Fostering Literacy Skills: Five Amazing Technology Solutions for Teachers

Literacy skills are the first set of abilities a new learner picks up when they first step into a classroom and having had little to no previous teaching sessions, acquiring them is arguably one of the most challenging experiences of a student's academic life. 

Without the right approach, however, teaching how to read and write can be just as taxing to a teacher, as learning the skills is to a young student. There's often too much to cover in very limited time. Moreover, despite kids at a young age having the natural instinct to learn, an ineffective teaching method can get boring pretty fast.

With the tools below, teachers can encourage their students to be active creators of content, rather than passive consumers of information. We're now well into the Digital Age, where kids are exposed to content through technology at an early stage. In fact, with texting, social media, gaming, surfing the web, and anything else they do with their little gadgets, our students read and write more now than ever before.

When teaching literacy skills, therefore, it's reasonable to use technology as an accelerator to deliver meaningful learning contexts to kids, in the friendliest and most efficient way.

With that in mind, read on and discover tools that will help you to create engaging and captivating lessons, where your students can quickly learn to become great readers and writers.

1. The Text Set Project

Text Sets from Student Achievement Partners are designed to create a coherent and gradual knowledge and vocabulary building process that gives the student the interest and desire to learn. They do so by building sets consisting of articles and media in similar topics, whose texts are sequenced from lower to higher reading levels.

Research shows that a young learner picks up new vocabulary much faster by reading words that are grouped into topics than with any other approach. Using Text Sets in your classroom is advantageous because, in addition to promoting literacy, it helps students to expand their knowledge across different fields of learning.

Moreover, you can create sets based on the needs and interests of your learners, and as they advance, students can make a few of their own. The Text Set Project also includes suggested activities that help students express their literacy skills, as well as a glossary for access to advanced vocabulary.

Get onto SAPs website and learn how to create text sets and integrate expert packs with their professional development module. You can also get pre-compiled sets, which will collectively support your students in building vocabulary, knowledge, and the ability to read independently.

2. Read&Write from TextHelp

Read&Write offers a broad range of tools to help students to grasp reading and writing skills across the web, as well as offline files, on any device or platform. The package gives your students the ability to highlight text in multiple colors, see the meanings of words explained in text and pictures, turn words into texts as they speak, and translate spoken words into other languages.

Experts suggest that young learners pick up most words by reading or being read to. So, instead of relying on workbook pages and traditional exercises, set up Read&Write on a Chromebook from a leading manufacturer such as Acer and use the tool to uphold your students' literacy skills.

You can also create personalized lists for the class based on the topics you're teaching, and with just the click of a button, Read&Write will build a graphics organizer with the information on a list.

All in all, Read&Write is a remarkably all-inclusive package that tackles the difficulties of teaching new words with relative ease.

The tool can be purchased as an annual subscription by individual educators, schools, and organizations, and it runs perfectly on Windows, Mac, Android and Google Chrome platforms. TextHelp also provides frequent automatic updates to keep the software up to date and future-proof.

3. Academic Word Finder

Academic Word Finder is yet another teaching tool from Student Achievement Partners and, in its unique way, it's just as impressive as Text Set.

This tool utilizes the three-tier vocabulary system to identify the words that frequently appear on content areas. By checking passages for the most used words, the Academic Word Finder helps teachers to select the most useful vocabulary to teach.

The web-based utility is easy to use. Just paste a passage and select a grade, and the Finder will identify the Tier 2 vocabulary to focus on with the students. It also provides word meanings, pronunciation and an example sentence for each word.

Learning new words always starts with the most common terms. Although a professional educator's judgment is always preferred to software, Word Finder serves as a helpful tool in teaching vocabulary.

4. Text Compactor

Sometimes even basic learning material can be a little too complicated for learners, which means it's nearly impossible to find just the right content all the time. Text Compactor helps to make this a reality by providing simplified versions of overwhelming texts.

