Common Core Technology for K-5 Learners

Blend fun and creativity into language arts curriculum when Common Core technology is involved.

By Judith Smith Meyer

Group of students in a computer lab

Most of our classroom clients already spend an undeniably large amount of time in front of screens playing video games, texting their friends, and watching television. However, to be college and career ready in the 21st century, they need to master the use of technology for academic and professional purposes. Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts specify expectations for the use of technology in K-5 from comparing texts from different sources, conducting research, “producing and distributing” writing in multimedia formats and navigating websites, to typing two to four pages of text in one sitting. In most cases, these tech-oriented standards offer opportunities for fun and learning to go hand-in-hand.



Performance-based assessments that will determine whether schools are meeting the new standards are now projected to be conducted online. That means students will need to be able to express themselves fluently while sitting at a computer. At the very least, they deserve to be skilled enough to surpass hunting and pecking on the keyboard.

According to Common Core Standards for Reading Literature, children in second grade should be able to “use illustrations and words in print and digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.” While such an expectation is routine in reading standards, the addition of digital text provides teachers guidance in supporting age-specific growth in the use of technology as part of regular reading.

Differentiation could be a natural part of meeting a standard like this. Students could address texts that match their reading abilities in independent or station work, much like a books-on-tape reading center of years gone by. In this case, they can get reading support by hearing texts read online and seeing the text in front of them, as well as practice navigating websites and connecting illustrations to stories; illustrations that might even move and talk. Our local County Office of Education provides a portal through which students and faculty can access loads of academic support materials online from the school computer lab. To develop the collaborative work that is integral to the Common Core State Standards, as well as to life in the digital age, students could work in groups on a story online that promotes discussion of the characters, plot, and setting.

Visual and Multimedia Elements 

By grade four, standards for the thread above include analyzing how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, and beauty of a text. The standard gives examples including graphic novels and multimedia presentations of fiction. With the amount of screen time young learners get outside of class, reading for tone and beauty on-screen may be much more intuitive for them than it is for us. Incorporate the computer into your lessons to read stories and look at illustrations. It might make reading a lot less intimidating for reluctant readers to find literature in a format with which they are already comfortable.

Standards for Informational Text, which make explicit skills needed to master the growing emphasis on non-fiction reading in higher education and in the workplace, feature technological elements in every grade beginning in grade two. At that level, readers start to “know and use various text features to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.” Here, the standard lists examples that include print-based features like bold type, subheading and captions, and also electronic menus and icons.

Digital Tools

In the thread of finding information efficiently, third graders need to learn to use text features and search tools both print-based (subheadings, sidebars) and online (keywords, hyperlinks). By the following year, they are expected to learn to interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively in such suggested forms as charts, graphs, animation, and interactive elements on Web pages.

Clearly, whenever we teach reading and research skills, we need to consider how the skill will unfold in a digital format in order to truly prepare our charges for what’s ahead, in school and in the world. With their technological savvy practically inbred at this point, opportunities for child-guided learning may lie in technological elements of literacy development. Can they find stories online with visual elements that tell about character or plot or websites that teach about the science topic you are studying? I bet they can!


Standards for Writing introduce active use of technology right from the start in kindergarten. Our youngest writers need opportunities to “explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.” First and second graders move from exploration to using tools to publish their writing. A second/third grade teacher I know is aiming to publish a class newspaper next year. Students could exercise choice about the type of writing they create:

  • Class news
  • Features (presentation of research)
  • Class celebrity interviews
  • Horoscopes
  • Advice columns

Then, they can work together to design and layout the paper, and finally publish it online for families and fans to enjoy. In addition to meeting the technological element of the standards, this project will emphasize the collaborative work in an authentic, and fun, context.

Keyboarding Skills

At grade three, the use of keyboarding skills makes its first specific appearance in the Common Core. In the same “Production and Distribution of Writing” anchor standard as those described above, by this time, writers are expected to not only publish writing, but to use keyboarding skills to “interact and collaborate with others.” Can you connect your students with another classroom — perhaps even a class at another school — to co-create and use interactive learning environments, even as simple as a bulletin board on which young researchers could post and compare their findings?

Online Research

Online research is a natural way to build needed skills, and many people in grades three, four, and five have probably searched for YouTube videos of interest. They could work with a group to find various sources of information about a topic to get them up to speed on the skills of gathering information from print and digital resources and they could share their findings with the class.

Voice and Audio Recordings

From grade two onward, Common Core State Standards explicitly include the use of voice and audio recordings under the speaking and listening anchor standard of “Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas.” Second graders make audio recordings of stories or poems, either original or published. The following year, the standard expands the expectation that the recordings be engaging recordings that demonstrate fluid reading at an understandable pace. By grades four and five, audio, visual, and other multimedia production is no longer a goal, but components that enhance the development of main ideas and themes in presentations. Software like Garage Band allows for not just recording, but engineering sound for effect. Look around what your school computer lab or library offers and book some time for your kids to explore novel ways to produce writing.

Upper elementary learners should also begin to use both print and digital reference materials to build vocabulary and knowledge of the language. Browsing the Common Core Standards can help generate lesson ideas for ways to meet the standards. Do you usually have your third graders write a poem memorializing a lost loved one for Dia de los Muertos? Next year, have them record it. Let them demonstrate their growing reading skills and fluency by recording a story they read in class and making it available for families to share online after school hours.

More Ideas from Lesson Planet

Monster Voices

Even looking at this link can get you excited about this resource. Learners write original monster narratives based on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and record themselves, using GarageBand technology to modify their voices to sound more monsterish. The standards call for engaging audio recordings; have a listen. You’ll surely be engaged by this delightful lesson.

Collaborative Story-telling

This tech-focused plan features a clever opportunity for collaboration, and physical movement, in the computer lab. Group accountability is inherent in the project as all pupils contribute to each other’s stories.

Japan, or Anywhere!

Use this model with any research topic. After an exhaustive (exhausting!) list of content standards, grade level expectations, and such, there is a clear guideline for using multiple digital resources to build knowledge and enhance a presentation with visual and multimedia components. This is handy if you are studying Japan, but readily adaptable for any research topic with a little investigative effort on the part of the teacher.