Engaging reluctant readers through technology

Secondary school students are awesome. However, a secondary classroom full of students can be a classroom sprinkled with reluctant readers and one frustrated teacher. What’s more, the students’ reluctance can come from many issues including reading levels, lack of interesting texts, low-level questions, and lack of interactive and collaborative opportunities for learning.

Although these may seem like overwhelming obstacles, technology can help solve them and create a classroom full of engaged and excited readers. I have implemented a system in my classroom using technology and nonfiction texts which has helped create engaged readers.

I first try to head off student reluctance based in q lack of interesting texts. There are many sources where you can find interesting texts that students will find relevant. I have several favorite resources, the first  from The New York Times. The Learning Network describes itself as a source which “…provides daily resources for teaching and learning with The New York Times…” (learning.blogs.nytimes.com). This blog is a great way to bring contemporary issues into your classroom. An additional source of engaging nonfiction texts is the website Newsela. Newsela curates nonfiction texts into different genres and Lexile levels. My last go-to resource is NPR News. They have so many amazing articles that are written in ways that are relevant to teenagers. Check out their topic-specific collections of stories ranging from race relations to medicine to health.

Using these online text sources really does solve a huge problem for the reluctant readers in my classroom: providing texts that are actually meaningful and interesting. As teachers we all have our favorite xeroxed copy of a Time magazine article from 15 years ago, but we have to remember that our audience might not have a context for the information in the article. This isn’t to say that history isn’t important. In fact, I think that the text sources I’ve mentioned focus on history quite frequently. But, by constantly giving my students access to contemporary texts, I am able to not only find things that have real-life impact on them, I can also differentiate and personalize for their individual interests. Thankfully, with the online resources available, it is easy to find texts that are engaging and relevant to students and also high-quality. As adults we don’t force ourselves to read things in which we’re not interested. As teachers, we shouldn’t force our students to either.

This, however, is not enough to head off all the reasons that students are reluctant readers. Great text doesn’t solve the problems which are encountered, including different learning styles, reading levels,  comprehension abilities, and background knowledge gaps. The way I solve these problems is by utilizing the 1-1 technology that my students have in their backpacks.

I use one main web 2.0 tool, DocentEDU, and then integrate other tools within it. DocentEDU is a web browser extension and app that allows the teacher and students to turn any online text into a complete and interactive lesson. All I do after I navigate to my relevant article (from the sources above) is to click on the DocentEDU extension. Then the program allows me to add highlights and comments immediately into the text itself. You can also add open-ended questions, multiple-choice questions, live class discussions, and sticky notes, which actually allow you to embed other tools like YouTube and slideshows, into the website itself.

Using this technology allows me to head off many of the reasons that cause my students to be reluctant readers. I can differentiate for vocabulary gaps in EL students using the highlight and comment feature. I can add higher-level questions directly into the text, which keeps students’ brains engaged and challenged. I can add multiple-choice questions directly, giving immediate feedback (the program auto-grades multiple choice) to encourage and help students while they read and process. All of this helps me differentiate to students of different language and reading abilities.

I can also use DocentEDU to directly embed audio books or audio recordings I make into the actual texts using the sticky note feature of the program. This allows EL students and students with lower reading levels to access a text with which they would otherwise have difficulty engaging. With these tools, I’ve overcome many of the obstacles that have contributed to my students’ reluctance.

I also differentiate for students’ lack of  background knowledge using DocentEDU combined with other web 2.0 tools. As I stated previously, I can uses the program to embed YouTube videos and even Prezi presentations, Google Presentations, or Slideshare presentations. If I have my students reading an article about the election but they don’t know what a primary is, I can simply embed a video or presentation in the article explaining just that concept. I can also embed mind maps, interactive vocabulary, and numerous interactive simulations for science and social studies. Doing this heads off the reluctance my students have based on lack of background knowledge while simultaneously creating an interactive experience.

With technology integration, text is no longer a static experience. It is instead is a dynamic one which is adapted for student interest, reading ability, and background knowledge. Finally, I can head off student reluctance based on lack of collaborative activities. DocentEDU allows the teacher to directly embed live-updating, full-class discussions. Students can discuss with each other while reading to have a collaborative online experience without leaving the text itself.

To be honest, does every single one of my students jump up and down in joy when we read our nonfiction texts on Monday? No. But, I do have students who say it is their favorite part of my class, and I know that I am differentiating for multiple learning styles and reading levels all while engaging my students in interesting and relevant texts.


DocentEDU. Computer software. DocentEDU. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

“Newsela | Nonfiction Literacy and Current Events.” Newsela | Nonfiction Literacy and Current Events. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

NPR. NPR, 2016. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

“The Learning Network – The Learning Network Blog – The New York Times.” Web log post. The Learning Network – The Learning Network Blog – The New York Times. Ed. Katherine Schulten and Michael Gonchar. The New York Times, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.


Using video games to teach story elements/analysis

I’m currently in the middle of a unit with my 8th graders teaching story elements and analysis, with a focus on theme. So many of my students struggle with the motivation to read stories simply for the joy of reading. I do my best to make the stories we do read engaging stories that have relevance for their lives. (For example, we acted out the lottery with only the Hutchinson family in on the deal.) However, for my struggling readers, seeing the big picture of why knowing story elements and being able to analyze their structure is still a grind. So, I’m going to insert something that I hope will increase their interest and understanding of why story elements play an important role in their lives.

So, this week we will be playing some video games and will be analyzing their story elements as well as evaluating that story. When finished with their analysis, students will be writing a game review on a Google Slide. I’ll then be tweeting these reviews from my teacher Twitter account. I’m also hoping a few gamer students know of a website where users can post game reviews themselves. That way I don’t have to tweet 80 different slides.

By the way, all of these games are playable on Chromebooks.

Here are the materials if you’re interested:

  • List of online games with good stories
  • Game analysis sheet: analyze for story elements
  • Game review template