Reading Comprehension Apps for the UDL Classroom #edchat #engchat

In order to reach the levels of all learners, educators need to carefully tailor their lessons to the needs of all the learners in their classroom.  This is referred to as UDL (Universal Design for Learning).  This video does a better job of explaining it…

So as part of an assignment for grad school, and because I teach in a school that is 1:1 with iPads in grades 9-12, I thought I would give a list of 10 apps that aide in UDL instruction, particularly reading comprehension for our current book, The Odyssey.

By the Numbers

Choosing the right apps is not based on app reviews.  They have to based on my students’ learning needs, for that’s the primary focus of any UDL lesson.  Using Edmodo to poll my 17 students in one class of juniors, I have discovered there are a few needs when it comes to reading comprehension.

  1. 12 students learn best by working collaboratively through something (they just need time and space to work through it).
  2. 2 are auditory learners.
  3. 1 prefers to work independently.
  4. 2 need pictures to better comprehend what they read.

Knowing this, I was able to do some digging and find some apps that (hopefully) meet ALL of the needs listed above.

It’s important to note that one app may not meet all of the needs, but a combination of some should be able to satisfy what ALL students need.

A Toolbox of Apps for UDL (Reading Comprehension)

I will give the app, a brief description, which UDL category it suits, and how the identified students above can benefit from the app.


What it does…  
– Annotate PDF’s
– Record Audio
– A variety of drawing and highlighting tools.
– Customizable for right-handed and left-handed people.
– Insert various media.

How students can use it…
– Can be used as a “whiteboard” to draw and organize discussions in small groups.
– Students can take notes and audio record their own notes.
– Students can insert pictures they snap with their camera or draw their own.
– Notes sync to a shared Google Drive or Dropbox for collaboration.

UDL Principle(s)

61b3f-differentiate     5e38c-presentinfo



What it does…
– Download books from the iBook StoreiBooks
– Highlight text
– Built-in dictionary to define new vocabulary
– Add sticky notes
– Search the book of Wikipedia

How students can use it…
– Identify confusing parts, parts of interest, discussion starters, etc. with the sticky notes feature.
– Highlight in various colors to organize the identification process.
– Build individual vocabulary with built in dictionary.
– Various reading modes and text options for reading.  Choose one that makes the text comfortable to read.
Email highlights to a friend for discussion.

UDL Principle(s)


What it does…
– A tool primarily for mind-mapping.
– Import images and PDF’s.
– Collaborate and create mind-mapping boards in real time!
– Pan and Zoom
– Create text boxes.
– Organize and link content

How students can use it…
– Organize ideas in small groups in real time to better understand textual ideas.
– Organize pictures of characters to show relationships between them.

UDL Principle(s)

61b3f-differentiate 5e38c-presentinfo



What it does…
– Allows users to draw together in real time on a virtual whiteboard.syncspace_appicon_1024
– Export in various formats.
– Features for right and left-handed people.

How students can use it…
– Can collaboratively draw out interpretations of text.
– Draw picture interpretations individually and then share out through the export feature.
– Organize ideas through drawing them.

UDL Principle(s)


Odyssey (by Homer)

What it does…
– This is the audio book form of The Odyssey.
– Sleep Timer
– Playback controls (including speed)
– Chapter timings.
– Auto-Bookmarking

How students can use it…
– Any audio version (usually in combination with reading visually) offers good support for auditory learners.
– Speed up or slow down the reading based on how quickly you comprehend.
– Simply pause and rewind for clarification.
*Although this is an audio version of the book we are currently reading, any audio version of any book will serve a similar purpose.

UDL Principle(s)



What it does…
– Create stories with pre-made puppets and backgrounds or draw your own.Toontastic-Icon
– Video and Audio record animations as you move, pinch zoom, and narrate multiple characters.
– Export video options.

How students can use it…
– Either one or more students (on a single iPad only) can move and animate characters.
– Students can create a video that summarizes the events of a chapter in the book.
– Students can use built in characters or create their own.

UDL Principle(s)


Explain Everything

What it does…Explain_Everything_Interactive_Whiteboard_Icon-1024
– Create how-to videos by importing virtually anything (including video) and annotating over top of it.
– Record your annotations and voice as you explain…well…everything!

How students can use it…
– Students can work independently or with a partner to create chapter summaries.
– Students can literally organize and explain it according to how they interpreted it.

UDL Principle(s)


What it does…
– An interactive story book of Ulysses (Odysseus) through his journey.
– View a map of his journey.
– Turn on/off narration
– Chapter selection.

