Wednesday, 21 September 2011

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Free iPad Apps for the ELT Classroom

One of the great things about having an iPad in the classroom is the quick and immediate access it gives you to relevant and authentic content. It’s the perfect tool for a materials light, one to one teacher like me because something interesting can crop up in conversation and I can almost instantaneously bring up a great resource to share with the student.

Recently, a student told me that she was tired of all the lies in the media and I jumped on YouTube and showed her a clip of Bill Hicks talking about “the truth” (she’s the kind of student who’s not offended by Bill Hicks!) Another time she told me that her favourite place in London was Waterloo Bridge, and one minute later she’s listening to Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks.

So it goes without saying that YouTube is an essential app, but since I’ve had my iPad for a couple of months now, I thought I’d compile some of the apps that I’ve found most useful in the classroom, or see potential in although I haven’t had the opportunity to use them so far.


Here I go, banging on about the Guardian again, but their Eyewitness is a beautiful and simple app that have used several times. It’s a ‘picture of the day’ app, so every 24 hours there’s a new sumptuous image that could be used in a variety of ways. The photograph below was very useful after the London riots, especially used in tandem with the next app.

The app from Life Magazine has collections from their extensive photography vaults. It begins with a handy map of the world, so you can check for pictures for the area your students are interested in. You can also search by theme. I used the collection of London during the war photographs to contrast with the riot photo from the Guardian app.

For more images, you could also try the Heritage app for pictures from UNESCO world heritage sites.


For news, there are plenty of interesting apps that give you quick and easy access to what is going on the world. BBC News is clear and easy to use, as is the Channel 4 news app. I also like the News360 app because you scroll through news stories by picture alone, and could get the students to choose a story based on nothing other than the image. Newsy is also a good source for up to date content.

Hitpad is another interesting way to access what’s going on in the world. It presents the news in a series of streams (news stories, videos, tweets, photos and web). It’s a great resource for getting information on a topic from a variety of sources.


ShowYou aggregates a variety of different and unusual videos from a range of sources (which you can preset, if you wish). It has an almost unlimited potential to give you something interesting to use with your students. Square Eyes is a similar app.

Videojug specialises in ‘how-to’ videos, so if you’re looking to use an instructional videos, they have a huge selection to choose from.

And of course there is TED, which has two apps, the normal TED app and, especially for learners, a fantastic app with subtitles. The script scrolls at the bottom of the screen, and can be used to control the video. So if the learner wants to go back because they didn’t understand a particular phrase, they just touch that line in the script and the video will jump there. I think it’s pretty obvious how useful that could be.


For business students, you can download copies of the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine and Entrepreneur magazine for authentic and interesting materials.


If you’re lucky enough to use literature with your students, there are thousands of free books available. However most of them are out of copyright, and being over 80 years, they may present a challenge even for advanced learners. My favourite books app, apart from the native iBooks app, is the aptly named Free Books, which is browsable by topic area, such as epic epics, banned books, ghost stories, pulp and young readers.

Other great book apps include Shakespeare, Poetry (a random poem generator), Stanza, and the British Library’s beautifully presented 19th Century Books app.

Teacher Tools

From a more obvious educational standpoint, there are some lovely whiteboards apps such as Screenchomp, where you can record what you write or draw and send it to the students, and ShowMe, which is very similar. I’m also very curious about SpeedGrader, which seems to allow you manage your classes homework, amongst several other things, but since I’m teaching one to ones at the moment, I haven’t really explored.

Finally, I’m not a fan of using the phonetic chart in my classes, but if you are, then you really need to download Macmillan’s gorgeous app. Not only do you have the chart in your hand, but you have the sounds too, in either British or American English.

I’m always looking for new apps, so if you have any that you’d like to recommend, leave a comment below. Thanks.


  1. Hi James,
    perfect timing! I've just downloaded almost all of those apps. In my one day of owning an iPad I've really enjoyed using Flipboard and Zite. Particularly like using the interface of the first. Thanks for helping me get started :)

  2. Thanks Sandy, I knew you'd just bought the iPad when I wrote this, but this post wasn't solely for your benefit! The timing couldn't have been better for you though. Make sure you report back on any cool apps you find as you're exploring, as I'm sure I'll be doing a part two in a few months.

    I really like those apps you mentioned too, but I think they're better for personal consumption than as resources in the classroom. They've just got too much personal content from my social networks in them for me to hand them over to the students. They are definite must haves for iPad users though.

  3. Nice write-up and I can imagine iPad-having teachers must be excited to discover new apps... but... i don't have one (sobbing in background).

    Cheers, b

  4. Thanks Brad, I promise I won't make you jealous at TESOL France...much! :-)

  5. Hi James!

    Awesome post - most of these I do not have on my iPad, so you can understand that I have been downloading them in a frenzy!

    Instead of Free Books I have iBooks, but both of them seem to have loads of great books, so I will download that one too : )

    I absolutely loved the poetry ones.

    Thank you so much for all these apps, James!

    Talk soon,

  6. Hi Vicky, thanks for your comment and I hope you have fun with your new apps!

  7. James, you make me jealous definitely.^^ If I teach high school student,it'll be really cool. Can I connect those sites with my labtop? I think it'll be helpful to me.

  8. Hi Jini. Sorry, I didn't mean to make you jealous! Unfortunately, all of the above are apps for iPads and maybe iPhones. However, there are probably are similar websites you can use. If there's anything in particular you need, let me know and I'll see if I can recommend something.

  9. Hi James,

    Have you checked out ESL LaunchPad? It's a very useful app if you are an English Teacher.

    Thanks for the other recommendations. I'm going to download them now!

  10. I just got an ipad yesterday so I'm looking forward to downloading a few of these later. Will let you know how I go and if I come across anything else of interest on my travels.

    Very exciting indeed!!!

    1. Thanks Lisa, I should really do an update soon so I'd be interested to see if you've got any recommendations for me. Have fun with your new iPad!

  11. Heya James. I'm late to the party, I'm afraid. I've just subscribed on my RSS as I keep coming across excellent post after excellent post, invariably recommended my someone in our mutual PLN.

    Glad I have - your post are right up my street.

    While I'm at it, HUGE fan of the Guardian Eyewitness app myself. The amazing quality of the photos, and sometime relative ambiguity and bizarre perspective, can make for some really interested classroom discussion.

    I'm really looking forward to more posts. :)


  12. Thanks Emma, and no problem, it's better to be late to the party than not turn up at all! I really appreciate your feedback and hope you enjoy what you see.

  13. Hi, thanks for this useful list. I've been looking for language apps but there are only a few good ones. Some of them I've already downloaded in my ipad. TED is one of my favorite apps. I use it with my students to teach about speaking.



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