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Learn About Teaching Reading Online

Any K-12 teacher can tell you that reading is best learned when children are very young. Adolescent children’s developing minds are most receptive to language, and early reading education is linked to academic achievement and social-emotional well-being later in life. When learning to read, children engage in complex cognitive processes, and reading teachers utilize a wide variety of techniques to engage students in these processes.

However, in the widespread shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have had to improvise in unfamiliar spaces. Teachers can no longer rely primarily on in-person interactions that have traditionally shaped reading education. However, with strategic use of technological tools and a focus on pedagogy over medium, educators can teach reading virtually and effectively.

Experience over Content

In its guide for remote education, Harvard University reminds teachers that the basis of teaching online remains the same as it does in the classroom. Content, pedagogy and assessment are still key to successful teaching, whatever the platform. Although the forms of teaching may change, well-planned, intentional uses of online technology can create new opportunities for student interaction and content delivery.

Take, for example, reading materials. Face-to-face classes have always relied heavily on books. However, schools may find it difficult to get books to students who are learning remotely. However, the internet offers a wealth of reading materials for free, and the pandemic has inspired multiple academic publishers to offer e-books and other digital publications for students.

The most important consideration when learning to read is not the text but the interaction surrounding the text. While teachers may lament the loss of interactive in-person techniques, synchronous face-to-face interaction is still possible via videoconferencing. Teachers can host interactive read-aloud sessions using video conferencing software, along with other helpful tools such as polling features and document cameras.  

Reading in the Digital Space

Fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Findley suggests online alternatives to the “turn and talk” exercise traditionally used to encourage student reading discussions. While students in a traditional classroom might turn to their classmates and discuss an aspect of the text, educators can easily modify this activity for remote learning. Online alternatives such as “stop and type” allow the teacher to stop a reading and have students type out their questions or thoughts in whatever chat space they are using.

Teachers might also utilize tools like Flipgrid for interactive reading activities so students can still get the experience of hearing and responding to each other’s thoughts. Also, digital tools abound for improving students’ vocabulary.

Educators can also adapt digital texts to students’ reading levels by hyperlinking definitions and context clues. When critical words are featured in a text, teachers can use digital bulletin boards or online whiteboards to make word walls. Online games such as PBS Kids’ Vocabulary Spelling City can also be helpful for learning and reinforcing new vocabulary.

One of the key strengths of online technology is its ability to adapt to individual learners’ needs. This is particularly important when teaching students in special education classrooms or English language learners. Digital platforms such as Newsela and ReadWorks offer differentiated texts based on students’ individual reading levels.

Video recording a teacher’s feedback on projects is also particularly fruitful for developing individual connections and personalizing the online classroom. Studies suggest video feedback is actually more effective than written feedback, as students view it as more individualized, creating a personal connection between themselves and their instructor.

Pursue an Advanced Degree in Reading

While the shift to remote learning may pose one of the greatest challenges reading teachers have yet to meet, practices employed in traditional classrooms can apply to online spaces. With a little creativity and familiarity with online tools, educators can increase engagement and create personalized learning experiences that go beyond traditional face-to-face classroom techniques.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Master of Science in Education in Reading program.


Association of American Publishers: What Publishers Are Doing to Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Australasian Journal of Education Technology: Video-based Feedback on Student Assessment: Scarily Personal


Harvard University: Best Practices: Online Pedagogy

Journal of Research in Childhood Education: Early Childhood Education: The Long-Term Benefits


PBS Kids: Vocabulary Spelling City

Reading Rockets: Distance Learning: Improving Instructional Interactions in Guided Reading Lessons


Teaching with Jennifer Findley: Teaching Reading Virtually

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