Tech Tuesday: Back to School Part 1: 5 Great Resources for Deconstructing Narratives and Information

Technology resources provide context through visuals and text, and these can be an extremely engaging way to introduce narrative and expository language structures to build comprehension. We can, along with our students, analyze the content of apps and websites in a process of co-engagement: What do you see? What do I see? ThemeMaker Manual CoverSGM Manual coverMindWing’s narrative language icons and maps (Story Grammar Marker®) and corresponding expository language structures (ThemeMaker®) will lend a strategic and specific focus toward building the comprehension of discourse as you explore these resources!


EPIC! Books for Kids is a clearinghouse of digital texts that are free for educators (sign up for the Educator Account). This resource is accessible on the web, iPad or even Apple TV, and contains 25,000 books, providing an experience similar to walking through a Scholastic Book Fair. The books are searchable by topic, reading level, and fiction vs. nonfiction, so the types of lessons we can construct from these contexts are limited only by our imaginations! Consider using your students’ topics of interests or curriculum themes as a jumping off point to find narrative and expository texts to “deconstruct” along with MindWing’s icons:

EpicBooks screenshot


BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr. are sources of curriculum-based animations that kids love to view! These engaging short films explore topics in science, social studies, ELA, and math. You will find it easy to identify that each video is organized around expository text structures such as List, Sequence, Description, Compare-Contrast, Cause-Effect, and Problem-Solution, and so, easy to use ThemeMaker®’s icons and maps to co-analyze these with your students. BrainPOP is commonly subscribed within many school districts, so be sure to ask your librarian or technology specialist if a login is available. If not, the apps and websites for these resources provide access to many free videos that rotate throughout the year. BrainPOP also connects well with NewsELA, a source of digital news stories, so you can work on text comprehension as well.

BrainPop screenshot


Google Earth is an interactive globe you can zoom in and out for incredible 3D visuals. As a result, Google Earth is a great way to engage students in comprehending and generating descriptive language about settings. Google Earth is now accessible via any Google Chrome browser or Chromebook, as well as through a free iPad app. Consider accompanying your students through the topic of USA Regions, exploring landmarks within them or in your own state. Still photos and text are also available for work on descriptive language as students generate descriptions of the landmark’s appearance, elements, function, and comparison to other places (See Story Grammar Marker’s Setting Maps).

GoogleEarth screenshot


Interactive Websites, playable on your web browser or Chromebook are fun, engaging ways to explore the informational structures contained in any curriculum topic. Take a look at both LearningScience.org and iCivics for links to engaging activities in science and social studies topics. With just a brief look at any activity ahead of time, you’ll be able to see how an interactive about, say, “Gases Around Us” can lead to a student generating a list of gases or an explanation, in sequence, of how gases change state. These activities use Flash, so, again, a full web browser (rather than iPad) is needed.


TinyBop’s apps, for you iPad enthusiasts, can function the same way as interactive websites. Explore TinyBop’s catalog of apps for a wonderful selection of language-neutral resources that can be used to teach expository language structures. The apps focus on providing engaging interactions rather than extensive text or explanatory audio, so students can make their own meaning as they co-engage in the “app-tivities” with you. Their Human Body app is a favorite of mine; consider how each body system could be used to teach List (the organs within it), Sequence and Cause-Effect (the physiological processes of how the systems work), while connecting with an important curriculum and life skill area. I also recommend using each app’s simple handbook to make sure you are aware of all the interactions available; these also serve as good contexts to have students follow written directions!

TinyBop screenshot


Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Author

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Newton, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at sean@speechtechie.com.



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