My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

5 Effective Tips to Help Kids Read More

“How can I get my child to read more?”

This is probably the number question a parent asks me, if their child is seven or eleven.

There is plenty of research to support the positive effects of reading, so it’s no wonder that parents are concerned about their child’s reading time. With video games and other screen activities captivating readers of all ages, getting kids to read more has become increasingly harder.

Every reader is different. What works for one child may not work for his or her sibling. Some kids just need to find that one book that makes them fall in love with reading (see my post  7 Books That Turn Tweens into Readers) But, I have found that the best way to get a kid reading is to find the perfect texts. Why? If a reader can find texts that they find interesting and engaging, he or she is more likely to want to read more texts. Below are some of my personal approaches to matching texts to readers.

  1. There are different ways to read. In my personal experience as an English teacher and Reading Specialist, this seems to be the trick that gets my students reading more. It is still reading if a student listens to an audiobook or a read aloud. Apps, like Audible, are amazing because they allow readers to listen anywhere at any time on their mobile devices. I would suggest having a reader listen to a book they’ve already read before so they can get used to listening to a text if they are new to audiobooks. Some students also prefer to read along with an audiobook so that can always be added to the mix. Read alouds can be done by anyone in the family at any time. While driving on vacation, after dinner around the kitchen table, or ten minutes before bed every night, whatever works best for the reader and the family.
  2. Movie/video game books. I see this more with kiddos in grades 4-6 who are in between the easy chapter books and middle school books. A few years ago, Minecraft books were super popular among this age group. Video game and movie companies often times put out a line of guide/companion books, spin off stories and more to get the attention of young readers. Some popular ones right now are Lego, Fortnite, and Animal Crossing.
  3. Find out what’s popular. Sometimes kids like to be surprised with a recommendation. Knowing what other kids are reading can be very powerful, so spend some time doing a little bit of research. The majority of this research can be done online with Facebook groups, Google lists, blogs, etc. However, if you’re like me and LOVE going to the library, check in with the children’s librarian. I’m blessed to say that my children’s librarian is an incredible woman who has been my go-to since I was in college. These book lovers have immense knowledge about genres, authors and specific titles for literally every type of reader.
  4. Ask them! One of my favorite things to do with kids is to talk about books. When that dialogue is opened about books, themes, topics, etc., it’s amazing what kids will say. There’s nothing wrong with sitting down and having an honest and open conversation with your reader about reading. Don’t be afraid to ask your child why they don’t like to read, or what they need to read more. Keep those conversations about books going because it will encourage kids to read more. During these chats, ask your child what he or she wants to read. It’s super important to note that reader choice is HUGE in helping kids develop reading habits. Give your child options during these talks and ultimately let them choose.
  5. Set an example. I grew up with my mom reading magazines. Literally she always had one ready to go (and a massive stack next to her bed). Kids mimic their parents constantly, so if you want your child to read more set an example. Instead of scrolling on your phone at night while sitting in the living room, pick up a book or an e-reader. If you want your kids to talk to you about books, start the conversations. It’s okay to  say, “I read this article about….”. It may not happen overnight, but you will see kids mirroring these reading behaviors.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Rescue Book Review

One of my favorite things about being a book blogger is being able to introduce children and families to quality texts from authors. I’m fortunate to have connected with indie authors who are extremely passionate about their books and take pride in what they create.

I’ve been working with kindergarten students over the last few weeks for summer school, and during our morning meeting we read a different picture book. I read them PB & J (see my review here), and the other day they requested another book by the same author.

Rescue, by Christine Reynebeau, and illustrated by Jessica Kopecky, is a fabulous picture book about the importance of teamwork and friendship.

Readers are introduced to three dogs (Finley, Walter and Phoebe) who are friends. Phoebe is playing with balls outside when her favorite ball makes its way into Lulu’s yard. Lulu is not the friendliest dog and Phoebe knows she will need some help from her friends, Finley and Walter, to get her ball back. Together, the three friends create and execute a successful plan to help Phoebe.

Personally, I really liked that this story featured dogs as the main characters. While I feel the story would have been just as engaging with humans, there’s something  special about using animals in picture books. My kindergarteners would also agree that they loved having dogs as the characters, and they really loved the name Walter.

As a teacher and parent, I loved the simplicity of the writing style. When reading to my six year old students, I didn’t have to stop and clarify any words or explain situations. My readers were able to comprehend on their own, with the use of the pictures.

Since I had been working with my students on using pictures to help them understand a story, they were able to practice this strategy on their own with this book. I LOVE that the pictures supported and elaborated on the text. For instance, the picture of Lulu clearly lets readers know that she is not the friendliest dog in the neighborhood.

As always, I’m a huge fan of the themes used in books by Reynebeau. Readers are able to pick up on the themes of friendship and teamwork quite easily while reading this text.

I recommend this book for readers 0-7.

To purchase this book click here.

Summer Family Bookish Guide Review

Summer reading is a pretty popular term. Schools encourage young child to participate in reading contests, high school students usually have to read a book and complete an activity. However, many families are unsure how to structure summer reading at home because there are so many different options.

