Thinking Outside the Book: Online Reading Rocks!

Book Links Sept. 2008 (vol. 18, no. 1)

By Jill Castek and Jessica Mangelson

Sitting in the library’s alcove, 35 third- and fourth-grade students are captivated by the story the school librarian is reading aloud. Their engagement is evident in their bursts of laughter, spontaneous comments, and enthusiastic responses. As educators, we cherish the joy that sharing a book brings to all our students, especially our most reluctant readers.

Sharing stories paves a pathway toward a lifelong love of reading. With the power of today’s new technologies, multimedia texts can be used to extend reading experiences, and the free resources available online have made it easier than ever to do just that. Exposing students to the wide array of interactive books available online expands their vision of what literacy is and goes a long way toward creating a literacy-rich environment that benefits all students. The Web sites shared in this column are easy for kids to access in the library and in the classroom. They provide quality experiences with literature that are educational, engaging, and fun.

The Gift of Great Storytelling

Supported by the Screen Actor’s Guild Foundation, “
Book PALS Storyline Online” is a free resource that houses a streaming video collection of popular children’s books read aloud by some of today’s most acclaimed actors. Students will love listening to these stories, reading the accompanying text, and examining the illustrations. Experiencing favorites such as
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon,
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, and
Sophie’s Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli through the magic of dramatic storytelling will spark a new appreciation for these classic books.

Book Hive “
Zinger Tales” is a collection of stories told by a troupe of gifted storytellers. These performances have been archived by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and can be accessed free online. There are many classic tales to be enjoyed, such as
The Three Billy Goats Gruff,
Anansi and the Two Feasts, and
Why Dogs Chase Cats. Some stories are accessible as audio files, while others include videos of the storytellers in action. In both formats, these multimedia stories create an unforgettable literature experience that is sure to engage all ages. Many storytellers share book recommendations, too.

The Kennedy Center’s “
Storytime Online” offers online adaptations of popular stories, such as
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst,
Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen, and
Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers. These streaming media presentations are read by the authors and are accompanied by the text’s original illustrations. Each of these presentations models fluent, expressive reading that students will soon emulate in their own oral reading.

NASA’s “
Eclipse in a Different Light” contains multimedia
storytelling clips that recount cultural myths about the causes of solar eclipses. This captivating series features stories told from different perspectives from around the globe. A downloadable transcript is included for each story.

Connecting Literature and Content Areas

Once these cultural myths have piqued your students’ interest in space, visit NASA’s free, easy-to-read
multimedia science books created for students in grades K–6. These texts explore space science topics such as solar flares, sunspots, and auroras. Available in English and Spanish, each book poses interesting questions about space and presents scientific facts that answer them. Don’t miss the
interactive gallery,
image gallery, and other NASA resources that will extend students’ comprehension and vocabulary while exploring these engaging texts.

Scholastic’s “
BookFlix” pairs video stories from Weston Woods with nonfiction e-books. These pairings, offered in both English and Spanish, support emergent readers’ literacy development while also expanding their background knowledge, content vocabulary, and listening comprehension. By taking advantage of the deep engagement young readers have with informational books, these low-cost Web resources (free trial versions are available) build interest in science, math, social studies, and health. Age-appropriate Web links extend student learning by offering more information about the nonfiction topics presented. Emerging readers, reluctant readers, and English-language learners will all benefit from the content connections introduced.

The Big Myth” from the International Association for Intercultural Education is a multimedia site that engages readers in exploring 25 creation myths from around the world. Accessible in English and Dutch, this site allows visitors to travel virtually to all areas of the globe, exploring stories told through music, animation, graphics, and stunning artwork. It is a valuable resource for exploring issues relating to mythology, cultural history, and intercultural understanding.

Supporting Struggling Readers

Incorporating online literature into your instructional repertoire enriches students’ reading experiences while fostering both traditional literacies and new literacies. The following resources include reading supports and interactive features that are designed to help
all students become strategic readers and writers.

Universal Design for Learning Editions” (UDL) from the Center for Applied Special Technology is a framework that guides educators to: (1) present information in multiple formats and media; (2) provide multiple pathways through which students can express ideas; and (3) utilize multiple means of engaging students’ interest. UDL editions enhance the accessibility of classic stories such as
The Tell-Tale Heart and
The Call of the Wild. Once students choose a text from the available selections, they are prompted to choose their own level of support (maximum, moderate, or minimal). The TextHelp tool bar offers access to a text-to-speech reader, a multimedia content-specific glossary, resources to build background information, and Spanish translations of selected words. Enrichment activities that extend learning can also be accessed. These supports aid all students in understanding content and building skills.

Created by a Canadian elementary educator in conjunction with her students, “
Browser Books” are short, leveled texts that are perfect for emerging readers. Each book features the words, voices, and images of real kids. The “word help” feature presents audio of the target word read aloud by a child. Organized into early reading levels 1–10, these books promote basic word recognition while also promoting reading fluency. Utilize the subject index to find texts featuring topics in science, math, social studies, health, and language arts.

Multimedia texts extend multiple opportunities to appreciate literature. The resources featured here make a new world of reading available to students with diverse abilities and interests. Use these sites to spread contagious excitement about books, reading, and learning.

Jill Castek is a literacy specialist with the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading project at UC Berkeley.
Jessica Mangelson has worked as an elementary-school teacher, reading specialist, and professor of reading education.