Creating shortened text with Text Compactor starts by pasting the original passage and moving the horizontal bar to set the percentage of text length to keep in the generated summary. If, for example, you want Text Compactor to replace 50 percent of the passage's hard words, set the bar at 50. When you're satisfied with the results, you and your students can proceed with the newly simplified passage.

Text Compactor is a great educational tool that teachers can utilize to help struggling readers understand complex information and find meaning in new vocabulary.

5. ThingLink

ThingLink promises to revolutionize the art of storytelling in schools by encouraging students to create interactive media. The process involves starting with an image and building up adding links to videos, audio, texts, maps and other images to come up with a multimodal story.

Introducing ThingLink in the classroom can offer your students an opportunity to employ creative thinking, comprehension, listening and writing skills in a virtual setting. For instance, the project could be an area's history, complemented by music and art from the particular era, or a map that becomes interactive by incorporating actual pictures of the places in it. You can also use the tool to organize resources for an upcoming class session, through an interactive image or video setup.

Exploring topics with ThingLink, therefore makes learning fun and intuitive, and ultimately improves the rate at which students grasp literacy skills.

Teaching literacy skills is no easy task, but leveraging digital tools such as the ones above can help you transform learning and empower your students, both in the classroom and in the outside world.

Editor's note : This is a contributed post. Opinions and views expressed belong solely to the author and does not represent the opinions and views of AppsEvents.

Admin Settings to Open Classroom to Outside your Domain

Google announced a while back that Classroom is now open to 'anyone'. This is a GREAT feature but can be a stumbling block if you have prepared to invite people to your Classroom from their domain and the Admin Settings are not set up to allow that.

In this video, Allison Mollica shows us how to set up G Suite to allow Classroom access from other domains!

Gmail shortcuts to save you 20 hours a year!

By +James Sayer

I am a huge user of Gmail (of course!) and find the keyboard shortcuts to be a massive time saver. Watching people spend their time in Gmail dragging, pointing, clicking and finding the right button using the mouse/touchpad just makes me want to give them a quick tutorial on shortcuts.

Assuming you interact with 100 emails per day, and given that a combination of shortcuts can save you 3 seconds per email, then this article is going to save you 25 minutes per week right now (and that’s over 20 hours a year!).

Firstly, before we get started, ensure that keyboard shortcuts are turned on. Go to and clicking on the gear icon in the top right, next select Settings and scroll down to the Keyboard Shortcuts section and make sure the radio button is selected to enable shortcuts. Save changes and you will be automatically redirected to your inbox.

These shortcuts will make you more productive and save you time, all you need to do is spend a couple of minutes a day learning them!

Do this now: go to your inbox and practice the combination of opening the latest conversation, move to the 5th conversation and scroll through the messages.

Do this now: Practice these shortcuts on your inbox now.

These Gmail shortcuts are my most used , but there are more and a complete list can be found from Gmail's help pages.

How to make a Google Form into an interactive learning experience

Google Forms are a great tool for learning. A lot of educators are using them to create online quizzes and in collecting data.

Another great way to use Forms is to create interactive learning experiences. In this video, AppsEvents extended team member Sarah Woods, will show us how to use Forms as a choose your own adventure learning experience! Sarah covers adding videos, sections, data validation and going to sections based on answers.

Puppets on a string
CC0 License:
The post is inspired by a L2talk I did at the Learning2 Europe conference in Warsaw.

“Every storyteller has a bias – and so does every platform”- Andrew Postman “My Dad Predicted Trump in 1985 – It’s Not Orwell, He Warned, It’s Brave New World.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 02 Feb. 2017

