This time I’ll be listing what I think are The Best Websites To Help Beginning Readers. In the future, though, I’ll be doing one focusing on Intermediate and Advanced Readers. Next week I will also develop a list of the best sites that are particularly appropriate for older English Language Learners, since most of these sites are designed for younger people. I have to say, though, that both my high school students and their parents are pretty unanimous in saying they like the sites on this list, too.
The sites on this list can be helpful to Beginning and Early Intermediate English Language Learners, as well as to younger native-English speakers.
Many of you probably won’t find many surprises on this list — most are well-known. But one or two might be new-to-you, and it might be helpful to just have them all in one place, too.
These sites, along with eight thousand others, can be found on my website.
(NOTE: I just realized that in this post I share a general link to my website, but don’t provide a direct link to the literally thousands of “talking stories” that I have collected there. I have to admit that I’ve been lax over the past year or two about cleaning-out dead links on that website for students, but I’m pretty confident that the “talking stories” section is relatively up-to-date.
For fiction, go to the “Stories” section.
For non-fiction go to the…Non-Fiction section.
I hope you’ll find them useful.)
I believe the best way for people to learn to read is to provide them with accessible and high-interest text. All these sites (except for one) have “talking stories” that show images and provide audio support to the shown text. The images and audio provide a high-degree of accessibility.
These sites fit the “high-interest” criteria by the large quantity of stories they provide. I estimate that there are well over five hundred high-quality stories, including fiction and nonfiction, contained in these eleven sites (of course, if you’d like more, you can find several thousand more throughout my website). They also provide countless supplemental online reading activities.
Here are my picks for the eleven Best Websites To Help Beginning Readers:
Number eleven is the Woodlands School Interactive Stories page. This site basically takes some of the best “talking stories” from many of the webpages I highlight later in this list (and from others not on this list) and displays links to them on a well-designed page.
I’m picking Raz-Kids as number ten. This is the only site on my list that costs anything, but it’s worth it. For $60 per year a whole class can gain access to very high-quality fiction and nonfiction “talking stories” with follow-up online exercises. Families in our home computer Family Literacy Project use this program and love it. It works well for us, too, since we can track people’s reading progress online. You can access five free samples to try it out. Older students might find this site particularly engaging.
Scholastic’s well-known series of online Clifford Activities is number nine.
Number eight is Story Place from the Public Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. It has a number of excellent interactive and animated talking stories and follow-up activities.
Childtopia is ranked seventh. It’s a site from Spain that has over a thousand great literacy activities in multiple languages, including English.
Number six is Kiz Club, a Korean site that has a ton of talking stories on a wide variety of topics.
A newer site, Leading to Reading, is number five. It was recently begun by the respected Reading Is Fundamental organization to target very beginning readers, and so far has about ten excellent stories so far on its site.
Number four is BBC Bitesize Literacy. This is the one without any talking stories. However, it has a number of great activities related to basic literacy.
Number three, too, is from the BBC, and here is where their talking stories come in. CBeebies has a large collection of these types of stories. In addition, if you look at the bottom of the page, you’ll see links to a bunch more BBC sites that have even more.
Number two is Literactive. It has hundreds of talking stories and other interactive activities. It’s free, though you have to register (it only takes a minute to do so). My students really enjoy this site.
And the number one website to help beginning readers is…. no surprise — Starfall. Starfall has been helping people learn to read for years, and it’s still the best. Its scaffolding is great, and its stories — both fiction and nonfiction — are engaging. I’d particularly recommend its I’m Reading section for older students.
The new one is called Speakaboos. It provides excellent quality “talking stories” on video with closed-captioning — often read by “celebrities.” They say they are also going to add the ability to record stories, as well as offering other online activities. You can watch the stories without registering, though it appears like you will have to sign-up (for free) in order to record stories.
The other site I want to write about is an “oldie” — Storyline Online. This site has been around for quite awhile, and has had celebrities also reading stories. I never used the site, or wrote about it, or even added it to my website for student self-access because, as nice of a service as it was, it didn’t have closed-captions. That absence really limited its use for English Language Learners.
However, learning about Speakaboos prompted me to check out Storyline again. I was going to contrast it with Speakaboos use of closed-captions. Much to my surprise, though, I discovered that Storyline now offers closed-captioning with all its stories. I have no idea when they began that feature, but it now definitely makes it a worth addition to “The Best…” list.
ABC Fast Phonics is a pretty darn impressive site for beginning readers to reinforce their understanding of phonics. I’m not a big fan of explicit phonics instruction being a huge part of a curriculum, but I do make it a part of the curriculum I use with Beginning English Language Learners. I teach it in an inductive way, though, which I describe more thoroughly in my upcoming book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work. Sites like ABC Fast Phonics, though, do offer engaging ways students can practice.
MeeGenius is a new site that provides audio support for the text of books for early readers. In addition, you’re given the option to “personalize” each story. They only have about thirty stories now, but it could turn into a very nice site if and when they expand their selection.
Strivney is a free new site for beginning readers (it has a special section for English Language Learners) with 1,000 interactive exercises and games. You need to register for most beyond the sample exercises, but it’s super easy to do so. The site also has printables you can use to reinforce the online activities.
Many teachers are familiar with the excellent Professor Garfield site, a joint project of the comic cat and Ball State University. The site recently added The Professor Garfield Toon Book Reader to its extensive list of features. It has a number of books that provides audio support for the text.
ABRACADABRA is an online reading program created by researchers in Montreal. It has quite a few very accessible stories (with audio support for the test) and reading games. You can read more about the site at an article in the Montreal Gazette headlined “Cultivating the magic of reading.”
Story Time For Me is a new site offering free stories that are read aloud. As the stories are read, the words being spoken are highlighted.
About a year ago I posted about a new site for beginning readers created by a North Carolina-based organization called GCF Learn Free. They also are responsible for Everyday Life, an extraordinary interactive site for ELL’s sponsored by a North Carolina-based organization called GCF Learn Free. It’s on several of my “The Best…” lists. I had concerns then about the confusing navigation on the site. However, it appears they have made it considerably clearer. It’s still very unusual — different from just about any other similar application out there. But that “unusualness” might very well make it attractive to beginning English Language Learners. You can find it at this link, and then click on “Reading.”
Reading Bear is a new free interactive site for teaching beginning readers through the use of phonics in a relatively engaging way. It doesn’t appear that registration is necessary, and they say it will remain free. It’s from Watch Know Learn, the well-respected and well-known educational video site.
Oxford Owl is designed as a support site for parents to use with their children and help with reading and math. It’s great activities, though, would make it a nice addition to work during the school day, too. It has tons of online ebooks that provide audio support for the text, along with interactive follow-up exercises. It has plenty of math games and even math ebooks.
Very Short Stories and Verses For Children is from clubEFL.
Turtle Diary is designed for very young children, and its fifteen talking stories would be very accessible to Beginning English Language Learners. It has a number of other tools on the site, but the stories really stand-out. They seem to be free, though it appears you have pay to access other premium content.
I’m not really sure how I’ve missed this, but the well-known PBS show “Between The Lions” has a bunch of short stories presented in the form of closed-captioned videos.
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