A principal once gave me brutal but eye-opening feedback that I’ll never forget.
You see, I started teaching when I was young.
As a twenty-something, I always sought to integrate technology as much as possible.
But I got overwhelmed with all the storytelling apps, games and even tools that help teachers with classroom management.
When there’s so much technology available, how does one choose wisely?
It was difficult to hear what my principal had to say, but I was grateful (eventually) because it changed the way I planned for my classroom. During our discussion, as I very proudly told her everything I was doing, she hesitantly said, “I feel like you’re doing twice as much work as the other teachers, but only getting half the results.”
I was crushed. She felt I was making everything much more complicated than it needed to be, and I had to agree. I wanted to integrate every new idea I heard, and to be honest, I was tired and she was right. My students weren’t benefiting.
I’m not going to lie and say I changed overnight, but I did vow to find the simplest solution and work smarter, not harder. I would only use tools if they helped the students meet the objectives and not just because they were “fun” (although I hoped they would do both).
The tools also needed to be simple. I hated when I tried a new technology tool, only to see five to ten hands going up every few minutes because my students needed assistance. I’d be so frustrated by the end of class that I’d never want to use that particular tool again.
So the apps you’ll find below are simple. They’re also grouped by level to help you differentiate because as much as we wish one tool would work for all students, we know that’s not true!
What Is Differentiation and Why Is It Important?
Teachers know that students in one class differ greatly.
What might be good for Student A isn’t necessarily the best thing for Student B. That’s where differentiation comes in.
If you’ve been in education long enough, you might start hissing when you see that word. For those who might not know what it is, let’s take a quick look at what it means.
Differentiation is the teacher’s effort to meet the needs of the various learners in their classroom. There are four areas a teacher can adjust to do this:
- Content: What the student needs to learn
- Process: How the student learns the information
- Product: How the student demonstrates that he/she has met the objective
- Learning Environment: How the classroom works
I’m not going to lie. This is fabulous in theory, but very difficult to implement in the real world. When you have six classes with 24-32 students in each class, but you only have one period dedicated to planning, this isn’t an easy thing to do.
But I know the desire to help is in the heart of every teacher. Every teacher loves to see the light bulb turn on for that one student who just hasn’t been getting it and finally does. That motivates us to keep going.
And that’s why differentiation is important. We want every student to learn, but we know they don’t all learn in the same way. Even in a single period of Spanish I where none of the students have had any Spanish, they still learn at different paces. That’s why it’s good to have more than one tool in your teaching tool belt.
Whether you teach novice, intermediate or advanced learners, you’ll see that these apps are very purposeful in that they help engage all students in various stages of the language-learning process.
12 Great Apps Spanish Teachers Need to Know About
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Apps for Novice Spanish Learners
Below is how the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages describes this level. You can download a full description of each level as a PDF from the ACTFL website.
Novice-level speakers can communicate short messages on highly predictable, everyday topics that affect them directly. They do so primarily through the use of isolated words and phrases that have been encountered, memorized, and recalled. Novice-level speakers may be difficult to understand even by the most sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to non-native speech.
These apps help increase student vocabulary and basic sentence structure. Students get to practice predictable text and increase their knowledge of sentence structure through familiar vocabulary and repeated text.
BrainPOP Película del Día
iTunes | Android | Amazon
The free version of this app allows students to watch a short movie a day and take a multiple-choice quiz. Although the language might be difficult for a beginner, students still need the opportunity to hear it.
When you enter the app, you can go straight to the Película del día or you can choose from the categories, one of which is Español. It takes a paid subscription to access all the tools, but there are free videos in each section.
The topics of the videos vary daily, but the pictures and subtitles give students the ability to get the gist. Don’t let the animation fool you, though, because BrainPOP isn’t just for little ones. The video topics range from the U.N. Peace Treaty to civil rights, so they’re definitely appropriate for older viewers.
iTunes | Android
This app is great for practicing vocabulary, and it can be used in the whole group or in student pairs. Students are given a blank canvas, and they can create anything from stick figures to great works of art with one finger!
You can change the language to Spanish and have students connect with their classmates to play; they can choose from the Adivina Ahora section or connect to other users. There are enough options to keep your class entertained for a while. Although they’ll only type one word, make the students verbally answer in a complete sentence with Es un/a _____.
iTunes | Android | Website
I’ve included this app in the section for novice learners, but it’s excellent for students of any level! Especially when your students are just beginning, this is a fun, engaging app to help them to start learning Spanish.
These videos become unique Spanish lessons for every user. Your students can choose videos that work with their learning style, Spanish level and personal interests.
Plus, FluentU provides plenty of tools to actively practice Spanish vocabulary and grammar, like interactive subtitles, flashcards, vocabulary lists and more.
So students love it, but it’s also a smart choice for teachers and educational institutions because it offers special plans for many different kinds of schools and learning institutions. FluentU also lets you assign homework to your students and gives you an overview of your students’ progress.
Spanish Playground Learning Games for Kids Fruit
Although this app only has one topic, it packs a punch because it teaches a sentence structure that they’ll see a lot in their Spanish journey: Hay un/a ______. Students can choose from various games that continually reinforce the vocabulary.
