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Using technology to mix up read-alouds

At a recent literacy conference, I was introduced to an online resource called Storyline Online. Created by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Storyline Online provides animated videos of picture books that are read by actresses, actors, and other well-known individuals. In addition to the videos, there are also activity guides to accompany each book, which include discussion questions and ideas for follow-up activities.

While I am sometimes skeptical about the online read-alouds that are available on YouTube and other video sites, Storyline Online impressed me for several reasons.

First and foremost, the animations that are created to accompany the stories remain true to the illustrator’s artwork. No liberties are taken to interpret the illustrator’s work; rather, the images look nearly identical to the ones that you encounter when holding the physical copy of the book. I appreciate that such an effort is made to retain the original artwork, as illustrations are an essential aspect of the experience of reading a picture book.

Second, the range of notable people reading the books on Storyline Online is quite extensive. On the site, you can access read-alouds by Al Gore, Betty White, James Earl Jones, and Jane Kaczmarek — to name just a few. During their read-alouds, these famous individuals remain focused on the book and discuss their personal connections to the story. In other words, the read-alouds doesn’t feel like shameless acts of self-promotion, but rather, like book conversations.

Finally, and most significantly, the caliber of the books included on the site is impressive. The titles included on the site are substantive and many tackle real-world issues such as racism and classism. A few of my favorite picture books appear on the site, including Brave Irene; Wilfred Gordon MacDonald Partridge; Thank You, Mr. Falker; and Chester’s Way (the video for which incorporates American Sign Language). In sum, the titles selected lend themselves well to stimulating class discussions and to raising critical questions about the world in which we live.

In an effort to mix up my own read-alouds a bit, I’ve been using some of these videos in my classroom. My second graders love them and we have had some great follow-up discussions after listening to and watching the videos of these thought-provoking books. I highly recommend this site to elementary teachers who want to add a little variety to the typical read-aloud routine.



Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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