Need a tool to keep your students engaged with reading during distance learning? How about 5?

In this blog post, I’ll be reviewing the 5 best reading apps for distance learning.

Why it’s Important

It’s totally possible to teach rigorous content in fun and engaging ways. All teachers know this.

But teachers also know this can already be a struggle – even without a global pandemic.

Add in the online, distance learning component – and it gets even harder to deliver and facilitate high-quality, engaging instruction.

We all know that student interest and engagement are critical in the success of a lesson, and when that it’s especially important when teaching a new concept.

However, activities that are highly engaging, are typically not as rigorous. So when a tool allows you to teach rigorous content in a fun and engaging way, teachers need to know about it!

During the past several months, I’ve discovered several apps that enhance my reading and language arts instruction – and I figured it was time to share this with teachers who are looking for these tools.

So without further adieu, here are the 5 best reading apps for distance learning.

The 5 Best Best Reading Apps for Distance Learning

In case you don’t have time to read this whole article tonight, here’s the shortlist (in no particular order of preference):

  1. Flocabularya website full of lessons that include rich vocabulary, fun class-wide games, and handout worksheets for individual practice.

    All of their lessons are fun, engaging, in-line with common core standards, and distance-learning friendly.
  2. Power Spellingthis website allows you to build your own spelling lists (or search from the open-source database), to have students practice and test on said words while playing engaging games.

    If you use a particular curriculum, this site is especially useful – as it has hundreds of word lists available for you to choose from.
  3. Nearpodit’s difficult to explain with Nearpod even is in a few sentences. But essentially, Nearpod is a collection of interactive slideshows and lessons that students can either do at their own pace, or together with you as a class.

    And it’s not quite fair to just classify this as an app for reading, or even language arts – because they also have plenty of lessons available for social studies, history, science, and languages.
  4. Dreamscape a role-playing game where students read passages, answer comprehension questions, and gain resources to build their designated area.

    This is a great example of gamification. Students are given resources and opportunities to “slow down time” – and in order to acquire these resources, they need to correctly answer reading comprehension questions based on given passages.
  5. Get Epica completely free and extensive online library. Students can find books, graphic novels, educational videos, and audiobooks at any reading level.

    If your school does AR (the Accelerated Reader program), you can even filter book collections and assignments by AR level – which allows students to find and use items they can read fluently.

In-depth Review of the 5 Best Reading Apps for Distance Learning

Have a little more time? Great!

Keep reading to learn more about each of these apps – including tips and tricks for using them in your Google Classroom.

How to Use Flocabulary in Your Google Classroom

5 Best Reading Apps for Distance Learning
Here’s a screenshot of the intro to their Author’s Purpose lesson (a super fun one, by the way!).

Flocabulary is definitely one of the 5 best reading apps for distance learning.

In fact, it might even be the best.

The lesson starts with a video that helps students engage with the concept, build background knowledge, get exposed to the vocabulary, and honestly just enjoy for a minute.

These are NOT cheesy music lessons!! These videos and songs are written and performed by talented artists.

I often find my students singing or humming along to them, hours after each lesson.

And, since my students ask about them so often, I’ve actually included a collection of Flocabulary rap videos for them in Google Classroom. Thankfully, many of them are on YouTube.

Here’s the video from their pronoun lesson so you can get a better idea of what to expect.

Here’s the video from the Pronoun lesson in Flocabulary. You can find many of these videos on YouTube.

Typically, this is how I structure and facilitate my Flocabulary lessons:

  1. If needed, I give background on the concept. I share the learning goal and success criteria.
  2. I play through the video once.
  3. I play the video through again, stopping at discussion points. I ask the students questions, and have them respond in the chat box on Google Meet.
  4. I review the vocabulary cards with them. To make it more fun for them, I usually draw an example for each card (they looooove seeing your drawing if it’s poor!!)
  5. I do a quick check to see if they remember what the words mean. I might ask them to use the word in a sentence. I might review them all again with them, or I move on to the Vocab game.
  6. The Vocab game is my favorite part of the lesson. You receive 20 questions, which you’ll share in real time via Google Meet. Have your students type their answer to each question in the chat box. Certain questions, when answered correctly, add another layer to the beat that you’re building together. By the end of the song, you’ve built a catchy hip-hop track with your class.
  7. Individual worksheet practice. Sometimes, I’ll use the handouts from the Flocabulary lesson as another whole-group activity. Or, I’ll assign them in Google Slides as independent practice.
  8. Sometimes, I do Read & Respond with them. Essentially, this is a list of different passages that allow for them to practice the skill or strategy that they’re learning.
  9. And when we have extra time, or when they’ve earned a reward of a fun activity, I’ll do the Lyric Lab with them. In this activity, students build a rap song based on the vocabulary words they learned throughout that lesson. We usually build the song together, then I’ll go first (they love that!). From there, I ask for volunteers.

