Chrome Apps for Students with Learning Difficulties

There are a number of students who are displaying signs of having learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, in schools across the country. While there are some troubles in getting a diagnosis for these students, there is no reason why we should not begin to help these students out where we can. In a senior school for example, you might have 4 classes with about 28 students in each. That is 112 students. It is said that one in five students have a learning difficulty such as dyslexia. That means that there is potentially 23 students who suffer from learning difficulty. That’s nigh on an entire class. Obviously, there will be many more who have difficulties developing through the junior school as well.

One way that can help these students immensely is through the use of technology. (Please also read “The Answer to everything is not an App“). There are a number of different resources available online for these students. Some of these apps are free and open source for students to use as they see fit. These can all been installed on each student Chromebook account. Students with learning difficulties can then need to enable them on their accounts, and make sure they are turned on for them to work. Some teaching around these tools also needs to be done, so the students know they are there to help and assist them in dealing with their learning struggles.

There is always a tendency to download and install absolutely everything, with features doubling up and too many to choose from (which to leads to none being chosen). I have personally installed each of these tools below and can personally recommend them. Each performs a different function to the other, and each has been designed to deal with learning difficulties that students face.

Free Apps

Open Dyslexic

Open-Dyslexic is an open sourced font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. This extension overrides all fonts on webpages with the OpenDyslexic font, and formats pages to be more easily readable.

Mercury Reader

The Mercury Reader extension for Chrome removes ads and distractions, leaving only text and images for a clean and consistent reading view on every site.

Read and Write for Google Chrome (Free Version)

Boost reading and writing confidence across all types of content and devices, in class, at work, and at home!

Wonderfully intuitive and easy-to-use, Read&Write for Google Chrome™ provides personalized support to make documents, web pages and common file types in Google Drive (including: Google Docs, PDF, ePub & Kes) more accessible. It’s designed to help everyone engage with digital content in a way that suits his/her abilities and learning styles.

BeeLine Reader

BeeLine uses a color gradient to guide your eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.  This seemingly simple tweak makes reading substantially easier and faster because it allows you to transition between lines quickly and effortlessly.

MagicScroll Web Reader

The MagicScroll Web Reader turns every page on the web into a MagicScroll book.

Its unique scrolling system lets you scroll web pages without moving them, making it easier to read long articles without being distracted.
Many of the suggested apps that assist learning for these students have premium versions or require subscriptions for them to be useful. In some sense, this applies for all apps in learning, but the difference being that we would be targeting those students who need it most, rather than supplying it to everyone. Obviously this depends completely on the cost of the app, or ongoing subscription as to whether it is viable to purchase for all students to use or not. If I was to recommend any app to purchase for a student with dyslexia or other learning difficulty, it would be Read&Write for Google Chrome, as outlined below.

Read & Write for Google Chrome

As mentioned earlier, the free/trial version is already installed for all students, and some are using this to good effect in class. However, many of the specific tools that assist students with learning difficulties are reserved for only the premium version. Luckily, teachers can sign up for an education account, and the premium features will be unlocked for you. Having done this myself, I can tell you that the premium features clearly show how they assist struggling students.

The app is developed by a company called Texthelp, and should go some way to explaining why they developed the features in this app. On their website, they describe their involvement in schools as “…award-winning assistive technology solutions [that] help school students of all ages with reading, writing and literacy in classroom lessons and at home. Used daily by millions of young people around the world, Read&Write literacy support software makes the web and documents more accessible for reluctant readers, individuals with dyslexia and other learning difficulties, as well as students whose first language isn’t English.” Their values as a company is all about the inclusive environment that all schools should be working towards. Their company values state that “At Texthelp we believe that absolutely everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential – at school, in the workplace and in later life, too. We believe there’s a whole world of avid readers and fluent writers, waiting to emerge with the right tools and encouragement. We believe in digital inclusion – where life stage, visual impairment, dyslexia or dis/ability aren’t barriers to the online opportunities that others enjoy. Most importantly of all, we believe that everyone’s entitled to the best possible learning and language support on their own personal journey – from literacy to life.”

It is quite obvious therefore how they came about developing the Read&Write app, and the features they decided to include in their premium version.


Features of Read & Write Specifically for Students with Dyslexia

  • Text to Speech feature (Free)
    Highlights each word as it is spoken, proven to help improve comprehension and understanding.
  • Dictionary
    Quickly brings up definition of the selected word.
  • Picture Dictionary
    Displays a selection of pictures that relate to the of the selected words.
  • Prediction
    Displays a range (between 3-10) of words that could go next in a written sentence.
  • Screenshot Reader
    Students can select an area from the screen and it will analyse any text in that part of the screen and read it out loud.
  • Highlights
    Students can choose from 4 colours to highlight parts of text for research and finding key parts from information..
  • Vocabulary List
    Creates a document that students can add words for their vocabulary to.
  • Talk & Type
    Students can talk into the microphone and it will type in the words for the students. The accuracy of this takes some time to get used to.
  • Screen Masking
    Masks off top and bottom of the page, so that a light line can be moved up and down. This allows students to focus on the line that they are reading.

While the free version allows for the main aspect of this app, where they can have what they have written read back to them, the features of the premium version are all highly valuable for students with learning difficulties.

While it is entirely possible that these features can be found independently within individual free apps, there is something to be said for having them all in one easy-to-use app, even if it is at a cost.

Read&Write for Google Feature

Free Chrome App Alternative

✔    Text to Speech* Speakit!

SpeakIt reads selected text using Text-to-Speech technology with language auto-detection. It can read text in more than 50 languages.

✔    Dictionary Google Dictionary (by Google)

With this extension, you can:

1) Double-click any word to view its definition in a small pop-up bubble.

2) View the complete definition of any word or phrase using the toolbar dictionary.

✔    Picture Dictionary No free alternative
✔    Prediction No free alternative
✔    Screenshot Reader No alternative – see Text to Speech though…
✔    Highlights ClipTo

Simplifies online research – Keep your highlights and notes on any page.

✔    Vocabulary List EachWord

Add new words to the dictionary and they will be occasionally shown as cards.

✔    Talk and Type Click to Dictate

Use this app to speak to dictate using speech recognition (voice-to-text, speech-to- text, instead of using your fingers typing)

✔    Screen Masking


Screen dimmer and reading aid, may help with fluency, eye-strain, concentration and comprehension whilst reading.

* Note: This part of Read&Write is free, so does not necessarily require an alternative.


There’s not really much more I can say in conclusion. In summary, get Read&Write for Google, and if you can justify it, purchase the premium version. If you can’t, don’t panic, there are several options to choose from that will provide students with assistive technology for a lower cost, though obviously, come in several packages, rather than in one easy-to-use app.