August 28, 2012 Columns

APP-titude: Apps That Crack Curriculum Content

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Context-driven. Curriculum-based. If you're a school-based speech-language pathologist, you're no doubt familiar with these or similar buzzwords. The fact is that our treatment approaches, initially grounded in behaviorism, have expanded with schools' push toward curriculum-related goals and services.

Additionally, leaders in our field have been advocating for this shift—to meet legal and administrative requirements and to benefit students. It simply makes sense to connect our treatment with material students are learning in class. Barbara Ehren (2009) has long stressed that SLPs should use the "curriculum as context for language therapy but not try to teach curriculum per se," focusing on strategies and language "underpinnings" rather than feeling compelled to be curriculum experts.

Still, the constant push to integrate K–12 curriculum content can seem overwhelming at times. Luckily, technology can make this easier. Many speech-language apps and websites weave in basic curriculum topics, saving SLPs time spent on researching the material.

I like to think of interactive technologies as "megaphones" that present students with classroom-based information through engaging interfaces. Here are a few tools to help you with cracking curriculum content (apps are free unless otherwise noted).

One of the simplest examples of an app related to classroom content that can also be used for its language stimulation potential is iLearn with Poko: Seasons and Weather, available for iDevices (iOS) via download for $2.99. Students play games with engaging audio and pictures while following directions relating to the four seasons, weather conditions, and clothing. These functional contexts also can be used to build understanding of abstract time concepts and cause-effect relationships.

Across all curriculum areas, images can help students visualize content-based language and vocabulary and serve as expressive stimuli: Skitch—available across Mac, iOS, and Android platforms—allows users to annotate any image taken with your device or found on the web. SLPs can use these text or "pen" markups to highlight key linguistic features of a pictured item and to describe, compare, and contrast images.

In addition to built-in maps app, Google Earth, available for iOS, Android, and any desktop or laptop machine, provides an extraordinary view of any geographic region. Google Earth allows clinicians to target spatial concepts, descriptive language, categories, and reading comprehension, all by zooming in on locations and viewing photos in the Panoramio layer. The stunning interactive 3D imagery available on the desktop version will soon be available on mobile devices as well.

Curriculum content far removed in space or time from students' experiences can be especially challenging to grasp, and simulation apps can help provide a more meaningful experience with these topics. A good example is Oregon Trail: American Settler, for Android and iOS, which allows players to grapple with the hardships of settling on the American frontier, including accessing adequate shelter, food, money, and medicine. This app is a sequel to the "Oregon Trail" program many of us grew up with (featuring the dreaded dysentery), and that classic game is also available for both mobile platforms. Keep in mind that this app does feature some in-app purchases and sharing features you will likely want to avoid.

Clinicians can follow the use of simulation apps with discussion and language-mapping activities (for example, use of graphic organizers to chart decisions and results) that further target students' language goals.

Interactive curriculum-based books such as Bobo Explores Light (a little pricey but graphically sophisticated at $4.99 for iOS), and apps that present contextual photos such as the iOS-based Fotopedia series also can be effective in tying speech-language treatment to the classroom.

Happy "studying!"

Sean Sweeney, MA, CCC-SLP, is a private practitioner and a middle school instructional technology specialist in Newton, Massachusetts. His blog, SpeechTechie, looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at

cite as: Sweeney, S. (2012, August 28). APP-titude: Apps That Crack Curriculum Content. The ASHA Leader.


Eren, B. J. (2009). Looking through an adolescent literacy lens at the narrow view of reading. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40, 192–195.


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