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5 Google Tools to Support All Levels of Reading

by Jules Csillag on April 27, 2016



Technology and Reading Can Complement Each Other Well, With a Little Conscious Design

Reading is multidimensional: it entails decoding of each sound, reading those sounds at an appropriate pace (fluency), then knowing how to interpret each of those word parts in order (morphology and syntax) to understand what you have read (comprehension). Beyond that, it requires you to bring in prior knowledge, to make connections, make inferences, and revise your mental picture.

Students can experience difficulty with any of these stages of reading, thus differentiation is essential to support students with diverse skills and needs. Even schools that are not fully integrated with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) can incorporate these useful tools as they are free, and can be accessed on a teacher’s account, or a single, class account. Below are 5 Google Tools to Support all levels of reading, regardless of skill level or age.

1. Google Docs & Add-Ons for Decoding and Annotating

Google Docs are a one-stop shop for writing, so how can it support reading? For one, writing and reading are closely intertwined, so many writing exercises directly impact reading. More transparently, Google Docs has text-to-speech tools that support students with decoding and fluency difficulties (such as dyslexia, also referred to as Specific Learning Disability with an Impairment in Reading). Use add-ons like Read & Write for Google Chrome TM by TexthelpTM, Select & Speak by iSpeech, or several other text-to-speech add-ons to allow all students to access complex texts, so that they continue to learn complex syntax and content.

Google Docs can also be used as an individual or group annotation tool: students can add comments and highlight passages to become active readers instead of passive consumers. Use Google Docs as-is, or use an add-on like Read & Write for Google ChromeTM by TexthelpTM to annotate within a Google Doc, or annotate any website with extensions like Diigo Library or Imagine Easy Scholar.

2. Google Forms for Learning Text Structure

Google Forms is primarily a quiz or test-generating tool, but it can also support reading in diverse ways. For one, you can provide chapter-ending quizzes, which will highlight important themes, characters/people, and events for students. This creates goal-directed readers, which is particularly useful for nonfiction reading. Google Forms can also be used more generically, however- initially, you can create a generic “article quiz” or “chapter quiz,” in which you can use the same questions for each article, thereby teaching text structure and the phases of reading (before, during, after) along with content. A nonfiction example would have students make note of headings/subheadings, pictures & captions, other graphics, and the opening and closing paragraph.

Students can also create their own generic Forms to demonstrate their knowledge of text structure, and so they can have all of their own responses in one place (which makes for a handy reference or study guide). Here is a “TWA”* example:


*TWA: Think before reading, While reading, and After reading. Above, some “before reading” strategies for nonfiction texts

3. Google Drawings for Visualizing Reading

Google Drawings are the perfect, replicable graphic organizer tool. You can create Venn diagrams to compare and contrast books (e.g. The Lorax vs. The Wump World, two perfect Earth Day companions) or nonfiction ideas (e.g. Democrat vs. Republican, two possibly-flawed election year companions).

In addition, Google Drawings are excellent ways to make infographics (e.g. a timeline of events from a novel or history, any cycle or system in Science or Social Studies), or literature tie-ins. Some of my favorites include making a movie poster (for a book) or making a meme or (political) cartoon about a Social Studies concept. Annotated models can help ensure that students demonstrate their deep understanding, instead of simply picking out surface concepts.

If needed, students can annotate their own visuals to show their depth of thinking (e.g. create a picture or caricature of a character, and include 3 quotes about that character that is depicted in that image).

4. YouTube for Enhancing Reading Fluency and Comprehension

We tend not to think of YouTube as a Google Tool, but YouTube is owned by Google, and it has several customizable features, a hallmark of many Google tools. YouTube videos support reading in multiple ways: to support reading fluency, turn on Closed Captioning (on the bottom right “cc” button for any video; sometimes it is inaccurate, however, so you can also filter by videos that have “Closed Captioning”).