And that’s pretty much it. The entire Flocabulary lesson can take anywhere between 35-50 minutes – depending on which components you use, and how much background knowledge the students had beforehand.

Cost: Individual plans are $10 monthly (billed annually), or $15 per month. Some of the lesson videos are on YouTube. Your school administrator would need to contact them for a quote.

Google Classroom Compatibility: As of December 2020, you can only sync Flocabulary lessons into your Google Classroom with a school plan. I use my individual plan for whole-group lessons in Google Meet.

Ease of Use: 8/10. Very easy for teachers to use – even for those who don’t really like technology.

Though I said I wasn’t listing them in order, out of the 5 best reading apps for distance learning, I’d have no trouble saying it deserves the number one spot.

Ways to Use Power Spelling in Your Google Classroom

While it’s hard to put them in order, Power Spelling definitely deserves its place among the 5 best reading apps for distance learning.

It’s worth noting that this app isn’t as intuitive as others on this list.

I consider myself pretty tech-savvy, and this app took some getting-used-to at first.

Essentially, Power Spelling is a website and app that allows for self-study, self-practice, and self-assessment of weekly spelling words. Instead of just promoting rote memorization, students are encouraged to chunk words by their individual sounds, and modified sounds by surrounding letters.

Basically, it’s great for teachers who use systematic phonics-based instruction, when it comes to showing students how to read.

While I’m not a huge fan of the robot-y voice used, it’s improved recently – so the pronounced words and sentences sound a bit more fluent.

You can see an example of the platform (including the voice used in the study), in this YouTube video:

This is how I usually use Power Spelling in my day-to-day reading instruction:

  1. Before class, I add the weekly word list into the database (if I can’t find it on the website already).
  2. I’ll review the vocabulary words for the week with the students, before reading our weekly anchor text.
  3. After reading the weekly anchor text, I’ll review the vocabulary words again, to scaffold their learning.
  4. I’ll play the hangman game with them on PowerSpelling. Sometimes, I have them participate in the chat box. At other times, I’ll ask them to speak quickly into the mic to make the letter sound.
  5. I assign 5 games for them to play throughout the week. These games vary, but generally, they’re designed to help the students practice spelling the words. Sometimes, a “game” can mean a simple crossword puzzle.

When teaching in-person, I usually do a test at the end of the week – but I don’t do that right now in the virtual environment.

Should you decide you want to, you can either assign an automated test (which grades itself), you can set it up where you administer the test to all students at one time.

Cost: Here are the price plans available for Power Spelling memberships:

  • Class plans are $29 per year for up to 35 students.
  • Parent plans are$19 per year for up to 5 students.
  • Multi-class plans are $79 per year for up to 150 students.
  • School-wide annual memberships are $2 per student.

Google Classroom Compatibility: As of December 2020, Power Spelling cannot sync with Google Classroom. However, you can present and play games via present mode in Google Meetings. And, you can link the site as as Assignment, Material, or in a stream post, in your Google Classroom. Power Spelling has become a daily independent activity for my students. This is also how I conduct spelling tests each week, and I use this tool in conjunction with my daily phonics lessons.

Ease of Use: 6/10. This website is not as intuitive as many others on the market. But once you have a handle on it, Power Spelling can save you a ton of time and stress in the classroom.

Using Nearpod in Your Google Classroom

Nearpod definitely deserves its spot among the 5 best reading apps for distance learning. It’s practically designed for it!

The simplest way to describe Nearpod, is to say that it’s like YouTube and Google Slides in one – but on steroids.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, than a video is worth a million.

Here’s a super short video that explains exactly what Nearpod is, and how it works in the virtual or blended classroom.

There are really only two ways to use Nearpod lessons.

  1. Assign Nearpod lessons as “at-your-own-pace” activities. This allows for each student to progress through the lesson materials at their own speed.
  2. Do the lessons together as a class. I used Nearpod before I was teaching via distance learning, because I think the tool lends itself well to in-class instruction.

Nearpod itself is a free to use on the Silver version, and there are many free resources available. Note, however, that there are some limitations to the free version. You can only have 40 students on at one time, which will be more than enough for most elementary teachers. But this is something to consider if you teach multiple sections of one class.

However, it’s very similar to TeachersPayTeachers in the sense that the most appealing lessons are purchased for a one-time fee.

