I know that schools all over the US are in various states of open vs. online, so I thought I’d throw down some of the Language Arts resources I use on the regular with my students whom I now tutor through Zoom. Some of these resources are free, while others are subscriptions I pay for.
By the way, I usually share my screen with the student so we can view whatever site I am working off of together. I can also give the student control over my mouse, so that he or she can click around the site I’m on rather than having to dictate to me what to click and when. For added fun, sometimes students figure out that when they have control of my mouse they are actually in control of my entire computer and they get a kick out of turning my volume way up or way down, or turning my caps lock key off and on and making the light flicker. Hey, it’s the little things. Oh and also the occasional kid will ‘freeze’ on camera and pretend like our connection has frozen. They do find ways to be frisky, even online. 😉
Quizlet is an online flashcard resource that has been around for quite awhile; accounts are free, with a purchase option for access to specialized sets that aren’t really necessary, IMHO. When creating flashcards, you simply type the term on one side of the digital ‘card’ and the definition or answer on the other side; once all the cards are created you save the set and anyone can view that set and study by clicking each card to flip it over. Two great things about Quizlet: 1) it’s been around long enough that you can search topics for sets that have already been made before starting yours from scratch, and if you find one you like you can save it into your own folder and edit it to fit your needs. Super-useful! 2) Quizlet takes the information on the flashcards and presents it to the student in several different forms: an online quiz, a review sheet that asks the questions in several different forms, a matching game, or an asteroids like game. Lots of different ways to reinforce learning using the different modes of presentation.
readworks.org is currently a free site, although that may change once the pandemic is under control. This is a great site that presents students with small passages categorized by grade level, content, and/or skill level, and includes multiple-choice, short answer, and fill in the blank questions at the end. For my students, I find the reading levels to be 1-2 grades lower than what my kids can do, so if a child is in fifth grade I may bump up the reading level at the site to 6th or 7th grade, but other than that, this is a quick and easy way to reinforce a concept, especially since you can search for material by target skill. Also, the articles and corresponding questions can be printed out as a .pdf, so it’s great for assigning some quick homework without having to do too much work. (I don’t normally assign homework, but some of my parents insist on it.)
educaplay.com has different educational games you can search or create – crossword puzzles, word searches, matching games, word scrambles and so on. I don’t use other people’s games too much on this site as they tend to be shorter and less comprehensive than I like, but I do use this site a lot to make matching games I can play with my students when we end up with some time at the end of a session. I have made a lot of matching games that also involve memory testing – the goal is to match pairs of cards, but if you fail to match during your turn, they flip back over, so we’re testing memory as well as recall, which makes it more fun, IMHO. I also set the number of turns you can take as high as I can go, rather than a lot of other people’s games that only allow, say, two turns before the game ends. I like for my games to be endless so we can play them until everything gets a match. I only have a free version of this site, but there is a paid subscription with more options. With a free option, you do have to sit through the occasional ad, but the kids don’t mind, they’re brief, and unlike somewhere like YouTube, because this is an educational site you’re not going to get hit with an ad out of nowhere that is awkward as hell (I once was trying to watch a YouTube video with a student online and the ad that queued up started with the statement “Sex shouldn’t have to wait until you’re done with your period,” or something like that – which, sure, I would agree with that, but it’s not a discussion I want to have to get into with a seventh grader).
One site I do pay for is IXL.com, and it is fantastic. There are many different subscription levels; I only pay for access to the language arts materials since that is all I tutor. You can access some of the lessons for free, but with a paid subscription the lessons can go as long as up to 50 activities/questions per concept, whereas without paying you get maybe 10 per lesson. The activities are mostly some form of multiple-choice ‘quizzing’ of different concepts, which sounds like it might get boring, but they present material in many different formats within each lesson, and the software is intuitive and increases and decreases in difficulty in response to the student’s answer choices. It also covers a much higher range of grades than most sites – everything from Pre-K up to 12th grade, which is great because I tutor a wide range of grades. And all the material can be searched by grade level, particular skill, or particular content, as well as being presented in collections that guide you through a progression of concepts that all work together and build on each other. This is such a useful resource, because I can ask a student what they are working on in class and go to this site to find several different activities that address those skills. However, it can get a little boring, so I use the next site to help out with that.
gamesxl.com is a site of free, REALLY simple online games that are pretty basic and simple to play. I like to use these with students, especially younger ones, when we are doing something rather bland like going through a long series of ixl.com multiple choice activities. Then, I tell the students that for every question they get right, they get to go bowl a round (there is one particular bowling game I really like because it’s quite easy to use) and if they get it wrong, I get to bowl a round. Believe it or not, I can easily get a student through two or more ixl.com lessons easily when I offer them this little fun incentive, and it makes tutoring more fun for me, too when we get to add a little silly competition into the mix. When I was a classroom teacher, I used to bring my Wii to school on review days, and would do the same thing in person, and it always transformed a boring old review day into some fun competition that kids were excited about (and I taught high school at the time). Keep in mind these games are nothing fancy, and you occasionally have to sit through an ad because they’re all free, but even the simplest little game will break the monotony and keep kids engaged while they’re doing all their schoolwork online. And I find that when tutoring through something like Zoom, simpler games are better, because there’s less chance of it getting “hung up” between your computer and the student’s.
I have a ton of other resources I use, but most of them are very content specific and not free; these are the ones I find the most useful and ones that could also be useful to parents trying to supplement online learning or make it a little more tolerable.