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Ways That Digital Tools Can Help Students to Read Their Worlds

By Carolyn Fortuna
 | May 13, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-479707731_x300Sometimes called “affordances,” the digital world offers advantages to students. Teachers’ repertoires today likely include Twitter, Glog, Kahoot!, Prezi, TED Talks, LiveBinder, podcasts, Animoto, screencasting, and blogging. These and other platforms infuse ways for students to become better readers of their worlds through nuanced textual interactions, inquiry, analytical thinking, and composing, with a number of skill sets developed in a number of ways.

Textual interactions

Online tools transform students into text detectives who have fun while hunting for clues. Start with quickly paced e-learning modules pointing to key evidence; primary sources offer a wealth of possibilities. A Civil War–era journal entry, sheet music from the Roaring ‘20s, a dairy-free World War II cake recipe, or Civil Rights protest photo can spur conversations and engagement, and each can be accessed digitally. Alternatively, daily digital newspapers and blogs allow students to explore modern local and global perspectives. E-readers and audiobooks bring professional narration to combined reading and listening experiences. Digital book chats, online student book reviews, or one book/one school programs can foster a school community through common literary experiences.

Student inquiry

E-learning centers immerse students in appropriately challenging investigations. Online design tasks might include image-based visualizations that spur language acquisition. Vocabulary games, multilevel or multitiered questioning, close reading wikis, or online discussion boards introduce new concepts. Moreover, social justice simulations can unveil lives that have been affected by race, class, language, gender, or religious difference. Further, a curation tool like Storify can help students to develop critical perspectives and to become more curious about others who don’t fit their own community’s definition of “normal.”

Analytical thinking

Do science and English collaborations seem a bit avant-garde? Scientific texts can fulfill various English and literature standards through readings available at National Geographic, NORAD, NASA, Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy websites. Follow up with a computer lab gallery walk, cartoon slideshow, TED Talk about study skills, sports podcast to spur argumentation, or celebrity media evaluation. Add in online guided questions, dictionaries, and translation tools to help struggling readers. Visual texts are important in our symbol-based society, so digital classic works of art, stylized comics, minimalistic advertisements, and short films can be “read” as balanced, integrated elements.


Infuse background and context into writing-to-learn activities then let students blog! Because blogging is a reflection of identity, student bloggers gain insights into the human side of composing; they discern the complex interplay of words and ideas for an audience, making sense through print, sound, images, and videos. Digital photography can also bring personalization and purpose to the writing process. And don’t forget how fan fiction creates an outlet for imaginative mediation of the demands of audience and genre.

Ultimately, the richness of the digital world resonates with students, for, as W. Somerset Maugham said, “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.”

carolyn fortunaCarolyn Fortuna, PhD, is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Award for Technology and Reading. She teaches high school English in Franklin, MA, and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College.

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


1 comment

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  1. Matt Kurtz | May 24, 2016
    The core of learning is the interaction between teachers, students and technology. Surely, the variety of information sources you mentioned in the article enriches students’ knowledge. However, all these websites not only shed more light on the long-standing questions, but also influence the subconsciousness thus much that obtained knowledge escalates into a well-known phenomenon of unintentional plagiarism. Ironically, the solution to provide a secure connection between the writing and mind is possible with the use of technology and Internet (technology helps us and hurts us as well). Therefore, the using of plagiarism checker Unplag or Googling is essential, because this procedure develops students’ capabilities to think, analyze and create. I do completely agree with you, Carolyn, about blogging! Writing is the language of our mind!

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