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Screens vs. Books? Not Necessarily….

Four ways to use technology to foster reading.

Source: Pixabay

Cyber Monday has just passed, Christmas is almost upon us, and many children are hoping for, and getting, new laptops, tablets or smartphones, and all kinds of apps and programs to put on them. Meanwhile, parents and teachers worry that all that “screen time” will discourage reading. And there’s no denying that the instant rewards of games like Angry Birds, and the social draw of Snapchat or Instagram, can sometimes crowd out time and inclination for “real” reading.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are four ways technology can be used strategically to support and enhance traditional literacy development in children.

Technology can add fun to reading skills practice

Most beginning readers need lots of practice to develop fundamental phonetic and decoding skills, along with a basic sight word vocabulary--the keys to early reading success. Yet practicing with the usual flashcards and worksheets is anything but exciting, which makes them less effective and can also start kids believing that reading itself is boring.

Luckily, there are now many programs and apps out there to help children practice these important skills in an engaging, game-based format. Such programs should not be used as the main tool of reading instruction (We shudder at images of young schoolchildren lined up in rows, each facing their own individual computer for hours at a time!), but they can be really useful as instructional add-ons, opportunities for novice readers to get the practice they need painlessly, and some of the best are free to both schools and families! Here are some we especially like:

  • The PBS collection of reading games for kids has over 100 reading-based games for kids, many based on popular PBS-TV or storybook characters.
  • The Reading Machine has links to free reading games and apps, classified by type and grade level.
  • The classic Reader Rabbit games and others by the Learning Company are all available to play online free (along with 1000's of other old educational games) at

Technology can provide access to thousands of free children’s books

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that kids with access to more books at school and at home become better readers. But children’s books can be expensive, and a large home library is out of the economic reach of many families. Even schools struggle to provide enough books for children with special interests, like volcanoes or heavy machinery, or special needs, like books in Spanish or Vietnamese. Fortunately, a number of websites now offer curated collections of e-books and other good reading materials at many reading levels, all free to read online. Here are some of our favorites, many with special features that make them even more useful to diverse readers and those who care about them:

  • The International Children’s Digital Library has hundreds of free children's books featuring multiple cultures and written (and translated) in multiple languages.
  • Unite for Literacy offers many free children's e-books written in English and narrated in multiple languages of the reader’s choice.
  • Newsela is especially for the non-fiction lover, with thousands of thoughtful articles on science, history, art, sports, famous people, and even current events. Articles range in reading level from second grade through high school; many are even adjustable in level, and all are accessible through basic accounts free to kids, parents and teachers.

Technology can let kids be real authors

There’s no better way to increase childrens’ interest and expertise in literacy than by letting them write and share their own work, and there are many sites designed to let them do just that! Here are a few good, safe sites, open to children of various ages and read by children and adults all over the world:

  • Storyjumper is a free site where children can read picture e-books and also write and illustrate their own e-books to share with others. For a fee, they can even get printed and bound copies of their books for their personal libraries or to share with their classmates or grandparents.
  • Teen Ink is an online and print literary magazine by and for teens and pre-teens where kids can submit stories and poems for publication and also read work published by other kids their age.
  • Kidpub, unlike most of the resources listed here, is not free, but at $14.95 a year, it isn’t that expensive either, and members can post their own work freely, as well as read and comment on work by fellow authors.

Technology can bring out the social in reading

Kids (and adults) who love to read also love to talk about books, while newer readers become more motivated when they hear their friends recommend books and have the chance to share their own opinions and favorites as well. Here are a number of websites and apps that provide formats for young (and old) readers to share “book talk” with a broader audience:

YouTube is a great place for kids of all ages post their own created book trailers or just brief video talks about their favorite books where their friends, their families, and the world can see them!

Goodreads is a free social media website for people 13 & up to read and share book recommendations and reviews with the book reading public. Alternatively, anyone (including teachers) can create "private groups" in Goodreads with restricted memberships.

Biblionasium is a similar site for children ages 6-13, again free to teachers, parents and children. Teachers can also coordinate Biblionasium with Destiny, a commonly used online book catalog, so that their friends’ reviews will appear when kids search the school library catalog for books.

So this holiday, think about how you can use those ubiquitous screens to further engage your children or students in reading - they will thank you for years to come!