- Literacy is critical for students–and elementary years are a pivotal time
- These online tools help students develop essential literacy skills
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- For more news on literacy, see eSN’s Innovative Teaching page
Fall is the best time of year in Montana. The air is crisp, the colors are beautiful, and, as school has been in session for two months, students and teachers alike have settled into a nice routine. It is the time of year where we analyze the data from the first two months of school, tweak instruction to meet student needs, and accelerate our efforts to help our students achieve as much growth as possible. Just as in classrooms nationwide, Montana’s teachers place an intense focus on supporting literacy in elementary school instruction.
As a veteran teacher of 17 years who has taught in both elementary and middle school classrooms, I have found that there are a number of powerful edtech tools available to support student literacy. My students love to be on the computers and get so excited when I say we are going to be doing a lesson online. However, I refuse to allow students to simply log screen time in my classroom. The tools and resources my students use must generate discussion and are often used in a team or partner setting, as I strongly believe that student interaction supports our instructional goals.
Here are are five of the best online tools I’ve found that support student discussion and help improve literacy:
- Epic: Epic is a digital library of online books. I have used Epic for a number of years, and have been an Epic Ambassador for the last 5 years. I have been able to use it at every level I have taught. It has audiobooks for those beginning readers and chapter books for the more advanced. You can create quizzes for the books your students are reading and assign collections to your students. I found Epic to be really helpful when using it for reports. Epic allows for all students to research and learn about different topics. Epic is currently a free resource for teachers and allows students access to around 20,000 books from 7-3. Your district can purchase a school account and it will provide 24/7 access to around 40,000 books to students.
- Vooks: Vooks is a wonderful resource for the PK-2 grade teacher. It provides animated stories that are read aloud to students. It has lessons that support the stories they have animated. This includes discussion points, themes, and so much more that can be used to scaffold student discussions of text. Vooks is a resource that does cost money, however if your district has Discovery Education, it is included.
- Discovery Education: This is an incredible resource that every educator should be using in their classroom. Discovery Education provides a wide variety of resources and lessons for teachers and students to use. For the primary grades it has read aloud stories with lessons provided to go with the story. WIthin the lessons there is a wide variety of ideas presented from SEL lessons, to art lessons, to science lessons and so much more. They have slideshows that teach students how to edit and find mistakes.
For the older grades, there are videos where teachers can add comprehension questions to check for understanding. There are engaging videos to get students talking about reading and the different strategies used to help students become better readers and develop comprehension skills. They have channels that promote certain ideas and within the channels are more lessons and ideas. My students beg me to do the Fix It slides. They get to pretend they are the teacher and have to help their students find their mistakes. They get to practice their reading skills, but writing skills as well. In my home state of Montana, educators have free access to this resource through the state Office of Public Instruction, but as this resource is used in school systems nationwide, check with your district on availability.
- Storyline Online: This website is targeted to PK-4th grade students. It began as a site where actors read famous children’s books. It has become a place where teachers and parents can access the stories and lesson plans to go with them. The site does a great job scaffolding and getting students talking about reading in its lessons. It provides sentence starters and lessons are based on Common Core Standards. My students loved listening to Clark the Shark and completing the rhyming lesson that went with it.
- Readworks: This is a free website featuring a variety of reading passages for K-12 grade. I like to use this resource in 2 ways. First, we listen to a story. Readworks passages always have highlighted vocabulary words that we discuss as a class. Then it provides questions to check comprehension.
Readworks also features a wide variety of question types from multiple choice to class discussions. I enjoy the class discussion prompts because it promotes students talking about their thinking. For the upper grades you can assign passages and assignments to specific students. This helps to differentiate instruction. Readworks provides paired texts, which are two prompts similar within a theme, topic or literary element. There are questions about each passage and then students have to make connections between the passages and write about it. When I taught the upper grades I used this a lot to help prepare students for standardized tests.
Overall, there are many ways to use technology to get students reading and talking about what they are reading. During my years of teaching, I’ve learned that if students are invested in what they are reading, and if they are able to share their learning with their peers, their passion for learning will grow alongside their reading comprehension. In this way, these resources help develop the lifelong learners every teacher wants their students to become.
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