(You might also be interested in The Best MATH Sites That Students Can Use Independently And Let Teachers Check On Progress)
I know this “The Best…” list has a very awkward title, but I couldn’t think of a better one.
In our Family Literacy Project we provide home computers and Internet access to immigrant families. Eighty percent of household members spend at least one hour each day (many spend considerably more time) on our website. Three of these seven hours each week need to be spent on one of several websites that act as sort of “virtual classrooms” — students and their family members enter them with a password and we can check online to see how much time they have spent on them.
I thought readers might find it useful to see which ones we’ve determined to be the best for this kind of program. I don’t think there’s much need to use them in school with so many other options available, but they are excellent for homework. The sites we use are easy for the teacher to set-up, very easy for the English Language Learner student to sign-in, and provide a variety of engaging content suitable for all levels, including native-English speakers.
There are sites we use, and which I think stand-out when compared to similar web applications:
Raz-Kids provides a large number of “talking books” at multiple levels that speak-the-text at the same time the words are highlighted. There’s a wide range of fiction and expository text, and is suitable for Beginning and Intermediate readers. It costs $90 annually for one classroom of students.
I Know That has tons of engaging learning exercises and game. It costs $200 to sign-up for a classroom. Not only can you then monitor student progress, but they also can avoid all the annoying ads on the site.
English For All is a series of excellent captioned videos and follow-up activities related to life skills. It’s most appropriate to high school-age and above English Language Learners. This is available at no cost.
I’m adding the Virtual Grammar Lab to this list. It has over 2400 grammar activities, and teachers can create a free account so that they can track student progress.
The final site I want to include on this list is the newest. Unfortunately, it’s only available to California students, though teachers in other areas might want to explore it and potentially replicate it in their own communities.(NOTE: Because of California’s budget crisis, it is also no longer accepting new students, at least for now).
The California Community Colleges have developed a phenomenal website to specifically help English Language Learners prepare for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), the test that all students have to pass in order to receive a high school diploma.
It’s interactive with image, text, and audio support, and is very accessible to Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners.
Now, I don’t believe students should have to pass an exit exam to obtain a high school diploma. I think there are several other ways that are more fair and more effective in determining if a student has gained academic competency.
I also don’t believe in “teaching to the test.” I think that the fact we don’t follow that methodology and, instead, concentrate on developing life-long learners is the reason for our school’s success.
Despite those concerns, I think this program, directed by Pam Thompson and free to California students, is by far the best online program out there for reinforcing academic English and Math skills with Intermediate and Advanced English Language Learners.
I’m adding one more to this list — PBS Kids Island. Once parents/teachers sign-up their children/students, users can practice many of the literacy activities on the PBS website and parents/teachers can monitor their progress. It’s designed for three-to-five year olds now, and will be expanding to those six-to-eight soon. It would be a good site for Beginning English Language Learners.
Here’s another “add-on”– First 55 is a website designed to teach the “first 55″ words someone is supposed to learn to read (I assume, though can’t be sure, that they chose the fifty-five most common sight words). It allows parents or teachers to add students and then be able to check on what they’ve done.
Spellbee! is a spelling game where, after you register, you choose a player to compete with in a spelling contest. Each player chooses from a variety of words and challenges their opponent online to correctly spell the word that is spoken to them in the context of a sentence.
It’s a pretty neat concept and, though the text-to-speech software it uses is definitely not top-tier, it’s still a game students would enjoy playing and would be accessible to Intermediate English Language Learners.
It’s quite easy for players to register very quickly. There’s also a slightly more complicated registration process that students and teachers can use in order for teachers to monitor student progress.
Kubbu was brought to my attention by Dan Sackin, an English teacher in Thailand. Teachers can easily create a number of online exercises for students to complete, and you can easily keep track of how they do. It’s free for one teacher and up to thirty students. Here’s an example of something Dan created for his students.
My Testbook looks like a great addition to this list. It lets students study math, science and English.
English Central was tied for the number-one ranking in The Best Websites For English Language Learner Students — 2009. David Deubelbeiss has posted a very thorough post about the site titled English Central – Bringing “voice” and output to learning English. I’d strongly encourage you to read it — I don’t feel any need to “reinvent the wheel.” A quick description is that it’s a free video site for English Language Learners, lets users listen to parts of the video, then lets them repeat what the characters says and compares it to the original. You get graded on how well you do. It has even more features, but you can read David’s post or check out the site directly. The other great thing about it is that the videos are all appropriate for the classroom, unlike several other ESL video sites that have come online recently. It’s now gotten even better. Teachers can now register their classes and monitor their students’ work — for free.
Zondle is a pretty darn impressive for online learning games. It has tons of content in different subjects, and, if you can’t find what you need, it’s easy to just add your own. The ingenious part is that once you pick the topic you study, you have the option of studying the info in forty different games! Plus, teachers can create their own virtual classroom and track student progress. And, it’s free.
