop their math and reading skills. (It’s much easier to inform them that that Angry Birds will not be on the iPad ever again.) The other day it was my children’s interest in apps that made me take another look at the App Store with a teacher’s eyes rather than a parent’s.

My student Natasha and I were studying in one room of her home while our children were playing in another.  At one point we allowed the kids to take out the iPads. It was interesting to see what apps Natasha’s children were using. A number of their favorites involved everyday activities, such as cooking and shopping. I grew excited just thinking of the kind of language practice those apps prompted for beginner ESL students like Natasha. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Taco Hair Salon ($1.99) – It’s not included in the Educational category, but I think it’s a contender for “Edutainment.” I’ve had students ask me in the past to help them learn what to say when they go to a hair salon. It’s a difficult request to meet without visual aids. This app can help teach related vocabulary: cut, trim, style, etc.
  • Taco Kitchen ($1.99) – This app by Toca Boca is even better. Not only can you teach everyday vocabulary related to cooking (slice, boil, fry, etc.), you can choose to focus on imperatives or verb tenses (simple present – “We fry meat.” / present progressive – “I am frying vegetables.” / simple past – “I made juice.”) In pairs, students can take turns giving instructions, making requests, or describing actions being performed.
  • MyPlay Chef Lite (Free) – This app is actually marked as Educational. Since it’s free, you have nothing to lose by checking it out. I see possibilities with giving instructions and describing a sequence. Personally, I had some fun building a sandwich: First, I chose two slices of wheat bread. Then I chose turkey and Swiss cheese. Next, I added lettuce and tomato. Finally, I put on some mayo. 
  • Dr. Panda’s Restaurant (Free) – Also from the Educational category, this app from TribePlay combines cooking with serving food and cleaning up. Because it’s free, this version is rather limited, but you’ll get a nice visual aid for actions like washing, rinsing, melting butter, and chopping.

Naturally, as with any resource, you must consider how appropriate an app is for a given student or set of students. Because Natasha is a mother of a preschooler and kindergartner, apps designed for kids are familiar to her in terms of visuals and sound effects. In contrast, going to Dr. Panda’s restaurant may have little appeal for a young professional learning English.

Do you know of other apps that can be repurposed for ELLs? Please feel free to share.

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