But, what if I told you there is an all inclusive guide available for families to use right away?

One of my amazing book friends, and my Usborne Books & More consultant, Lis Moriarty has created an absolutely incredible Summer Family Bookish Guide.

This guide can be followed exactly like it’s outlined, or parents can pick and choose which parts to use. The guide includes a table of contents to help direct users and is super user friendly.

One of my favorite pages is the Daily Summer Themes. This is a fabulous option for those who have kids home all summer long and want to provide some structure. Each day has a theme, such as Make it Monday, and includes a handful of ideas that can be done with the whole family. Some of the ideas includes: virtual field trips, trying a new recipe, and go on a scavenger hunt.

If you’re a planner, this guide has printable templates that can be filled out in as much detail as you like. You can literally plan your entire day and week in a manner of minutes. Post your schedules on the fridge so kids can see what’s coming up.

As a Reading Specialist, I get excited when I come across materials I can share with families that encourage kids to talk about what they’re reading. This fantastic guide includes so many conversation starters for parents to have with kids of all ages. Also, for those who love to read aloud, there are ideas for how to keep kids engaged during this precious reading time.

This guide puts a TON of emphasis on making reading fun! Summer Book Bingo provides some great opportunities to read different texts in some different ways and places. I really like the square to read with a flashlight.

Finally, this guide provides printouts to record books to read and books read. Book tracking forms helps provide kids with a visual to see how much they have really read over the summer months. It also includes so great book suggestion lists that literally has something for every kid.

For more information about this incredible summer guide click here.

Harry Potter Virtual Read Aloud

Read alouds have been a staple in my classrooms for years, brick and mortar and virtual (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom). I love being able to transport students to different worlds and time periods while reinforce reading skills and strategies.

With schools and libraries being closed, it’s important that we not only keep students Harry Potter Read Aloudlearning, but also provide them ways to escape reality for a little bit. As a certified Reading Specialist, I want to be able to provide this for students during these difficult times.

Read alouds are extremely beneficial for all students, especially those with an IEP.

*Read alouds allow students to enjoy a story without worrying about decoding (reading) words. This is super important for struggling readers who can get frustrated while reading.

*Read aloulds allow students to listen to a teacher model fluency and pronunciation. 

 

Starting Wednesday, April 1st, I will be posting a FREE recording of read aloud sessions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with teacher notes in Google classroom. Students will have access to the classroom until June 30, 2020. I will go in depth with information about plot, characterization, making inferences, reading comprehension, theme, etc. A document of teacher notes will also be available for students to review after each read aloud. Students are more than welcome to follow along in their own copies of the text, or close their eyes and enjoy the story.

Click here to sign up

 

 

 

The Enchanted Hour Book Review

I have always believed in the power of read alouds at home and in the classroom, even if students can read on their own. I have butted heads with administrators because they felt my 10 minutes of reading at the beginning of each class was “a waste of learning time”.

Now, I can finally say, there’s a whole book about why it’s not :).

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon is an incredible text about the power of reading aloud.

What I liked most about this book was the mix of researched information and first hand experiences. I feel like nowadays society demands to see numbers and statistics with every piece of evidence, so when it comes to crafting a text like this one every i must dotted and every t crossed. Boy, does the author do just that. She explains research, studies and interviews with a friendly tone that doesn’t make the reader feel as though he or she is reading a college textbook.

One of the biggest pieces of research that stuck out at me was the MRI study done when children are read to. The study’s results support the idea that reading picture books aloud allows a child’s brain to interact with the text on multiple levels. Personally, I see this first hand when I read with Molly. I’ll read the text and she’ll point at the pictures and draw her own conclusions based on what she sees.

As a parent, I really liked reading about the author’s personal experiences reading with her family. I always think it’s interesting to see what books are loved and read over and over again (Treasure Island is one of the family’s faves). Cox Gurdon also throws in a little parent reflection about her daughter’s experience with Johnny Tremain. If she could go back, she would read the text aloud to her child because the text may have been a little too complex for her at the time. I LOVE that not only does the author acknowledge things could have been done a different way, but also realizes why the text may not have been a good fit for her daughter.

As parents, we all want our children to be super stars, but it’s important to realize when something, such as reading, is just a little too challenging. The author does not get defensive, but rather wishes she could go back and give her child the little extra support she needed. As the author explains, reading aloud is not cheating. It’s just simply a way to get children to appreciate good literature because they aren’t so worried about reading the words.

The teacher in me agrees with every single aspect of this book. I teach secondary reading (6-12) and I truly believe in reading aloud to kids even at this level. As I mention in previous blog posts (click here) I do this in brick and mortar and the virtual environment. Why? Because reading aloud turns kids into readers. As this text explains beautifully, it helps with vocabulary skills at all ages, helps transport children all over this world (and out) during all periods of history, and allows children to appreciate and engage with a text.

My read alouds are without a doubt my favorite part of my teaching day. As the author points out, the reader and listeners bond and have a shared experience during that time. I engage in such in depth conversations with my students during read alouds that I often find myself feeling warm and fuzzy when the time is over. Students have also expressed similar feelings during our read aloud time, and we have such a stronger bond and connection.