I am an addict. Are you too? Don’t you hate it when you can’t find your phone, and a friend has to call it. Maybe the first thing you did this morning was check your phone and the last thing you did today was check your phone. Think of it, we walk and text, and even drive and text. Have you had this happen, you are in a social situation and you go the bathroom to check an update. You are standing on a street corner and suddenly realize you are on your phone swiping at it, unconsciously. Then there is the feeling you get when you post a picture on a social media feed. The “likes” start coming in. It feels good, really good, and then you check back and back. You post an update and there no “likes”. You start wondering to yourself what is going on?
(CC BY 2.0) Photo taken by Angus MacAskill “Rat”
I am sure you’ve heard about B.J Skinner’s rat experiment. The first rat had a lever in its cage, and every time it hit the lever food would come out. The second rat in the same set-up, hit the lever and nothing came out, no food. The third rat, same set-up, when it hit the lever a little food came out, then nothing, and then a lot, and then nothing again. The third rat developed an addiction. It quickly realized as long as it hit the lever it had a chance of getting some food. This is called the principal of variable rewards. That feel good feeling, the dopamine rush. Behavior design as explained in this article (Scientist who make our apps addictive by Ian Leslie 1843 Economist October.November 2016) is a critical part of every app development. Tech companies employ behavior economist, psychologist, and psychiatrists in the creation, design and curation of our apps ecosystems to ensure we keep coming back.

So many of our interactions with devices are subconscious. In Eric Pickersgill thought provoking photos series “Removed” (do spend some time on the link) he highlights the idea of being alone together as Sherry Turkle so aptly describes in her book Alone Together. We are often physically together with another person in a space sometimes even intimately but our mind’s burrowed in a phone.

As adults, we are quick t0 point the finger at kids for not being able to manage their screen-time. Think of this, the first time an infant will interact with a digital device is watching a parent using one. What does it feel like for a child in a pram looking up at their parent to only see a blank expression immersed in their smartphone. The dinner table conversation interrupted by parents checking work emails. Mary Aiken in her book “ The Cyber Effect” states we are asking the wrong question. Mary Aiken writes “We should not be asking at what age is it appropriate to give a digital device to an infant, but be asking the question when is it appropriate for an adult to interact with a digital device in front of an infant.

A good example of behavior design is Snapchat and the new feature “streaks“. The idea of streaks if you have a dialogue with a friend over 24 hours and you continue this over days, a flame emoji shows up. In tandem a number counting your interactions keeps tally. Should one of you stop posting, an hour glass shows up giving you a heads up that the streak will disappear if you do not stay on. For adolescent’s social media relationships can be a gauge of their social capital. Streaks adds a layer of complexity to the interactions.

I am not against digital devices. I have been working in Education Technology as a coach, coordinator, IT Director and Director of eLearning for over 20 years. I love the seamless and frictionless experience of our digital environments.
By Jim McDougall from Glasgow, Scotland (Puppets on a String Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It is a fact that our online data (health apps, social media, travel, online games, GPS, shopping, search etc…) is collected, analyzed, and then sold to third parties, or curated to give us a personalized online experiences with a clear goal to manipulate our behaviors. We as educators have an ethical responsibility to be skeptical of behavior design’s narrative. Let us challenge our learning communities to question the complexity and consequences of behavior design in our lives. Stuffing a digital citizenship lesson for 15 minutes during a Friday morning advisory is not enough. We need to make this narrative an integral part of the living curriculum.

Do we want to end up being puppets pulled by the strings of choreographed digital ecosystems which we do not control?

I think it is important to understand schools are most likely the last place where children interact with digital devices with balance and pedagogic purpose. We cannot take this for granted.

If we ignore behavior design we will loose something. Free will. I and you do not want to lose this.

John @

Sneak Preview: Four things we learned from our survey of Google use in schools worldwide

By +Dan Taylor

Each year AppsEvents produces our survey of Google use in schools worldwide and it’s the most extensive survey tracking the trends and statistics for how schools are using Google, and how it fits into their overall IT infrastructure and strategies for teaching and learning (note if you didn’t complete the survey yet you still have 5 days so do it now :)

Respondents get early access to the findings for a week before we release to the general public, so please forward to your colleagues at other schools.

