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7 Engaging Apps to Inspire Emergent Literacy Skills for Complex Learners

We all know how important early literacy instruction is to long-term success with reading and writing. But how can you build emergent literacy focus into your complex learner’s routine without sacrificing the fun? Check out these engaging apps and web-based tools for a fun-filled supplement to your existing literacy instruction approach. Each of these tools has been vetted by the AACcessible team and offers accessible, play-based practice with a range of emergent literacy skills. If you missed our earlier post on shared reading resources, definitely check that one here to add even more reading and writing resources to your AAC toolbox!

What is emergent literacy?

Literacy is built upon the foundations of language (listening and speaking). Conventional literacy instruction aims to offer individuals increasingly more advanced ways to use language for communication- via reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The knowledge of, skills, and attitudes about reading and writing that a child develops prior to the onset of conventional reading and writing instruction, encompass emergent literacy. Emergent literacy skills such as print motivation, print awareness, narrative skills, and phonological awareness can be developed in tandem with language, as they are in typical development. However, emergent literacy instruction for complex communicators often requires intentional and individualized adaptations.

You can learn more about teaching literacy skills to individuals with complex communication needs who use AAC by exploring our online course library

A note to readers: The resources mentioned below are not affiliate links. The author and AACcessible do not receive compensation for linking the resources mentioned below.

If you are supporting a child who struggles to find joy in the shared reading experience, Vooks is the resource for you! Print comes alive in these engaging, original stories and re-imagined classics, presented in well-paced and text--rich, video form. Each Vooks story includes simple animations and music, clear and active print that is timed in step with engaging narration, and meaningful content to connect life experiences to text and help concept and vocabulary skills soar! Vooks offers a wide range of topics, and even has content in Spanish! You can use this resource in your web browser or via the Vooks app, on most mobile platforms. Vooks offers a subscription option that is reasonable, as well as solutions for educators serving multiple readers. I personally love using this resource with my own children, and with my virtual coaching clients. I appreciate that I can create different profiles for each child and save a library of favorites unique to their individual interests and goals.

Letter and sound knowledge are an essential, early step in building emergent literacy. Endless Alphabet is an awesome letter and sound skills-building sidekick for kids who benefit from just a little more oomph in their letter and sound practice routine. Set the stage for reading success with this delightfully interactive app full of letters, sounds, and tons of vocabulary-building potential! The world of Endless Monsters hosts each word adventure, featuring an interactive puzzle game with talking letters and a short animation illustrating the definition of the word. What I love most about this whimsical app for letter learners is that it goes beyond basic flashcards and really brings letters, sounds, and words to life! This is an app only with no web access; however, this app is available on most mobile platforms for a single purchase.

A follow-up to Endless Alphabet, Endless Reader sets the stage for early reading success with a focus on “sight words”, the most commonly used words in school, library, and children’s books. As readers move along in their emergent journeys, sight word instruction with engaging and interactive tools like this one can take the snooze out of the memorization process! Just like Endless Alphabet, this is an app only option available on most mobile platforms for a single purchase.

If you are a product of the 70’s or 80’s, you surely remember those old “Hooked on Phonics worked for me!” commercials! This literacy instruction toolbox has certainly stood the test of time and the brand has brought in interactive web and mobile app options to supplement or replace their traditional workbook and DVD materials. Although Hooked on Phonics is not specifically a curriculum for teaching complex learners, their emergent literacy level materials are engaging and rooted in sound, early literacy practices, with a focus on letter and sound skills, rhyming, print awareness, joy in reading, and the use of play and music to engage early literacy learners. You can access the videos, songs, and games in the HOP world via their website or free app, when you purchase a monthly subscription or use a printed materials access code (provided if you have any of their print tools). My oldest son started his reading journey during the early days of COVID using this program, and my youngest is just starting his journey with the Pre-K level lessons. We absolutely love using these tools as a family! The HOP app is available on most mobile platforms.

So, I admit it- I’m biased. I’m a huge PBS Kids fan because I love that I can count on PBS to offer developmentally appropriate, engaging, and kid-friendly media, absolutely free, no matter when I call upon it! I use PBS learning media often in my own virtual coaching sessions with students, and to teach and entertain my own children. If you have a PBS lover that is learning to read, be sure to check out the reading games that they offer, featuring many of their most loved characters who join with your child to teach a range of emergent and conventional literacy skills. PBS games can be accessed for free via your web browser or their mobile app, available on most mobile platforms. Although there are many literacy-focused games on the site, a few of my favorites for emergent literacy skills, specifically, are linked below.

Did you know that emergent literacy instruction is not only about reading, but also about writing? Clicker Software offers loads of great literacy building tools, including their Clicker Writer app for iPad and Chromebook. Clicker Writer is a word processor that includes word prediction and speech feedback to help emergent readers experience early writing success. Clicker requires a license to use, either for home use, or classroom use, and might be a bit more expensive than other options. A powerful suite of technology, nonetheless, and a great tool for your emergent literacy tool box!

Tag team emergent reading and writing with this versatile, book creation tool that is awesome for emergent readers of all abilities. WriteReader was designed for classroom use, but can be adapted for individual use as well. There is a free and subscription based option for this web-based tool (no app at this time). There are too many cool features to mention in both the creation and reading spaces - check out a simple list of features here.

A graphic of an open book laying on a table.  Clouds are rising from the open book to the right side.  Inside each cloud is the image of a different online tool, such as Google slides or Powerpoint.  To the left of the book is a red framed tablet device with picture communication symbols displayed don it.  Above the tablet is text that reads "Creating Resources to Support emergent Literacy: 4 Part Live Web Series, with Beth Poss, SLP and Author, offered by The AAC Academy by AACcessible".
Creating Resources to Support Emergent Literacy online learning series

Want to learn how to create your own engaging materials to support emergent literacy skills in your learners using free tools already at your fingertips? Enroll in this upcoming, online learning series with Beth Poss! This 4 part, follow-up to Beth's widely popular AAC, Literacy, & the SLP series will focus on hands-on skills to use common tools like Google Slides, Powerpoint, and Tar Heel Reader to create engaging literacy materials that your kids and students will love (and learn with)! Explore the course landing page to learn more about this incredible series, offered live and on-demand and relevant to professionals and caregivers.

Do you have an emergent literacy resource that you love? Share in the comments!

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