YouTube is also a useful way to support students’ content knowledge, which is particularly useful for students who have difficulty with reading comprehension, or lack background knowledge of the topic. As a bonus, embed a YouTube video into a Google Form to have students answer questions or reflect on a video they watched to ensure comprehension.

5. Google Slides for Reflecting on Reading

Google Slides are a useful way to accumulate information to create a study guide or end-of-unit project. For example, if students are using Google Drawings to make memes or cartoons about Social Studies concepts, by the end of a unit, they could have several. Similarly, instead of movie posters, students could make chapter posters, and then their culminating project would be their Google Slides, which would demonstrate their understanding of the book.

Google Slides is also a spectacular collaboration tool– students can each be assigned a character, historical figure, or political party to focus on and each can take up a slide or two in a group project. As always, models and a rubric or checklist ensure that students demonstrate their deepest understanding and analysis.


A model slide about the character, Via, in Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This blog post has been adapted from excerpts of Differentiated Reading Instruction: Strategies and Technology Tools to Help All Students Learn. Pre-order yours today via Amazon or the publisher, Routledge.


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5 Ways for Teachers to Take Back the Computerized Classroom

by Steffen Hedebrandt on April 26, 2016


Ever found yourself frustrated by the wall of technology between your students and your teaching?

In this article, Steffen Hedebrandt provides 5 ways to take back the classroom and succeed with your teaching in a way that grasps your students’ attention.

Teaching has changed a lot in the last 20 years. In the 90’s, we got access to computers. The 00’s connected us as the internet spread. These days, pen and paper are becoming pixels and keyboards.

Where the students once faced their teachers with nothing in front of them but a book and pen, they can now be fenced off behind computers, tablets and smartphones. This is a dramatically different context from how teachers, especially those from older generations, grew up.

At this point, I think we can all agree that technology is here to stay. It seems pointless to try and ban technology from the classroom. As they say in golf, you have to play it as it lies. The students are becoming more and more savvy with it and even our way of storing knowledge in our brain is changing. It’s a kind of memory outsourcing.

It’s a new game that demands a reassessment of what works and what does not. Here are five suggestions for you on how to take back the computerized classroom. Whether you agree or not, I would love to hear from you in the comments field and on social media.

1. Set Rules

First of all, let’s be honest. Kids need boundaries. They may not always know when they should be present and when it’s okay to explore the digital world. The students need rules of engagement. Not just for your sake, but also to make sure a new generation grows up using technology intelligently that empowers them like no generation before them. Consider things like tech-free-time where phones are put away on a shelf during class. If there’s no educational need for technology, it shouldn’t be allowed to disturb the class. Have you tried more restrictive rules? How have they been received?

2. Change the Physical Setup

The traditional classroom has for the longest time been structured with the teacher at the front of the classroom and students sitting in rows. Typically, the interested students tended to sit in the front rows, with those less interested sitting in the back. Add to that the fact that the students now can flip up their computer and surf on multiple Social media during class. Something must be done. No more hiding for the back row. No more being fenced off from the teacher. We need to nurture dialogue, eye contact, focus, and relations. Some have solved this with U-shaped desk setups. What classroom setup works the best in your experience?

3. Move

The classroom is your stage. Do not be afraid to use the space to grasp the students’ attention. And then grasp it again. And again. If you are constantly standing in the same position, you will lose the students’ attention. Furthermore, if you just stand behind your desk, it will only be students sitting close to you with whom you are able to sense and built relationships with. Make sure to walk around the room. Make it exciting and dare to get closer to your students. How do you use your physical presence in a classroom? (And don’t forget how much moving helps students learn too! – KW)

4. Empower the Student

These days, students are immensely tech savvy. They are hooked to digital devices from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. They carry around cutting edge technology all the time. They find this stuff interesting. You should utilize this. Have you asked your students to record a video of themselves explaining tough math problems? Or to Perhaps even do Snapchat “stories” of what they have learned. I know it seems radical, but I promise you, you will grasp the attention of your students. This also means asking the students to share their screen during class. What are they looking at? Which page of the book? Have they done their calculations correctly? Allow them to use their tech tools like they do all the time when they are not at school.