We will be preparing the full results next week but thought we would share with you a few ‘early access’ findings from a look at the data submitted so far.
  1. Classroom - A whopping 90% of respondents are using Google Classroom in their schools, up from 74% in 2016. This fits into our thesis that Classroom is driver for the fourth distinct phase of Google adoption in schools.
  2. Chromebooks - No surprises here but Chromebook use has made a big jump in the past year. In 2016 48% of respondents used them at their school. In 2017 it is up to 69%! A full 19% increase. We expect this trend to continue in 2018 with European schools now leading the adoption.
  3. Tablets - Tablet use has remained fairly constant. 74% in 2016 compared to 78% in 2017. We expect this to remain roughly the same and possibly decrease slightly through 2018 as Chromebooks capture more of the iPad market.
  4. People are still calling G Suite Google Apps :) A keyword search of the two shows slightly more people referring to Google Apps than G Suite. We still make this mistake sometimes in the AppsEvents team but we are getting better!

Taking a Chromebook for a Spin

by +James Sayer

Earlier this year Acer announced its latest Chromebook designed for education, the Chromebook Spin 11 (with stylus). I have been lucky enough to have received a pre-release device to check it out.

For anyone new to Chromebooks, Chrome OS powers these devices and is essentially the Chrome browser hardwired as an operating system. Fast start-up times, highly secure (Google has offered a ‘reward’ if anyone hacks their OS), Chromebooks are a fast internet ready device that don’t get slowed down by unnecessary software. Missing Photo editing software? Video editing? There are hundreds of thousands of Apps and Extensions and some very powerful replacement tools. Watch this for an awesome overview of Chrome OS:


Picking up the Spin 11 for the first time and it has a reassuringly rugged feel. With rubberised edges, it is designed to withstand drops from 48 in (122cm) - perfect for that grade 5 student passing to their friend or the grade 10 student accidentally pushing it off the edge of a desk! Officially the Spin 11 is ‘US Military Standard MIL-STD-810’, what this means in practice is that it is strong enough and resistant enough to withstand most of what our students can throw at it. The water resistant keyboard (and yes I did test this...accidentally!), and anti-bacterial screen coating means that shared devices needn’t be germ magnets!

I met with YM, Acer’s Product Marketing guru, who encouraged me to stand on one foot on the device, drop it onto a hard surface and run it under water - and it still plays video and runs normally! Check out the video on durability:

Much like Acer’s R11, the device is fully convertible. Writing an essay? Use as a regular laptop. Studying for an exam? Fold it up like a tent and place on your desk to read your ebook. Need to film some video? Just fold back the screen and the outward facing 5mp camera above the keyboard is perfectly placed to record as you would with a tablet. The strong hinges mean that the Chromebook can be picked up by the screen without the keyboard moving around.

The Spin 11 has two USB-C and two USB-B ports, along with an SD card reader and headphone jack. Teachers might need to get a USB-C to HDMI dongle as there is no exclusive display connector. But then, of course, there is Chromecast for wirelessly transmitting your display.

So it is more than strong enough and resistant enough for the classroom, what about its features?


The Spin 11 will be the first to be powered by Intel’s latest Sunny Lake chip, with RAM options from 4-8gb and Solid State hard drive between 32-64gb there is plenty of power for most educational requirements. And of course, linked to your school account you have unlimited cloud storage from G-Suite for Education.

In reality, this means that the Spin 11 is fast enough to handle everything that Chrome has to offer. I have frequently had 3 accounts signed in, with video conferencing, several drive tabs and apps open and the Chromebook didn’t slow.

This is also one of the first Chromebooks to have Android apps via Google’s Play Store enabled by default.

And of course, there is that stylus.

Acer has partnered with Wacom and included a stylus with the Spin 11. About the same size and weight as a regular ball-point pen, and utilising EMR technology (yes I had to look that up! Read more here) it is easy to hold and write, and resists palm detection when held a few mm from the screen surface. In practice, it is as fast and easy to write as any other tablet-pen combo. With Texthelp’s upcoming EquatIO with handwriting recognition for math teachers this is going to be a huge time saving feature. I can see this being great for sketching/annotating notes and quickly adding handwritten notes to Google Keep.

