Young Mensan Magazine is a digital magazine for students that is free and available online. Though the target audience is children who are part of Mensa, a non-profit organization open to people who score in the 98th %ile or above on certain IQ tests, the magazine is not restricted to members, and should appeal to students with a variety of interests. It has jokes (the latest edition includes a Mad-Lib type of activity), puzzles, and human interest stores that are contributed by children who are members of Mensa around the world. There are also contests, such as the “Create a Cryptid Contest” (deadline September 30), as well as poems and well-written articles.
Though Young Mensan is a quarterly magazine, you can also access the archive online — dozens of previous issues that go all of the way back to 2009 when the magazine was originally titled, Fred. Some of the themes you’ll find are: “Numbers Game,” “Time Tales,” “2E,” and, “Zombies.”
Whether you assign an article or poem to be read, offer this as an option for “first finishers,” or recommend it to parents of children who are always hungry for new things to read, definitely keep the Young Mensan Magazine in mind as a great option for students searching for engaging and relevant reading material.
Gen-Z Media (GZM) creates podcasts designed for all ages, and they’ve just published a website, GZM Classroom, with educational resources for grades 3-8 that can be used with their programs. Those of you who have used Hyperdocs will be pleased to know that the resources have been designed by the two co-creators of Hyperdocs, Sarah Landis and Lisa Highfill, and are just as engaging and innovative as we’ve seen in the past.
Before you dismiss podcasts as a waste of time in your classroom, ask yourself how many times you’ve had to repeat something to a student who “wasn’t listening.” It’s pretty clear that listening skills are vital, and cultivating them shouldn’t be considered irrelevant to learning. In addition, podcasts can teach comprehension and they are pre-recorded so students can listen to them several times if needed to develop better understanding. Each podcast on the GZM site also has a list of standards that are addressed, many of them including reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills in the student materials. For more on “Why You Should Bring Podcasts into the Classroom,” check out this Cult of Pedagogy article.
You’ll find a good overview of each podcast series, genres, themes, average episode length, summaries, and more on the Classroom Resources page. Once you choose a series, the “Get Started button” under the summary will take you the series page, where you will find all of the resources as well as links to the series episodes. Each series has a listening guide (both digital and printable versions available), a choice board, and an explore board as well as explanations for how to use the materials with your students.
I’ve heard a lot of great things about The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel – and the fact that there are three seasons of this show plus that it’s won several awards should be indications of its power to keep students listening.
Another series that probably all of us should listen to is The Big Fib, also an award winner. It’s a game show in which each episode features a kid who questions two “experts” on a specific topic and must try to get to the bottom of who is telling the truth and who is, well, the Big Fibber.
Almost two years ago I wrote an article called, “Podcast Pedagogy” for NEO, and it amazes me to read it now and think of all of the new resources that I could add. Whether you want to use podcasts in centers or whole group, or for developing listening and comprehension or inspiring creative writing, there are plenty of options, and GZM Classroom has just given you access to an incredible number of free quality materials to help you do it.
Visit this collaboration between the Exploratorium and Mr. Limata’s Storytime to access a wealth of ideas joining literature with making. Mr. Limata is an elementary school teacher who shares read-alouds which have been paired with creative activities he has used with his second grade class. From balancing sculptures to imaginative ideas for creating with shadows, this page offers concrete activities that teachers, librarians, and parents can use to involve their students in S.T.R.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math)
For one of my current consulting jobs I am making short how-to videos for different technology tools that are helpful in distance learning. One of the recent ones that I have been recommending to teachers has been the Immersive Reader tool from Microsoft, which can be used within many of the company’s own products, like Microsoft Word, but can also be used on the Microsoft Edge web browser and in other ed tech products like Newsela and Wonderopolis.
I first wrote about Immersive Reader in a post from 2019, where I included several ways to support diverse readers and speakers with technology that I had learned about at TCEA in 2019. Leslie Fisher had done some quick demonstrations of Immersive Reader and other tech tools that could help students with translating, reading, and writing on the internet. Unfortunately, the teens and tweens I was teaching at the time did not have adequate equipment to support some of these during class – such as headphones and private screens – without making them feel singled out. Because of the pandemic, more technology has been dispersed and many students are working independently, so students may be more inclined to use these tools – if they know about them.
For the web version of Immersive Reader, students need to be using the Microsoft Edge Web browser (though there is an unofficial chrome extension that mimics Immersive Reader if you want to go that route – read my post about extensions first). When using Edge, students can generally right-click on a web page, and choose to have it read aloud. But many pages with articles will have an extra feature that you can see in the URL window – a book icon. If the book icon is visible, you can click on it. (Please be aware that the icon is only available on articles – and even then may not be present if the article is heavy with advertising and photo galleries.)
After you click on the book, you will be in “Reader View,” which takes away all of the distractions on the page. You will also get a menu right under the URL window that gives you many more options.
You can still have the page read aloud (and choose from dozens of voice options as well as the speed). But you can also use Text Preferences to change the size of the text, its spacing, and the background color. Under “Grammar Tools” you have the option of splitting words into syllables, and/or designating parts of speech with any color(s) you choose. “Reading Preferences” allows you to focus on one or more lines at a time, enable a picture dictionary, or translate the page into a different language.
I have no doubt that students will be distracted when they are first introduced to the tool. Even I got a little off-task trying to hear words read to me in different voices. But once students have explored it, and have it available to them at all times, the novelty should wear off, and students can use Immersive Reader to enhance their learning. To de-stigmatize its use, I would encourage all of my students to learn how to use it, so that it becomes as normalized as grabbing a dictionary off the shelf. (Okay, that’s probably not as normal anymore, but I think you get the picture.)
When my daughter was younger, she would often plop on the floor next to our golden retriever, Mia, and read to her. I would have suspected that Mia was just being a good sport, but her additional voluntary presence during our nightly bedtime stories seemed to suggest that she actually enjoyed read alouds. Each evening, my husband or I would set ourselves up in the beanbag chair on the floor by our daughter’s bed, and Mia and our bulldog, Clancy, would lie down on either side of us, muzzles in their paws and eyes wide open, as we made our way through Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. (It should be noted that, at the time, Clancy’s greatest joy was devouring books in a very literal way, so it was quite the feat to get him to calm down and actually listen to one being read.)
Pet Partners, an organization that helps to train therapy animals and match volunteers with organizations, recognizes the magic of reading to your pet. In response to the pandemic, which may have placed more responsibility on parents to encourage their children to read at home, Pet Partners has begun a new program called, “We Are All Ears.” With a reading log, printable bookmarks, and a bingo card students who may find reading to be a chore can make it more fun by involving their pet snake, hamster, bird, dog, cat, etc… The program is free, but you can also purchase a t-shirt if you like.
I’ve seen lots of pictures on social media of people thankful for their pets during the quarantine. Now you can give back to your pets while practicing literacy at the same time.
There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading. There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list. Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):
Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser. If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud. Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page. Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation? Click here to get the instructions.
Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time! You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.
I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!