How students can use it…
Part audio book, part book.  Reader gets text and audio in one app.
– Interactivity is highly engaging.  Includes a few interactive challenges to keep the story going.
– Although it is a watered down version of the story, it helps to strengthen the comprehension for students from a visual aspect.

UDL Principle(s)


What it does…
– Download books designed for Subtext.icon-subtext-app@2x
– Students can read the same book.
– Students can essentially do what they can in iBooks, but now they can share these highlights and comments in REAL TIME!
– Small groups can be formed with a single text in order to create small lit groups.
– Teachers can view all comments and discussions, plus add their own to keep book discussions guided.
– Think iBooks meets Google Docs!

How students can use it…
– All capabilities as iBooks, but now they can create these all in the same book.
– Students can add predictions at the end of chapters, further strengthening reading comprehension and engagement.
– Looks to be VERY promising for small or large lit groups.

UDL Principle(s)



What it does…
– Can organize ideas similar to Popplet.
– Move from objects in an orderly manner similar to timeline fashion.
– Can visually present what was organized with the fluid movement from object to object.
– Images can be imported and text can be added.
– “Frames” provide another way to visually organize ideas.
How students can use it…
– Organize order of events and present.
– Organize characters based on relationships.
– Create effective timelines that can easily be presented.
UDL Principle(s)


Final Thoughts

UDL is critical when reaching all learners, not just one particular group.  Hopefully these apps (or ones similar to them) help when looking to build reading comprehension in your English classroom.

Mr. Bormann
English Rocks!

P.S.  What do you think?  Should one be added?  What apps have you used for building reading comprehension?  Let me know in the comments below.


11 responses to “Reading Comprehension Apps for the UDL Classroom #edchat #engchat

  1. I love the layout of this blog! Eye-catching and easy to read!
    It's great that you polled students from an actual class to see what needs they had. The apps you chose look very interesting. Many of them are new to me. I can't wait to explore! You always do a great job incorporating tech effectively. I'll be anxious to hear how you use these apps and how the students responded.


  2. Nice and very helpful post. I am enjoying reading this, well organized work, i like everything you put it here. defiantly i will sue all of them. Thanks


  3. Jarod – these are fantastic apps. We just had our iPad implementation the other day and I wish we had added a couple of these apps from your list. I'll definitely come back to this list as I suggest future apps for our school. I particularly liked the apps that allow for students to collaborate. I would add Educreations over Explain Everything because it's free. I'm sure that Explain Everything provides some additional features. As of now our district has limited funding for app purchases. Are most of these apps free? I agree with the above comments about the eye-catching design of your blog.


  4. Jarod-
    Thanks for sharing the apps. Many of our students are using Notability. It is really helping some of our students that are really struggling. One of the ways they have used it is to record explanations and examples provided from teachers so they could rewatch it. SyncSpace and Explain Everything are two apps I hadn't heard of before. An app that we use with one of our students is Story Builder. This is for elementary, but it fits this particular students needs. It allows the student to view pictures and record his voice to create a story based on the pictures and prompts.


  5. Well done, Jarod. I like what you did with the blog layout, it's very clean and easy to read. Some of these apps are new to me as well and it looks like a few of them need to be added to my “appertoire”… ha, well, it was worth a shot. 🙂


  6. Have you ever used Skitch? You can take screenshots of websites, as well as annotate over PDFs and picture, and highlight, add notes, and stamps. I have only just downloaded this, but I plan on using this with my students when we read online content.


  7. Michelle, yes I have. I use it regularly to take snap shots of student work to use as visual examples on my board. In most cases, it's taking snap shots of student rough draft work to see how we can improve on it. When I see something that I think would be an example to share with the rest of the class, that's when I use it. Although I've used for other class purposes as well. What I like is the tag feature. So when I keep the picture and want to use it again to show, I can just search for the related tag. It's another app that could have easily gone on here, but I use it more for the writing aspect rather than the reading aspect.


  8. I liked this video, because many of the things that it says are true. I think that is a excellent teacher who knows the needs to each student and applies it. Every student has a different way to learn, and the teacher should be able to apply the best tool to each student. When I was seeing the video I thought that is very important for me discover what is the easier way what I learn.


  9. I like this! I have never discovered a post as interesting as yours. It’s pretty. Is it OK to share on Reddit? Keep up the terrific work!


    • Absolutely 🙂 I went ahead and cleaned it up visually, and double-checked the links. It was a post that got transferred over from my other blogging platform, and some of the alignment was off. But it should be fixed 🙂 Could you let me know when it is posted?


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