Friday, January 6, 2012

Reading websites for youngsters

The ability to recognize and process printed text is heavily dependent on comprehending spoken language. Fluent readers should understand the meaning of both printed and spoken language. That’s why teachers of our youngest readers should take advantage of Internet sites that offer interactive, read-aloud storybooks and language learning activities that foster literacy.

The following is a short list of websites that provide free interactive stories for preschool and new readers.

One of the most well-known sites is Storyline Online presented by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation that features streaming video of guild members reading children’s books aloud.

Actors such as Betty White, Melissa Gilbert, James Earl Jones and Elijah Wood perform these readings for children. Jason Alexander reads his own book “Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy?” and even Al Gore reads from William Steig’s “Brave Irene.”

“Enemy Pie” by Derek Munson, as read by Camryn Manheim, will please readers of every age. Review the stories before you ask children to listen to them to make sure they are age-appropriate for your class and to plan your lessons.

Each story comes with an activity guide that can help promote a deeper understanding of the contents. For instance, the activity guide for “Enemy Pie” suggests that the students retell the story in their own words and tell and write about their own experiences working out differences with other people. The guide also includes a host of cooking, drawing and writing activities around making cherry pie. It also points to four websites that discuss ways to be a good friend.

The Starfall website ( teaches children to read with phonics using simple video graphics in what the website calls “an educational alternative to other entertainment choices for children.” Students explore and interact with speech sounds in every book and game as they develop a basic understanding of letter-sound relationships.

The youngest children start getting ready to read by learning the letters of the alphabet and the sounds associated with each letter. They then progress to more complicated sounds like blends and then to whole words in sentences.

Every step of the way, students interact with the lesson by responding to questions by clicking the cursor on letters and words on the computer screen.

In an “All About Me!” section, children make choices to create an online persona and then interact with their pet and a favorite toy in the scenario of their choosing. As students become readers, they can read short vocabulary-controlled tales and stories and then listen to them read.

Most of the materials you will need are free, but if you should want more, the Starfall store sells games, books paralleling the website, worksheets and CD-ROMs for classrooms without Internet connections. Current reading research informed the development of the website’s content, which is aligned with current standards.

The PBSKids website has an abundance of learning resources and activities for children. At, you’ll find interactive games that help students develop reading, letter recognition and literacy skills.

Each interactive lesson features popular characters from PBS educational broadcasts like Elmo, Curious George and Martha the speaking dog. Each activity is so entertaining that children won’t realize that they are learning.

All learning activities presented by PBS include teacher and parent guides. The speed of the Internet connection may be an issue for some households, so check before you suggest any assignments for your students to do at home.

The Scholastic website for kids also has some interactive reading activities and games to promote literacy. At, you will find read-aloud versions of stories from the popular “Clifford” series, for instance, as well as related crafts, activity sheets and printables. Many of the resources on this website are free, but others must be purchased.

With budget cuts limiting the availability of new materials across grade levels, these free resources on the Internet can help bridge the gap and meld reading instruction and computer literacy.

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