Summing Up

As a teacher for 16 years, I can confidently say that this is a device designed for the classroom. Rugged, flexible, easy to deploy and control, it can be a tablet, laptop and more. This is the go anywhere and do everything device at a price most schools can afford.

Want a device that you can view your Classroom assignments and then flip over to use the stylus to annotate student work? Do you have students that need to record video on a field trip and need a device rugged enough to handle this? The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 could be the device for you.

Reflections on the first annual NexTech Summit Singapore

AppsEvents was privileged to partner with Lee Wilson and the team at Nexus International School in Singapore in February for NexTech, a new kind of event for International School Educators. Long time AppsEvents team member +Sarah Woods was the day 1 keynote and shares her thoughts below.

For a long time, just getting teachers to a point where they felt comfortable using the GSuite of tools has been a huge undertaking. I've had the opportunity to participate in AppsEvents Google Summits in Europe, Africa, and Asia and every single one has offered a wonderful opportunity to meet and engage with educators who are actively trying to take their understanding of how technology can be used to take their teaching to the next level.

But more and more teachers are now comfortable with working in the cloud and the problems they faced with moving their planning and sharing of lessons to an online environment are slowly starting to disappear, leaving them asking, "What's next?"

I discovered the answer to this question a couple of weeks ago in Singapore at an AppsEvents NexTech Summit, where we took the focus off Google products and opened the lens to encompass any technology that might have an influence on education. We had bots, 3D printing, Gamification, and Virtual Learning environments (and more!) - a lot to explore for the wonderful group of educators who participated!

We were lucky to have the environment of the Nexus International School to work in. They have an incredible MakerSpace and an innovative teaching team who's exploring changing the physical structures of classrooms. Their administration is very supportive of their efforts and all around you feel the buzz of a school that's trying lots of different things to see how education can evolve to create more effective learning environments - virtual and physical - for our students.

As a teacher in the classroom every day, there's no question that the GSuite of tools is at the core of what I do. But I'm also excited to see how much the skill level has risen in our teachers that we're now ready to stop playing catchup and start really innovating in our classrooms! I'm looking forward to many more of these events focusing on exposing teachers to lots of new technologies in an environment where they can play, share, and imagine a new kind of learning experience for our students.

Take part in our 2017 survey of ‘Google use in schools’ and get special early access to the results

After the huge success of our 2016 survey we are delighted to be be compiling our 2017 survey, the most comprehensive survey of Google use in schools worldwide.

Click here to complete the survey it takes about 5 - 10 minutes

As a thank you for completing the survey we will share early access of the results with all respondents, including our analysis of the trends and best practices we note among other schools. Remember that the results will be viewable in aggregate by 'country', 'region' and 'type of school' so you or your school will not be personally identified in any way to anyone.

Here are the results from our 2016 survey

How to work as a Google trainer

I’m often asked by aspiring Google EDU trainers “How can I work as a Google trainer?” Typically it is educators looking to go beyond just helping their colleagues and to start training externally and to charge for their services. I love welcoming new trainers to the community so am glad to help and I always start with the same question: ”Are you sure you want to do this?”

Do you really LOVE training people on Google tools? Are you someone who will respond the same day to one of your students when they email you a year later with a question? Do you get a warm fuzzy feeling when you see the ‘aha moment’ as someone realizes they can apply something you said? Do you get a geeky excitement when you see a new feature added to G Suite and rush to retweet it? Do you have the free time to train? Are you willing to spend days unpaid and evenings and weekends keeping your skills up to date?

….If the answer to all the above is an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ then read on, you are in the right place! I was one of the first ever Certified Trainers in Europe and it’s genuinely changed my life in the friendships I’ve made, countries I’ve visited and things I’ve learned.

It’s huge huge fun but it’s also really hard work. You’ll travel a lot, sometimes overnight and you’ll go straight from the airport to the school to present. The people you are training don’t care how far you have travelled, they just want amazing instruction. You can make some money as a trainer but there are much easier ways to make money so only do this because you love it.