5. Get Technology Right

Everywhere young people go today, they are surrounded by technology and WiFi. Since the classroom doesn’t exist in a vacuum, why should the classroom be outdated? Take wireless streaming, for example. I will bet you students have screens that they stream their computer content to at home. Long, cumbersome cables are no longer an option. You should be able to walk around freely without being afraid of tripping on a cable. Likewise, the students shouldn’t need adapters and wires to plug into their computer when they want to quickly show their screen. Make sure that the classroom offers platform agnostic wireless streaming (i.e., does not favor only Mac or PC users, but instead accommodates both). Overall, the digital elements must work faster and smarter.

Those are my 5 ideas on how to take back the computerized classroom. Do you agree? Should more be added to the list? Let me know in the comments or on social media.


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Teach Your Students New Languages With These 5 New Apps  

April 25, 2016

Learning a new Language Doesn’t Have to be a Challenge with These Apps Language learning is a process that can stymie even the most dedicated student, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are many applications that make this frustrating process a lot easier for students of all ages and skill levels. These […]

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Instructional Tech, Teaching, & Learning Tweet Wrap (Week Ending 04-23-16)

April 24, 2016

Inspiring, informative, useful, or just plain fun tweets posted on Twitter over this past week … collected here to share with our blog readers. This week in the wrap … several pieces exploring emerging technologies, like genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, a “sheet camera”, and the amazing potential for using DNA for data storage; a heads-up on […]

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MadAboutMattering – A Brilliant Collaboration from 3 Inspiring Education and Technology Leaders

April 20, 2016

Modeling Compassion Driven Innovation  This Undertaking is Enabling Students to Make a Difference and Solve Real World Problems I am delighted to see that three education and technology powerhouses have joined together in an inspired effort designed to help students follow their passions and make a difference. This is a really exciting undertaking that combines […]

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Mastery Learning and Grading: Changing our Approach to Outcomes and Grades

April 19, 2016

Imagine if Education Worked This Way in Most Schools … Back in 2011, I had been blogging about education for a couple of years and found myself thinking that while lots of tech tools showed promise as engaging constructs, and offered something new and exciting, I wasn’t sure that they could really change learning. Then I […]

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Top 10 Ways to Increase Your Students’ Interest in a Subject

April 18, 2016

(Image Source) Look for Ways to Make it Relevant and Fun – You and Your Students Will Come out Ahead I’m always up for a reminder about the things we need to do capture student’s attention while learning about a new subject. And it’s a great way to start the week! – KW Making your […]

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Teaching and Technology Tweet Wrap for Week Ending 04-17-16

April 17, 2016

Inspiring, informative, useful, or just plain fun tweets posted on Twitter over this past week … collected here to share with our blog readers. This week … a couple articles exploring emerging blockchain technology as it relates to education, 9 unsettling ‘elephants’ in the worldwide classroom that is education, helping students search more effectively, why […]

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Unlocking Financial Literacy Awareness With Free Finance & Accounting Tool and Lessons

April 13, 2016

(Image Source) Shouldn’t Every Month be Financial Literacy Awareness Month? April is Financial Literacy Awareness Month. I feel strongly that this should be an essential topic in all High Schools and Colleges. Students need to know how to manage money, it’s vital. This post offers tools and lessons to help teachers incorporate financial literacy into an […]

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This NYC School Integrates Games in ALL Subjects, and Kids Love it

April 12, 2016

Image Source Quest to Learn (a.k.a. Institute of Play) is an Inspiring Example of the Potential for Schools to Succeed With new Models That Make Learning Truly Engaging If you think that digital games have no place at school, or that it is too early to try them in class, think again. A school based in […]

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