If you’re great at creating engaging lessons, you can actually sell them on Nearpod for an additional revenue stream. 😉

Cost: There are several pricing plans to choose from when using Nearpod:

  • Silver (free)
  • Gold ($120 per year, or $10 monthly)
  • Platinum ($349 per year, or $29 monthly)
  • School and district plans would be built based on needs and quotes

Google Classroom Compatibility: One huge benefit of using Nearpod, is the ease of syncing with Google Classroom. If your school or class uses Google Classroom for your LMS (Learning Management System),

Ease of Use: 6/10. This website is not as intuitive as many others on the market. But once you have a handle on it, Power Spelling can save you a ton of time and stress in the classroom.

Using Dreamscape in Your Google Classroom

Dreamscape is a great example of teaching reading through gamification.

It’s basically an MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game, for you non-gamers!), that’s completely age appropriate and fun for the students.

As players acquire resources, they’re able to slow down and reverse time – and build fun things in their own little designated space.

This video gives a more in-depth overview that goes into how this game bridges the gap between learning to read, and reading to learn.

I use Dreamscape for ongoing assessment, as well as an opportunity for enrichment and reading comprehension practice.

In the classroom, the daily independent practice activities I assign to my students, look much different than they do now.

Dreamscape is one of the activities I require. So, students practice on Dreamscape for the first 20 minutes of the day while I take attendance, check completion of homework from the day before, and generally check in with each kid on a 1:1 basis.

Cost: It’s completely free to use the base game, but there are some items available to students playing on a paid program. For the paid membership, you can pay $8.95 monthly. Or, you can pay $59.98 per year to save.

Google Classroom Compatibility: Dreamscape is its own website and game, so it doesn’t exactly sync with Google Classroom. Similarly to Power Spelling, however, you can link the website as Material in your Google Classroom. Or, you can post the link on the Stream. I also usually share the link in the chat box at the beginning of the daily Google Meeting, just to make things a bit quicker and easier for my students.

Ease of Use: 9/10. Dreamscape is so easy for students to use. At the beginning of the year, I do walk them through the beginning stages of game play – but I find that they usually don’t need it! Students are naturally great at exploring and figuring out games on their own. They’re natural scientists!

Teachers will love the array of reports available on the educator dashboard, especially if you use F&P reading levels at your school.

How to Best Utilize Get Epic With Your Google Classroom

I am so thankful for Get Epic.

I used their service often before the pandemic – but ever since we transitioned to full-time online teaching, it’s been a Godsend.

Get Epic is a FREE, massive online library – where students can find traditional books, graphic novels, comic books, traditional novels, and just about anything else you can think of.

There are a few choices in medium, as well.

There are traditional books, where students just read on their own.

There are also “Read-to-Me” books – which included well-read audio files, and tracking that follows the speaker, to assist emerging readers.

There’s also a plethora of audiobooks (including the ever-popular “I Survived” series, which my students love), and educational videos. I often use the instructional videos of how to create various origami animals as an end-of-week reward!

This video (though, it’s more of a commercial!) tells you all about it.

There are soooo many ways to use Get Epic’s resources in the classroom – whether digitally, or in-person.

I’ve used GetEpic successfully as a:

  • Center for independent reading time
  • Reward (that doesn’t cost anything! woooo!)
  • Source of books for literacy circles
  • Way to assign required reading
  • Instructional support, when using educational videos to build background knowledge
  • Independent learning activity, where they can practice a weekly skill or strategy

The possibilities are endless with this app. You can use it a million different ways.

Cost: It’s free for teachers to use. When you sign up, do be careful to ensure you’re signing up as an educator, and not as a parent. Parents do pay to use the program.

Google Classroom Compatibility: Since GetEpic is a separate site and app, it does not sync with Google Classroom. However, you can list the link in an Assignment where Get Epic resources will be used. You can also just list the link under Material, or in a Stream post.

Ease of Use: 9/10. The only reason GetEpic isn’t getting 10/10, is because it can be a VERY heavy load on students’ computers if they don’t have a solid internet connection. I live and work on a reservation – so as you can imagine, as it’s common in most rural areas, the internet service is poor and slow. Keep this mind when allotting time for use of Get Epic.


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What Are Your Favorite Reading Apps?

This post lists what I consider to be the 5 best reading apps for distance learning. But I totally understand that everyone has a different top 5 list!

What do you think are the 5 best reading apps for distance learning?

I’d love to hear your response in the comments below.

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5 Best Reading Apps for Distance Learning

About Author

I'm just another teacher who loves to travel! I currently live and teach on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. I enjoy teaching and learning about history, culture and language. I also love creating and sharing opportunities! I look forward to growing this community with you.

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