There’s a “Simon Says” style game where the computer highlights a pattern with the fruits, and then the user has to imitate the pattern. There’s also a game that asks you to put the syllables in the correct place to spell a word.
Apps for Intermediate Spanish Learners
Speakers at this level:
are distinguished primarily by their ability to create with the language when talking about familiar topics related to their daily life. They are able to recombine learned material in order to express personal meaning. Intermediate level speakers can ask simple questions and can handle a straightforward survival situation. They produce sentence-level language, ranging from discrete sentences to strings of sentences, typically in present time. Intermediate-level speakers are understood by interlocutors who are accustomed to dealing with non-native learners of the language.
These students are beyond only words and highly-familiar phrases. They’re able to put sentences together, but still need more practice with past and future tenses, as well as more opportunities to increase their vocabulary. The apps below were chosen because they’re highly contextualized.
Coffee Break Spanish
Okay, this is a podcast, but it’s fabulous because it’s designed for language learners. Each season follows the story of a character or two through diary entries, emails, phone calls or conversations.
The characters are from different countries of the Spanish-speaking world, so students hear different accents and different colloquialisms. The narrator reads a part of the story in Spanish and then explains it in English. An episode in the free version lasts anywhere from 10-15 minutes, including the English explanation.
iTunes | Android
Students choose a Spanish soccer team and then have access to that team’s highlights, press conferences, interviews and games. There are approximately 40 teams to choose from and hundreds of videos they can watch. Luckily, there’s also an option to bookmark videos and watch them later.
The language can be changed to Spanish for an extra challenge.
Apps for Advanced Spanish Learners
Advanced Spanish speakers:
engage in conversation in a clearly participatory manner in order to communicate information on autobiographical topics, as well as topics of community, national, or international interest. The topics are handled concretely by means of narration and description in the major times frames of past, present, and future. These speakers can also deal with a social situation with an unexpected complication. The language of Advanced-level speakers is abundant, the oral paragraph being the measure of Advanced-level length and discourse. Advanced-level speakers have sufficient control of basic structures and generic vocabulary to be understood by native speakers of the language, including those unaccustomed to non-native speech.
Apps that have been classified as appropriate for advanced learners help students with tricky grammar points, and continue to increase the students’ vocabulary and understanding of longer, more complex sentences.
iTunes | Android
Listening is an incredibly important component of learning a language. Students at the advanced level will still benefit from picture clues, but you can challenge them to see how much they understand by just listening.
There are many Spanish radio apps, but this has been my favorite because of its simplicity and choices. When you open the app, there are about 100 different channels for students to choose from. Some of them describe what type of music they play, such as romantic or spiritual music, but students will need to choose and listen before they can figure out the type of music. Students might be frustrated at first, but given time, they’ll be shocked at how much they can understand.
iTunes | Android
Simply opening this app gives users immediate access to dozens of headline stories, but students can also choose the city that’s closest to them to get the news that’s most pertinent to their lives. There are articles in entertainment and sports, and even links to other general-interest channels like Galavisión and UniMás. Because there are some sections (like the En Vivo, Novelas and Serias tabs) that require cable login information, students probably won’t be able to access them, at least not in class. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to keep them engaged even without a cable subscription.
iTunes | Android
We all know one of the best ways to increase vocabulary is to read, read, read! Wattpad is an app that gives free access to stories and books. If you’re used to the Kindle app, it may take a few minutes to get accustomed to the layout, but it’s well worth it. Students will have instant access to books from all over the world, from chapter books to memes en español. Be careful, though, since it’s a bit of rabbit hole and you can get lost for hours (like I do) discovering all the stories that are available!
Apps for the Spanish Teacher
The Language Educator Magazine
iTunes | Android
Have you ever gone to a professional development session and been really pumped up and excited? That’s what reading this magazine does for me. It connects me to others in the same profession and gives me ideas on how to improve.
Through this app, I have free access to the magazine published by the ACTFL. There are articles ranging from interviews by well-known experts and innovators to best practices in the language classroom. And I love that I can also download previous volumes. I might not be able to go to the ACTFL convention, but this is the next best thing.
This app is designed to assist teachers in unit lesson planning. Its resources include essential questions, a blank unit template, a list of language functions and examples. Teachers have the ability to plan a unit or a lesson then save it to their library for future reference. If you’re in a state that teaches Common Core, there’s a handy index of anchor standards you can access while planning your lessons.
iTunes | Android
I’ve had so much fun both using this app in the classroom as well as at workshops where I’ve been a presenter. It’s very quick and easy to use, and everyone enjoys it. Kahoot! allows you to create a multiple-choice “quiz” which then generates a code, allowing the participants to access the quiz. Project the quiz onto a screen and you can see students answer in real time. You can’t move on to the next question until everyone submits their answers. Both the teacher and students get immediate feedback. The questions are whatever you want them to be: as simple as vocabulary or as complex as advanced grammar and culture questions.
As with all technology tools, you’ll need to check out the apps above yourself to know whether or not they’ll meet the needs of your students. These apps are not substitutes for good Spanish worksheets, for example, but they do allow students to have rich, authentic experiences with the Spanish language, which will help them get to the next level.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach Spanish with real-world videos.