The Reading Boost: How Technology Bolsters Literacy

Online technologies can foster increased reading comprehension and motivate learning.

By Nicole Schon

Person using an iPad

We live in a fast-paced time with new software, applications, and devices introduced to the market on a daily basis. Young learners in this digital age often rapidly outpace teachers in their understanding and willingness to push boundaries of the various technologies available. While some believe that these technologies detract from reading time, others realize that reading has not disappeared, it has changed shape. Instead of curling up with a flashlight and a book at night, a iPad screen may glow. Currently, a veritable floodgate of companies provide ways to use technology to your advantage in teaching students to read. Below are just a few ways to use technology to benefit reading. 

Redefining Silent Reading

In my junior high English and social studies classes, silent reading sometimes involved an iPhone or iPod touch. The benefit? I could have the class download audio files of their book so that, whether they were at home or in the classroom, they could listen along. This was particularly useful for auditory learners. English Language Learners also benefitted from the modeling provided by hearing the story read aloud. A final benefit to using the handheld device was that students could instantly access definitions of words.

Ticket to Read

In a colleague’s elementary classroom, they put the powerful software of Ticket to Read ( to use. This program facilitates increased comprehension by incentivizing learners to read more with high-interest content targeted to the learner’s own reading level. It also helps build phonics, fluency, and vocabulary.

To do this, the program first gauges the user’s reading level by having them read a series of passages and answer comprehension and vocabulary questions. If the user finishes a passage too quickly, for instance by skimming the passage, the program prompts them to go back and read more slowly. When the reader successfully answers the comprehension questions, they get a certain number of tickets. The tickets enable them to “buy” items to decorate their own virtual clubhouse, and they can also “visit” other members’ clubhouses. 

Classroom Blogs

Many teachers in both elementary and secondary settings put classroom blogs to use for both reading and writing assignments. One method is to post content (such as an article to read for homework) on the blog. Each individual reads the blog post, writes a response, and then also reads and comments on several peer responses. By making homework a social activity where youths get to “talk” to their peers, it increases interest and therefore, motivation.

Similarly, some educators have their class practice writing by posing written drafts of essays, poetry, or even lab reports on the blog. In a writer’s workshop type of environment, youths read and give feedback on their classmate’s work. With some basic ground rules, this type of activity proves incredibly valuable to the instructor, who see areas that the class can expand in their understanding based on comments. The students find value because they get to play the role of teacher in reading critically to give praise, advice, and suggestions. This also creates a compendium of resources for students to refer back to for ideas, and it is an easy way to compile a portfolio to show growth throughout the year.

The list of ways to facilitate literacy skills using technology is virtually unending. Here are several more lessons that blend technology and reading:

Active Reading with American History
Get web-savvy with a lesson designed to increase the ability to identify credible sources online. The activities are web-based, and help learners differentiate between fact, opinion, and claims.

Technological Grand Conversations

Literature circles re-locate to an online environment where high-schoolers share thoughts and ideas with peers reading the same text. An element of anonymity can be introduced to hurdle the challenge of shy participants. This is part of a larger unit aimed at reluctant readers.

Poetry in Motion
Adaptable to any age group, this lesson uses poetry to foster understanding of speaking skills. Young poets read many poems (either classics or ones they themselves composed) and select one or more to recite in front of a  video camera. They also find images that reflect the themes present in their poem, and create an iMovie using these photos and clips of themselves reading.