So here are some high level tips I give to anyone looking to take their Google training to the next level:

Get all your certifications

Certifications are no guarantee of being an amazing trainer but there are a lot of trainers out there and you need your basics covered. Take your Google Educator 1 and 2. Become a ‘Google for Education Certified Trainer’, and finally become a ‘Google Certified Administrator’. Many people miss out the Administrator Certification and it’s a mistake. Imagine you are teaching and someone asks “How do I create users in G Suite?” You can quickly jump into the admin console to show them. You don’t need to be ‘super techy’ but you do need to know enough to be useful and the Admin Certification is achievable for anyone with a bit of preparation. A second benefit if you have an aptitude for it is that there is a bigger demand for admin training and not so many trainers available.

Once you are certified stay up to date with everything, keep track of all your certifications and renew when necessary.

Take any opportunity you can, paid and unpaid

Submit sessions on Google Tools for any Education related conference or summit. Most events will give you a free place for presenting and it’s amazing practice and a great way to broaden your network. Contact any Google Trainer friends you have and ask if you can help them as an unpaid assistant at their training.

Take everything you are offered! Will you fly long distances to present for just one day? The trainers we work with at AppsEvents will jump at it. It’s a global community and of course you can stay local if that suits your life and commitment’s but remember opportunities will be more limited. The more flexible you are the more in demand you will be.

Always keep in mind that there are a LOT of good trainers out there already and the convenient opportunities are easy to fill with trainers that people already work with. The Saturday morning session at a convenient location is probably filled, the one in a more obscure venue at an inconvenient time is hard to fill and that is your opportunity.

Remember that training is a ‘form game’. If for example a school needs a trainer and they call you up for three events and you say ‘no’ each time you’ll start to get lower on their list, so take everything that you can. Remember this: If you are a good trainer people will want to use you, but they need to know you can help with the ‘hard to fill’ sessions.

Sharpen the saw

Always do a ‘feedback form’ after every session and act on all negative feedback. You need to be a perfectionist and thick skinned. I’ve been a trainer now for six years and it still feels terrible when I get a negative feedback comment. Every time I try to analyse “Why did that person not have an amazing experience?” and then act to make sure I improve next time.

It goes without saying you should be up to date on all new features of G Suite and Google tools in general and more importantly their practical application in the classroom. Follow the right people on Twitter and subscribe to all the Google EDU related newsletters.

One of the best ways to get noticed for your training is to establish a niche. Are you a passionate math teacher incorporating G-Suite into your classes? Do you have some amazing mapping projects that you have been blogging about? Have you used Google Apps Scripts to automate administrative tasks? Begin your training sessions with your passion projects and then expand your training repertoire from there. People will remember you as ‘the expert in …..’

Be cool!

As a trainer with no track record or references it’s tough to get paid….You need to take it slow. Train for free as much as you can, then ask for expenses, then ask for a low fee, then increase it. If you read in an online group that you can charge $2500 a day as a novice trainer you will be disappointed. Build up your ‘brand’ as a trainer and your network and treat it as a long term project.

Wherever you train, be it conference or training event at a school, always help out with everything. Offer to help facilitate panels. Stay around at the end to help take signs down. Remember that offering to help with something specific that you see needs to be done is always the most useful. Just saying a general “If you need help just ask me” isn’t much use.  Most importantly keep yourself grounded even after you have become successful as a trainer. I know amazing keynote speakers who are always humble and, for example, stay around to carry bags after the event. It adds a huge amount to how much you want to work with them! Pro tip: The best way to meet attendees at a conference and for them to remember you is to help out on the registration desk.

Always, always go to the networking events at any meetup or conference. If there isn't a networking event then go ahead and organize one yourself on the fly. It is without a doubt the best place to meet people and for them to remember you. It’s the most fun part of any event and often where the real learning takes place.

….and if you’ve gone through all the steps above then get in touch we’d love to hear from you :) Contact veronika (at) appsevents (dotcom)