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.)
For some more ways that Immersive Reader can be used, including other apps that support it, I recommend reading this article, “3 Ways to Support Your Students Using Immersive Reader,” from Ditch That Textbook.
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!
I found this post from Melissa on Upper Elementary Snapshots. She describes the Depth and Complexity icons developed by Sandra Kaplan, and includes a link to a free download for Critical Thinking Bookmarks. The packet includes Melissa’s tips for how to use the bookmarks in class. This is a nice resource for students in 3rd grade and up who are reading novels for literature circles or in other contexts.
I don’t take as much advantage of Newsela as I should. This service, which provides articles about current events that can be adjusted to reading levels, just keeps getting better and better. As with many edtech tools these days, there are different features for different price points. I currently have the free version, which allows me to add students to a dashboard and to assign particular articles to read. Students can also take quizzes after they read.
Newsela offers free summer reading clubs. Students can choose which set of articles they would like to receive for the summer from a menu of 12 different topics that range from Animals to the Strange but True News Club. Once they sign up (instructions are given at this link), they will receive 10 articles on that subject that they can read and take quizzes on throughout the summer.
We are always trying to get our students to read more non-fiction, and this seems to be a great way to keep them interested and informed over the break!