25 Tech Tools for English Teachers

These edtech tools (apps and sites), grouped by category but not ranked, may assist in the teaching and assessing of reading and writing in the ELA courses of secondary education teachers. Most are free. Those which require payment for "premium" versions are accompanied by a dollar sign ($). Click each name to learn more.

  1. I Write Like

  2. Hemingwayapp

  3. Draftback

  4. Expresso

  5. Grammarly ($)

  6. SAS Writing Adviser

  7. new MLA Style

  8. The Graide Network ($)

  9. NoRedInk ($)

  10. ProLogo English Verb Flowchart

  11. CommonLit

  12. Books That Grow ($)

  13. Safari Reader

  14. Librivox

  15. Genius

  16. Goodreads

  17. Call Me Ishmael

  18. Podcasts (Serial, Revisionist History)

  19. TED Ed

  20. Lynda ($)

  21. PollEv

  22. TodaysMeet

  23. Kahoot!

  24. Quizziz

  25. Quizlet Live

Using Padlet to Collect and Showcase Students' Creative Writing (parody poems of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams in conjunction with This American Life)

During a grueling poetry research project, students need occasional breaks, so I give them poetry "snacks."  Early in the project I hook students on Def Poetry Jam with Gemini's "Poetic Bloodline" and Steve Coleman's "I Wanna Hear a Poem." We watch Billy Collins recite "Litany" before viewing a 3-year-old boy from Tucson do the same.  We talk about National Poem-in-your-Pocket Day.  I encourage them to savor language as Stephen Fry suggests even while we scrutinize, analyze, perform scansion, count syllables, etc.

Period 6 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.

One of my favorite micro-lessons in poetry begins with the "Mistakes Were Made" episode of This American Life and ends with emulation/parody poems written in the style of "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams.  The episode highlights the fact that the poem has rich anecdotal weight, a clear structure, and a satisfying #sorrynotsorry finish.

The episode features a dozen or so parody or spoof emulations of the original Williams poem.  I point out to students the basic structure of the poem.

Stanza 1: The Sin -- The transgression, malfeasance, act, wronging

Stanza 2: The Deepening -- The context that makes the transgression even worse than first suspected

Stanza 3: The False Apology -- The #sorrynotsorry approach to acknowledging the sin but often through rationalization or downplaying


After the segment (Act II, "You're Willing to Sacrifice Our Love" starts at 49:43), I ask students to write one or two or three of these false apology paraody poems. Since the examples they hear are often darkly humorous, ironic, or otherwise heavy, many of the student pieces match.

WARNING: Some of the poems by NPR correspondents engage adult themes and mature humor and may not be suitable for all student audiences.

After 5-8 minutes, I ask students to post one of their poems to a Padlet from a link in the daily plan.  Now, they can see the poems of their peers, displayed like sticky notes, much in the same way William Carlos Williams purportedly left his "This is Just to Say" note for his wife in the kitchen.  In Padlet, students can paste in their poem text or insert an image. Some students screenshot their work and modify it to look like a kitchen counter note.

As poems surface on the Padlet wall, students read each other's work and nominate the poems that should be read aloud. A benefit of Padlet over Google Docs in this case use is the form factor of the adjustable entries. Students can resize the boxes, and this encourages experiments in line breaks to increase readability. Teachers can move notes and prioritize certain poems as if rearranging stickies on a bulletin board.

I can see many applications for Padlet. Since it supports image upload, students could quickly share in bulletin board style art they made, photos they took, memes they generated, etc.  The ability to rate/score comment on another student's work would improve the app.

Period 1 students publish their "This is Just to Say" parody poems on a Padlet. This is a quick and easy way to share work, especially short written work,  in a form a bit more visually interesting than Google Docs.

Dictionary.com widget in iOS Notifications screen provides an SAT-level word question-of-the-moment

The built-in touch-to-define feature in iOS is an easy way for a student to access the meaning of a word in the context of reading. Membean has been a great tool, too, for expanding my students' vocabulary, but recently I discovered that the Dictionary.com App has an accompanying widget that appears in iOS's notification screen.

The Dictionary.com Widget displays a recent word-of-the-day and three possible definitions. Pick the right one and click "Next Word."

The Dictionary.com widget will display a word and three possible meanings. Users can access the widget by swiping down from the top of the screen to reveal the notifications panel, answer the multiple choice question, and retrieve another question. A simple swipe up hides the notifications.

The Dictionary.com Widget will display correct or incorrect feedback within the notification.

The widget is hidden until you "Edit" your notifications panel. To do this, swipe down from the top of the screen, scroll to the bottom of the panel, and select "Edit."   All apps that support widgets will appear, and you can toggle them off and on.

Swipe down to reveal notifications. Scroll down and press "Edit" to add/remove widgets.

Use the (+) symbol to add the Dictionary.com Widget to your Notifications.

Sometimes navigating to an app and loading it can take 5-10 seconds.  With notifications, a simple swipe-down reveals the question-of-the-day from Dictionary.com. Students can answer 2 or 3 questions in that same 5-10 seconds during down time between classes, on the morning commute, or whenever.

How my Students Use Membean

Last May my students helped me assemble a video showcasing Membean, a comprehensive English vocabulary trainer that we've used at Brophy for the last three years.  My sophomores train 45 minutes per week, and my juniors train 60.  Since students are the end-user, they often find bugs or identify ways to improve the product.  The CEO of Membean has told me numerous times that the students' feature requests have shaped the way the product has improved over the years.  Close working relationships with edtech companies like Membean have made me excited to integrate productive tools into my teaching.

An introduction to the use of Membean (comprehensive vocabulary trainer) by students at Brophy College Preparatory in Mr. John Damaso's English classes.

UPDATE 26 May 2015: Membean featured this video in their Teacher Spotlight.