The biggest take away from this book is that we need to read to kids. Yes, they can play on an Ipad to learn letter sounds, but nothing can replace someone reading to a child.

And of course the fabulous Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival had Meghan Cox Gurdaon on her podcast in June to discuss the book. It’s honestly one of the best podcast episodes from RAR. Feel free to listen to it here.

I strongly recommend this text for parents, teachers and school administrators.

 

Building the Bond in a Virtual Classroom

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is being able to create amazing relationships with my students. That feeling when you walk into the room and you feel like a rockstar can’t be compared to anything else.

When I first started as a virtual teacher I had no idea how I would be able to achieve a bond with students I was not going to meet face to face. I learned very quickly that it’s impossible to develop a strong relationship with virtual students via email. They need human contact.

Over the last year, I have tried various modes of communication with my students in grades 6-12. Here is how I personally create a strong bond with my students.

Being myself. I’m a dork. I tell my kids all the time I’m a nerd. I’m loud, I’m dramatic and I know it. And when I show this side of myself my kids LOVE it. I use Zoom on a weekly basis for my read aloud (check out that post here) and while it was a little intimidating to be myself on video at first, now I embrace it. My kids have seen me drink Snapple during my read alouds, they have seen me recovering from a cold, they have heard the construction on my neighbor’s deck, and they love it. We have had conversations about our favorite Snapple flavors and what the weather is like. They are able to see me as a real person and we can connect in some capacity.

Listen to parents. I will admit that I was not a fan of parent teacher conferences in brick and mortar classrooms. I have had parents yell at me and make me feel uncomfortable, but I have also cried with parents as we discuss the fears they have for their child. I do not have parent teacher conferences in the virtual world, but we do make monthly progress calls/texts. I have had some students in four courses, so I’ve gotten to know the families very well.

A good chunk of my students take online courses because of health problems, physical and mental. When I call parents of these types of students I know I may spend 20 minutes talking to a mom about her other children and struggles she is dealing with. I listen every time. Even if she tells me the same story every month, I listen. Why? Because she’s trying to help her child to the best of her ability and at the end of the day my goal is to help children be successful.

When I let parents talk (sometimes vent) I always get more information about what I can do to help their child. One mom told me her son is just so overwhelmed by his assignments that he shuts down and has fallen behind pace. I made her son an individual calendar of what assignments to do on what day. He is able to focus on just one task to get him going, and sometimes that’s all a student needs. By listening to parents, I can individualize my approach, create resources and build trust with the family so we are all on the same page.

Consistency. My kids know they can always call/text/Zoom or email me. How? Because I do it ALL THE TIME. I send out my weekly newsletter with my office hours and read aloud schedule, I text or call to check in once a month, I have my read aloud every week and remind students. I put my contact information on every email that goes out to students. I tell kids I’m calling on my cell phone and they can call/text/or email me, whatever works best for them. I offer to meet with kids one-on-one in Zoom if they need help, even if it’s for every unit activity. It’s important to remind students you are there to help them.

Listen to the students. One of the perks about teaching virtually is that I don’t live by a bell. I make my schedule and have the flexibility to meet with students at all times (yes, even weekends). Some of my students are working and can only do homework at night. Some of my students are incredible athletes and train/practice for multiple hours a day.

Students today have crazy lives. They each have a story and sometimes they just need someone to listen to them. When I first started teaching students in Michigan, I called a student to do my welcome call. I have no idea how, but we started talking about life in general. She works part time at Burger King. Homeschooling was her best option because she has to pay for her college education and needs to work all different shifts to make that a happen. I was on the phone with her for an hour. We discussed how to manage time, how hard it is to adult (according to her I have adulting down), how to get the motivation to wake up an hour early to get an extra assignment done, etc.

After our phone call, she would check in with me regularly. If she had a question, she would shoot me a text. If she needed help with a course activity, she called me to walk her through it so she didn’t waste her time trying to figure it out herself. She passed my class. Halfway through last semester she randomly texted me to say hi and to let me know she was getting better at not procrastinating.

We’re a team. Whether I’m talking/texting/emailing/Zooming with a parent or student, I always reinforce that we are a team. We all need to work together in the virtual world to be successful. This looks different depending on my student.

I had a mom I called every week on Friday mornings so I could give her a progress report on her son. She told me in the beginning that she was not tech savy and preferred I spoke to her on the phone since she never read my emails.

I had a middle school student who was struggling to stay on pace. I was in constant communication with his guidance counselor, and we decided to meet in Zoom once a week as a team to check in. The student would ask me questions, we would review assignments and create a plan for the week. The student would also email me any questions/concerns during the week as well.

When I text with parents, they often tell me how frustrated they are. I always tell them we will get through it together as a team. It’s amazing how just saying that provides comfort to parents because they know they have a go-to person.

The virtual classroom has no judgement. Every student comes to me with a specific situation. A lot of them aren’t straight A students. For some of them, this is their only option to get an education. I feel closer to my students virtually than I ever did in a brick and mortar classroom because of the environment.