By Crysta Baier
Ten years ago, I made a career change and took a job as librarian/guided reading teacher at Edgerton Elementary. It was a far cry from my roots in the high school English classroom, but it turned out to be a job I loved—nurturing emerging readers from the ground level.
Three years ago, my position changed, and I became a librarian/computer teacher. I asked myself, how am I going to figure out how to teach these kids to navigate the computer? How can I support the homeroom teachers, help with reading development, and get students interested in learning in the computer classroom?
Through the last three years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve talked to a lot of other teachers and called my tech department with a plethora of questions. But most of all I’ve come across some tools that are fun and educational, and support my school’s reading curriculum.
Some are free, some are subscription-based, and all of them have been helpful to me as a computer teacher and librarian.
Raz Kids is an online, guided-reading program for K-5 students. It’s subscription based, and my school has chosen to purchase just the first and second grade programs. This program allows a teacher to set up individualized programs for the class based on each student’s Fountas and Pinnell reading level.
Students then listen to, read, and comprehend online books at their own level. As each student improves, he or she moves up levels in the program. Students work on RAZ Kids at school, in computer class and at home.
Right now RAZ Kids has more than 400 ebooks, giving students some variety in the books they’re reading. The program also allows students to record themselves reading a book, then listen to themselves read it.
Teachers, too, can have access to this audio recording to assess oral reading growth. The program includes a motivational piece, which allows students to earn reading stars that can be spent to building their own “reading rocket.”
The Last Word: Students enjoy the many ebooks and gamification features of RAZ Kids, making it a fun educational tool that facilitates reading growth.
Abcya.com is a free, educational website for kids. We use it all the time in computer lab, sometimes as a reward, but typically as a way to practice reading and/or math skills.
The website offers learning games for Pre-K-5, with games that cover a variety of topics such as letter and number identification, alphabetical order, mouse practice, letters on the keyboard, addition and subtraction, sight words, word problems and spelling. I use the reading tab on Abcya.com regularly to reinforce what students are learning in class.
The Last Word: The games are fun, and they reinforce what teachers are doing in the classroom. The kids, even my older ones, absolutely love playing on Abcya.com.
Kidspiration is a cross-curricular, subscriptionbased software program that uses a variety of graphic organizers to promote learning. Kidspiration can be used in many ways to help with reading.
For kindergarten and first grade classes, I use images to help with a reading concept; students drag the appropriate images to the correct box on the screen. For instance, if the lesson is on beginning sounds, students drag all the B words to the B column.
I use this tool with older students in the context of a book we’ve read together, giving them a chance to take a deeper look at the book. If I’m teaching a non-fiction text, I might access a KWL chart in Kidspiration. With a fiction book, I might use a Venn Diagram to compare characters or an idea web to identify main events in the story.
The Last Word: Kidspiration is a great tool for K-5 students because it combines reading, listening and writing through graphic organizer templates.
Starfall is another free, online resource most appropriate for kindergarten and first grade students. The site offers both reading and math games, but I tend to use just the reading reinforcement piece in computer class.
The main menu on the site promotes basic skills— students learn their letters through short, interactive videos about each letter—and progressively moves toward learning harder skills.
The site also offers short, phonicsrelated ebooks, as well as books that allow students to add information about themselves and then print.
The Last Word: Starfall is a great place to find seasonal texts for younger students—stories about Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. It also offers different genres of ebooks, giving students a wide variety of reading texts to choose from. This is another educational tool that kids absolutely love.
The PBS Kids website is a favorite among my K-2 students, but it does take a little bit of knowledge and navigational skills to get to the good stuff. There are dozens of games on this site; some are educational and some just for fun.
It may be a bit overwhelming without some guidance from an adult or a teacher, but can be very helpful in teaching reading when you know where to go.
One web page I like on the PBS Kids site is Between the Lions. The TV show itself is all about the joys of reading, and the Between the Lions web page has an assortment of fun and academic games best for PreK-1 students.
There are games that address beginning sounds, identifying upper and lower case letters, rhyming words, blends, and more. Aside from that, there are songs about reading and about letters and videos that tell stories while showing the words in the story so students can follow along.
The Last Word: I find that the Between the Lions activities reinforce skills learned in the classroom, and my students enjoy themselves while they learn.
Bonus: Whooo’s Reading
This reading motivation tool, which is best for K-8 students, uses key elements of gamification, including personalization, goal-setting, progress indicators, advancements, rewards and recognition, to entice students to read more.
After logging their reading, students answer an open-ended, CCSS-aligned comprehension question, and interact with their peers in the newsfeed-style home dashboard. They earn Wisdom Coins for doing all of these things, which can be “spent” in the Owl Shop on virtual accessories.
“I introduced this to my 6th graders last week, and they are IN LOVE with it!!! It’s amazing how motivated they are to read just so they can customize their owl and screen background,” said Kelley S., 6th grade teacher.
Librarians and reading/media specialists can purchase a school-wide subscription for just $2-$4 per student, depending on the size of the school.
The Last Word: As students become better and deeper thinkers, the extrinsic motivation soon becomes intrinsic, making read in and of itself rewarding.
The good news is that there are many different types of technologies and sites available to librarians, reading specialists, media specialists and teachers that reinforce reading.
If you wish to use these technologies in the classroom, I’d encourage you to find some you like and are easy to navigate, and then spend time exploring. Play the games yourself, and let the kids give them a try. You’ll soon find the sources that work best for you and your students.