THE BLOG
08/23/2016 09:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Five Fun and Free Ways to Engage Students with Technology

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By Alyssa Nucaro

With the growing need to incorporate technology in learning, it is more important than ever that teachers have resources that are both free and fun for students. Computer skills are necessary to be a career and college-ready, and it is equally crucial to give students opportunities to access online educational materials. As a 6th grade English teacher, I want online materials that are rigorous enough to challenge my students and enhance their learning, and engaging enough to keep their attention for longer than five minutes.

I also want online resources that extend on previously taught lessons, be used as review and supplemental material, or to introduce practice to online learning. I need technology games and activities that are aligned to the district's curriculum, and that could be engaging to all students despite performance levels.

Here are five fun and meaningful programs that I believe work in this way.

1. Kahoot.it (student site) or Getkahoot.com (teacher site)
Kahoot is web-based gaming program that allows students to compete against each other individually or as a team to answer multiple-choice questions. The questions can be asked in a variety of formats, and students are able to answers questions in multiple ways. The questions are typed into the game site by the teacher and can be projected onto a Smart Board or screen. Then, students compete against each other and against the clock to answer the questions to accumulate points. The game's sound effects and innovative technology platform make it hard for students to stop playing.

My students loved using this game for "review days." The questions resemble the format of the test questions and my students had various time limits to answer different sets of questions. I input the questions and answers based on the content I was teaching, and either asked text-based questions or projected short videos to have students reflect on responses to high-level thinking questions. My students especially loved competing against the clock to input the correct answers.

2. Commonlit.org
The Common Lit website is a reading website that allows students access to texts on a grade-appropriate level. The literature and non-fiction texts can be coupled and used together to explore a given theme, or students can challenge themselves by searching for paired texts that engage them in independent reading. The readings are grouped with questions and essay prompts that align to Common Core standards. The standards are present on the screen next to each question, so teachers and students understand how that question is related to a specific skill.
My students enjoyed reading about current event issues or news stories and they liked articles that posed a debatable question or theme. As a teacher, I had ready access to quality texts that aligned to standards.

3. Practutor.com
Like Common Lit, Practutor.com uses a technology-based platform to track students' reading achievement. The free version of Practutor does an amazing job at asking questions that challenge students to think more critically and logically about their answer choices. Students are required to answer questions that might ask them to highlight evidence that supports a given claim or eliminate answer choices that don't make sense.

4. IXL.com
IXL.com is a great website for challenging questions and fast practice on various writing skills. In the free version, students can answer up to 20 questions daily on any given lesson. They are able to get quick grammar lessons and practice examples as they navigate through the Common Core standards and have access to questions on any standards that they might be struggling with.

My students especially loved using this program for reinforcement and when I was re-teaching lessons. The program's ability to ask Common Core-aligned questions on a variety of topics and subjects gave them choices about what they wanted to practice. The program feels "game-like," and my students said on a consistent basis how fast class time passes when they were using it.

5. Nitrotype.com
Nitrotype.com is a free online game that teaches students how to type efficiently by racing cars against each other. The faster a student types the given paragraphs on the computer screen, the faster the car moves in the game. My students found this game particularly fun to use when earned as a reward. Since not all of my students have access to computers at home and my school does not offer computer/typing classes, this was a perfect option to improve my students' typing skills.

Alyssa Nucaro is a 6th grade English teacher and grade chair at Lowrance School in Memphis, TN. She is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.