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Using Alexa to Engage Children in Literacy Experiences at Home and in the Classroom

By Tammy Ryan
 | Feb 08, 2019

alexa-literacy“Alexa, spell.”

“Alexa, define.”

“Alexa, tell me a story.”

Meet Alexa—the voice-controlled, search engine assistant who listens for commands and then responds with an answer, reminder, joke, fact, music, song, story. Users can also enable Skills, or third-party voice apps that allow the device to communicate with hardware and software to perform tasks.

Yes, Alexa is a convenient device for checking the weather or playing music hands-free. But it’s also emerging as a powerful tool for engaging children in fun learning experiences.

Engaging children in fun literacy learning using Alexa

Following are five Skills that enhance children’s vocabulary, comprehension, and phonics development while engaging them in global topics. These Skills are free with the purchase of a device.

  • Play Mad Libs. “Alexa, open Mad Libs.” This Skill involves an entertaining word game. First, Alexia asks for adjectives, verbs, nouns, or plural nouns. After she collects the words, she embeds them in a uniquely created story or poem.
  • Listen to a short story. “Alexa, launch Bedtime Story.” These short stories are personalized using your child’s name. You can also upload your own stories.
  • Strengthen listening comprehension. “Alexa, ask Hutch to tell me a story.” This Skill offers happy, silly, spooky, or tall tale short stories focused on Hutch, a fifth-grade boy and his adventures, such as eating too much chocolate cake. After listening to the story, Alexa asks yes or no questions and gives correct answers to incorrect responses.
  • Encourage curiosity. “Alexa, open Curiosity.” This Skill delivers interesting facts on topics of interest. Subjects include science, fashion, history, music, health, current events, and more.
  • Practice spelling. “Alexa, open My ABC.” This Skill features alphabet, word, song, and spelling practice. Simple say, “Alexa, alphabet,” “Alexa, song,” “Alexa, word,” “Alexa, spell (give word).” It features animal sounds, rhymes, and songs.

For more ideas, check out TurboFuture’s article “25 Amazing Kid Friendly Alexa Skills.”

Tips for home and the classroom

Alexa is continually updated with new Skills and features. The following tips will support your shared learning experience when using Alexa with children.  

  • Speak clearly. Alexa app offers a voice recognition option to help Alexa better understand a spoken command. If a statement is not recognized, you will need to rephrase the command. Rephrasing is an authentic way for children to practice speaking and listening skills.   
  • Practice commands. At first, you may want to write commands in a notebook and keep the notebook handy until they are memorized. “Alexa, Cheat Sheet for the Classroom,” offers commands to use at home.  
  • Stay informed about the pros and cons of using Alexa and activated voice assistants. “What Parents Need to Know Before Buying Google Home or Amazon Echo,” published by Common Sense Media, is a great place to start.
  • Do your research. Learn more from research exploring the use of technology with children. “Apps, iPads, and Literacy: Examining the Feasibility of Speech Recognition in a First Grade Classroom,” an article published in Reading Research Quarterly, examines the feasibility of using speech recognition technology to support struggling readers in an early elementary classroom setting.

Tammy Ryan, and ILA member since 2002, has over 25 years of teaching experience. She is an adjunct professor of reading education at Jacksonville University and at the University of North Florida where she teaches undergraduate and graduate reading courses.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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