A big thanks to Kelvin Hartell, who let me know about Study Ladder. It has impressive literacy, science and math interactives, and teachers can set-up “classrooms” to keep track of student work. Plus, it’s free!
ZooWhiz is a good — and free — Australian site with tons of interactive games and exercises for pre-school, elementary, and middle school (and for English Language Learners who are even older). Users have to register for the site, and teachers can create virtual classrooms for their students.
TED-Ed allows the creation of quizzes and monitoring of student results. Read more about it at Using TED-Ed Videos.
I’m adding two “sister sites” to this list– Qwizzy’s World (for K-7) and Cram Stoppers (for 8-12). Both only provide quizzes, so they are much more limited than most of the other sites on that list. However, unlike many of the other sites I have posted about, at least the Cram Stoppers might be usable for mainstream higher grades.
Because of their limitations, however, I wouldn’t use it during the school year. I’d just include it as an option for students to use during vacations to limit the summer slide.
Duck’s Alphabet is a phonics site that’s part of WorldWorld on PBS. It’s designed for very young learners, but would also be appropriate for English Language Learners. It’s key feature is that when users sign-up, they list their parents email address and regular reports are sent to them on their child’s activity. For older ELL’s, it would seem to me that they could just put a teacher’s email address, and then teachers could see their students’ progress.
Learning 2 Spell is a new free site that provides a series of spelling tests that learners can take. Teachers or parents can enroll individual children and track their progress. There’s a limited amount of content on the site now, and there were a few bugs when I tried it, but I suspect both issues will be resolved soon.
Thanks to David Kapuler (I’d recommend you subscribe to his blog), I’ve learned about a new site called BeeClip.Edu. It lets you set-up a virtual classroom where students can create a “scrapbook” or other products using a very simple “drag-and-drop” interface. Text can also be added. One teacher with up to thirty students is free, but you have to pay if you want to add more. The teacher and other students in the class can see all the student-created products, but it doesn’t appear — at least to me — that there is any way to make links to them public. I’ve sent a question in to the site to see if I’m missing the feature. If there isn’t, I hope they’ll add it so that parents and others can view it. (I’ve learned you can’t link to the creations, but you can embed them).
Thanks to reader Michelle Anthony, I’ve learned about ScootPad. It lets teachers set-up virtual classrooms to monitor student progress in grad one-to-three reading and math lessons. And it’s free.
No Red Ink looks like a site that has a lot of potential. It focuses on grammar skills.
Power My Learning lets teachers create virtual classrooms and monitor student progress in multiple subjects.
SAS Curriculum Pathways has a huge amount of interactives in all subjects. In many of them, students complete the activity online, and then send their work electronically to their teacher (it can also be printed out). And it’s free.
The teacher signs-up and is give a log-in name for all the students in a school. It doesn’t appear that students need their own individual log-in because they have to type in their name before beginning any activity. Let me tell you, that will make using this site immeasurably easy — students won’t have to remember — or forget — individual passwords!
Since I’m teaching US History this year, I mainly focused on those sites, and they looked pretty good and accessible to ELL’s with audio support for the text. The site, though, has resources for all subjects.
In my review of the US History sites, they all appeared engaging, though primarily geared to lower-levels of thinking, primarily comprehension and recall. But since I use the Web generally as a reinforcement tool, that works fine for me.
Review Game Zone lets teachers, and anyone, input academic questions and have them turned into a games that students can use for review. It’s free, and teachers can also monitor student use of at least some types of the games.
I’ve previously posted about Edcanvas. It’s now added some features that let teachers track a bit more of what students are doing on it. Here’s a video describing their new capabilities, and you can also read a post about it at Richard Byrne’s blog. I’m now adding it to this list:
Sketchlot lets students…sketch and draw online. Teachers sign-up and can create a class roster letting students log-in, and drawings are embeddable. You can read more about it at Richard Byrne’s blog.
Wonderville just became available to the public and lets teachers (or parents) create virtual classrooms (for free) with content and multiple choice questions where children’s progress can be monitored. It’s focusing on K-5 content now. It looks like it might be one of the better sites of its kind, though it’s perplexing to me why they’d include a YouTube video as a key part of each lesson — since YouTube is blocked by most schools, that means students won’t be able to view them there. And it also seems strange they would pick a name — Wonderville — that’s already been used for years for a highly-respected science website. You can read more about this new Wonderville at TechCrunch.
Brainscape lets you add images and allows you to record sound simply by clicking on the “Advanced Editor.” It’s easy to add both, and those features make Brainscape stand out a bit from some of the other sites out there. They also say that “For teachers (or even parents) there are also tools that allow you to track the study progress of your students subscribed to your subject!”
Again, any and all feedback is welcome.
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