As a teacher of students who are many times reluctant readers, I try to find new and different ways to get them to become better readers. I am constantly on the lookout for what’s new, what’s engaging, what contains as much variety as possible, what features texts for students who are at different reading abilities, and what’s web based. In my years of looking, here are the best options I have found so far. Some of these you may have heard of, some you may not have heard of, but hopefully, I can introduce you to at least one new resource:
Newsela – Great for all teachers. This site has many stories, on all different kinds of subjects, and new stories are added every day. When you first sign up you will be given a free trial to the full site which allows you to set up students and classes, and allows students to submit answers to questions within the site.
The bad: Once the free trial is over, the site will no longer accept electronic student submissions. They won’t let you buy it for your classes, not even your department, they will only let you purchase it for the school. (At least in my experience.)
The good: you will still have access to all of the amazing content! You and the students can still access the stories, the students just can’t answer any of the comprehension questions unless you print the stories off with the question included, which is really easy to do. The writing prompt won’t be included in what you print off. But what I do to get past this problem is just copy and paste the writing prompt into a Google Doc, print it off, and add it to the packet. The best part about Newsela, in my opinion, is that it offers different reading levels for every story! For example, this story about the California drought being over, offers a 12th, 8th, 6th, 5th, and 3rd-grade reading level! Your whole class, no matter what their reading level, will now be able to read the same article! (This is HUGE for special education teachers.)
CommonLit – Again, great for all teachers, just because of its extensive library. You might not find as many articles related to physical education related topics, for example, as you might find in Newsela, due to the fact that the number of articles in Newsela is seemingly never ending. I love CommonLit because everything’s free. It will allow you to set up students and classes, assign texts, allows students to read and submit responses electronically, allows you to grade those responses electronically, and they don’t take any of it away like Newsela does!
Another cool feature of CommonLit is that it will allow you to discover paired texts of like topics within the site. Let’s say you are doing a unit on poetry, you find a poem you like, you are looking for more poems like the one you found, click the ‘paired texts’ tab, and voila, there that are! My other favorite feature is the ‘related media’ tab. Talking about President Lyndon Johnson in social studies class? Well, his ‘We Shall Overcome’ speech is available to read. But if you want to watch the speech, click on the ‘related media’ tab, and there it is! Also, as a bonus, there’s a clip of Martin Luther King’s ‘We Shall Overcome’ speech too! Finally, if you love a good class discussion, every lesson has a lot of great discussion questions.
ReadTheory – In my opinion, this site is best for language arts teachers, special education teachers, literacy coaches, and the like. The best feature of ReadTheory is that it contains leveled texts from 1st through 12th grade. The worst feature of ReadTheory is that it will only let you have free access to one of those texts every week. You can always browse the full inventory, but they all cost money. The next best feature of is that each ‘assessment’ (that’s what they call each text) comes with the text, some comprehension questions, a writing prompt, and then answers and explanations at the bottom. The next worst feature is that you have to print each text out in order for students to be able to submit anything more than an oral answer.
NoRedInk – “NoRedInk is on a mission to build better writers,” which is their company slogan. Therefore, it is different from the previous three sites I have mentioned and is geared more toward language arts, and reading and writing intervention classes. The first aspect of NoRedInk I appreciate is the fact that they try to keep students engaged with their interest-based curriculum. When a student first ‘logs’ into NoRedInk they will tell the program what books, television shows, movies, and entertainers they are interested in. So when they take the diagnostic test next, all of the questions will contain names of characters from their favorite books, shows, and movies.
The just mentioned diagnostic test is created by the teacher after they set up their students and classes into the program. There are so many categories from the world of language arts that teachers can choose from to put into the diagnostic test. Do your kids struggle with SWABIs, FANBOYS, and THAMOs? (And, I mean, what good teacher doesn’t know what all of those are?) If so, throw them into the diagnostic. My personal favorites are the commonly confused words and identifying sentences and fragments. The program even features diagnosis and practice with MLA citation.
Once the diagnostic has concluded, it’s the teacher’s job to find out how their students did, and decide what content their students need to practice. Everyone ace active and passive voice? Then why practice it? The class didn’t do so well on vague pronouns? You’d better add it as an assignment. You can even set up quizzes after you feel they’ve practiced a topic long enough. Want to know what the student version of NoRedInk looks like? They’ll even let you do that too!
In my opinion, the best part about NoRedInk is the data. I really don’t want to go into it, because I might be writing for a long time, but when you get in and play around, you’ll discover some new data pieces you’ve never seen before, almost every time you log into the program. I know I did for the first few months or so! Almost everything is ‘clickable’ and interactive, individualized and customizable. I like this site a lot! Check out NoRedInk right now! (Shout out to one of my favorite people in the world, Tim Ferriss, for letting me know that a website like NoRedInk even exists. [He is an investor.] If you don’t know who Tim Ferriss is, check him out too! [Mr. Ferriss is not an educator, more like a ‘Jack of all trades’ who has one of the most read blogs, and most listened to podcasts in the world.] By the way, I do not endorse everything he promotes.)
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The Kids Should See This – I have no idea where I found this website, but they send me an email every week showing the five most-watched videos of the week. A lot of them are really cool, like my favorite one from this week, Immunity and Vaccines Explained. If you played on the teacher basketball team, I already sent you video from this site entitled How to practice effectively…for just about anything. Just add your email address at the top of the homepage, push subscribe, and you’re good to go!