Skip to main content

There are now numerous apps to help children who struggle with reading and writing.  Sal McKeown selects her top picks.

Capture their interest

Before you purchase skills based apps such as spelling programs, try to find ways to motivate your children through appealing games. If they enjoy an app, and even get a little bit obsessive, you might see better results than you expected. I have known children move from cautiously sounding out each letter to being competent readers because of the addictive nature of the game of Minecraft. A version is available for Apple and Android at £4.50.

Young learners

'Let's write a story!' is a sure way to turn children off writing but many respond to the visual nature of Puppet Pals 2 (Apple, free), Storyboard That (Android - free) and Comic Life (Apple, £3.99). These encourage creativity and often children do not realise that they are composing and writing. 

For young children who are not making expected progress in reading, writing and spelling, my favourite app is probably the whole suite of Teach Your Monster to Read (£3.99 iPads and PC computers but not available for iPhone or Android). Children create their own monster and teach it to sound out letters, to blend sounds and to get meaning from text. For many children, the monster becomes a friend and takes on a life of its own. One set of parents even had a puppet of the monster made for their daughter.

Other good apps for decoding and phonics are Chimp Fu By Nessy Learning Limited (Apple and Android, £2.99) which focuses on chunking words; and Reading Eggs (iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices, £2.29) which covers compound words, syllables, plurals, word endings and proofreading.

Older children

For older learners who are lagging behind in reading and getting dispirited, Dockside Stage 4 (Apple, £10.49) is a good choice. Many children complain that the books for their reading level are so babyish that they are embarrassed to be seen with them - but they still need a variety of suitably paced reading activities so that learning becomes embedded. Dockside fits the bill. It centres on a block of flats on the outskirts of a city where the core characters have strong personalities and the storylines are ones that young people can relate to.

Revision aids

Two vital tools for older children are a good text to speech app, and word prediction. ClaroSpeak Plus (iOS, £4.99) is brilliant. It not only highlights the text for reading along, but lets users convert the file to audio – great for revision. You can change the colours of text and background, and edit the word prediction facility to add in specialist vocabulary such as science terminology. It also offers Capture Text from Photo which means a reader can photograph a question paper, poster or page and have it read aloud.  This is especially useful for young people out and about.

Writing apps

There are other good apps for writing including iReadWrite (iOS, £21.99) which offers word prediction, text to speech, different coloured backgrounds, text colour and font com­binations. For learners in primary, Clicker Documents would be a good option (iOS, £21.99). It has Sassoon font, a lower case keyboard, word prediction and grids with key words for different subjects.

Speak up

Sonocent recorder (Apple and Android, free) lets children record themselves reading aloud and then edit out the bad bits which get fewer over time. They can also record notes for an essay so the brainstorming is separated from the writing process.

Another approach is to use speech to text apps such as Dragon Dictation (Apple and Android, free).  On many tablets there is a free Note app which features a microphone. Dictate, save and email and you have a first draft.  Voice recognition is not perfect and the text will need very close proof reading but all the words are correctly spelt and for many young people that is a good start.

Sal McKeown is a member of the GSG's specialist SEN team and author of How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child published by Crimson. 


Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • School admissions: SEN children without an EHCP

    What's the position on school admissions for children with special needs who don't have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)? And how do you overcome any related obstacles?

  • Special educational needs introduction

    Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need. Our SEN consultancy team advises on both special schools, and the mainstream schools with good SEN support, from reception through to the specialist colleges for 19+. Special Educational Needs Index

  • Special schools

    What matters to your child with special needs or learning difficulties is finding the school that best suits them as an individual and will give them the best chances in life.

  • Global learning difficulties

    Children with learning difficulties find it more difficult to learn things than most others of their age. Specific learning difficulties may mean a child of average or above average intelligence has trouble with learning to read, perhaps, or with maths. Global learning difficulties are more generalised and are not caused by a specific neural problem.

  • Speech and language difficulties (Sp&LD)

    When a child is noticeably behind their peers in acquiring speech and/or language skills, communication is considered delayed. This is referred to as Speech and Language Difficulties (Sp&LD) or Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN).

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,200 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.