Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Online Resources for Reading and Writing

Let me say first of all that I love reading and I love real print books. I do. I love the way my first step into our local library transports me instantly to the joy of being a child again, one with her first library card. I love the feel of a book in my hands, and the delight of finding new authors and illustrators to admire. I love how books can be our friends, give us dreams to hold onto, and empower us. Since March 9 is World Read Aloud Day, many of us will celebrate our love for books today, and rejoice that we can share them with our children.

But literacy is not just about reading books. Literacy is about all kinds of reading. It's about writing too, and talking and listening. Singing songs to your baby is one step on the road to literacy. So is playing word games with your nine-year-old or sharing a story-telling session with a group of teens. Learning to interpret the illustrations inside a picture book is just as much a part of literacy as writing in a digital diary or going on a word walk. Making literacy fun and relevant for kids, for the whole family, is vital.

Literacy is also not just about what I call the "real world," although I believe that real world literacy is of paramount importance. The cyber world also has wonderful web spaces that encourage kids to respond creatively and to develop important skills for literacy development. I have shared countless such web resources at The Book Chook, but for the Share a Story - Shape a Future blog conference this year, I decided to list and revisit some of my favourites that encourage children's Reading and Writing.


Storyline Online is a huge free site. You can click on your book of choice and listen to it being read aloud by an actor, while you follow the words in a text box on the screen. It also weaves illustrations from the book into the video. Some of my favourites like Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and Stellaluna are here. I love it because the books are ones I would recommend on my blog. Beautiful!

Mrs has online stories, read aloud by Mrs P herself, after an entertaining introduction. Kids are listening to these stories rather than following with their eyes.

The PBS Between the Lions website is excellent. If you don't know it, take some time to explore it with your kids. I like the fact the little videos are engaging AND help with reading by highlighting words as they are read aloud. Use the left side menu to scroll through all the choices, both fiction and nonfiction.

At Story Cove you'll find stories from around the world. You need to register first, or have a parent register for you, then you're free to choose a continent, select a story, and either listen to it or watch its movie. The narration is well-done in the audio version, and the movie has the same narration with art work brought to life by simple animation. You'll find lots of folk tales here, including many about that trickster, Anansi. There are also downloadable lesson plans and fun stuff for kids linked to each story.

Starfall has lots to read online. There are plays, myths, folktales, fables, fiction and nonfiction. Clicking on the ear icon will allow kids to listen while they read the pages. It really helps a young reader to hear the words spoken at the same time as he is looking at the words. That's one of many reasons read-alouds are so important. Don't forget the poetry section at Starfall with poems like Who Has Seen the Wind by Christina Rosetti. Short texts like poems and songs can be very engaging for young readers.

At the BBC Cbeebies website, kids can read stories online, and listen to some at the same time. This might give your children an idea of a book to search for at the library or at school.

Let's not forget RIF's Reading Planet! Kids can watch and listen to stories there, and songs too.

Professor Garfield has toon books where you can read and listen at the same time. Cute illustrations, and different languages to choose from.

Into the Book targets specific reading comprehension skills in kids K-4. I describe it in Dive Into the Book.

The International Children's Digital Library has hundreds of books from all over the world and in different languages. They are organized very well, and basically the site brings you a page at a time that you read with your eyes, then click the arrow to read the next. Not as high tech as some of the others, but special as an online library for the world's children. It's really worth a browse to see some wonderful illustrations. This also looks to be a useful way for self-published writers to promote their books. One book I enjoyed was Insect Soup, a book of poems about bugs.

Learn Something Every Day has a daily fact accompanied by a very simple cartoon-style image. Parental guidance recommended as always, but if you're careful, you can find great models for children's own writing. I described it in Learn Something Every Day.

Audio Owl has free books for adults and kids to listen to. There are classics of children's literature, Fairy Tales, and Folk Tales too. I found The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, and many beloved friends from my childhood, like What Katy Did, and Anne of Green Gables. Read more about it in my post.

Lit2Go is a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. An abstract, citation, playing time, and word count are given for each of the passages. Many of the passages also have a related reading strategy identified. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom. You can browse titles too.

WRITING - Make Books Online

Storybird is an absolute favourite of mine. You create a digital book from a huge range of great art work available, and share your book with others. You can see some Storybirds I've made in Fairy Tales Online and Creative Prompt - Start with Illustrations, and read more about it in Create Story with Storybird.

StoryJumper encourages kids to create and share their own stories online for free, and pay for printed books. Manipulating images is simple, and you can choose a templates story starter, or start from scratch. Read more in Create a Story with StoryJumper.

Bookr is simple and quick. Use available Flickr images then add captions to create a digital book. Read more in Have Fun and Develop Literacy Skills with Bookr.

Kerpoof has a range of tools that encourage creativity, including a story maker, movie maker and pictures that kids can add text to. Read more in Write Stories and More at Kerpoof.

ToonDoo is another Book Chook favourite! It has a book making feature where you compile your created comics into a book. For more information, read Making a Book at ToonDoo, and see below.

WRITING - Make Comics Online

ToonDoo is a great website where you can create your own cartoons and comics by manipulating their art work, speech bubbles, text and templates.

MakeBeliefsComix is simple and accessible for kids to use. Read more in my post, Make Your Own Comic at MakeBeliefsComix.

Cartoonist is part of Creaza's suite of tools and has lots of different worlds to choose from. Read more in Cartoonist - Sharing Stories with Cartoons.

At Myths and Legends, you use the available backgrounds and art work to create your own myths and legends. Read more in Review, Myths and Legends Website.

Comic Life Magiq is not an online resource, although it can be purchased online for what I consider a reasonable price. I love this software and so do kids.  It provides templates and you simply drag an image or images into the template, and add text. It's loads of fun to find a Creative Commons licensed image, one from the public domain, or take your own photo, then turn it into a cartoon. Here's an example of one where I created a story from photos taken of trees, or check out images 2 and 3 in this post.

WRITING - Create with Words and Images Online

Sometimes, you only have a little chunk of time for a small amount of writing, or your kids might be daunted by a longer project. Here are some articles where I describe fun and fast tools to use that might prompt some writing in your children.

At PicLits, choose a picture, and drag words onto canvas. Read more in Creative Writing with Pic-Lits.

At flauntR, upload a photo then add text to it. Find more in Use FlauntR to Play with Images and Text. (Pizap is another image editor that encourages kids to create with words and images.)

Keep Calm and Carry On is a great place for kids to go to devise their own simple poster. Read more in Keep Calm and Carry On.

Image Generator and Hetemeel are online image editors that kids can use to add text to a range of pictures. As always, parental guidance is recommended. Read more in Quick Writing Online.

Grab lots more ideas for sparking a writing activity in Fast and Fun Writing with Kids.

WRITING - Help with Getting Started Online

At the Write-N-Ator, kids respond to videos with short writing projects. Read more.

Bill Zimmerman, of MakeBeliefsComix, has over 100 printable templates kids can use in their own writing. Read more.

Writing with Writers is part of Scholastic's website. Kids take workshops with authors, editors and illustrators to develop skills in news writing, myth writing, descriptive writing and writing book reviews.

Jenny Eather of Writing Fun explains the different text types, gives a possible structure for them, and includes tips in a sidebar. Kids can compose their own examples inside a template, and print them in the template format. The text organizers actually help students with the writing process, giving them a structure to work within. You can also look at examples other students have done. Read more in my post, Writing Fun.

Writing prompts can be very useful to both adult and child writers. One Word is a simple tool. It gives us one word then encourages us to write for 60 seconds using that word as a prompt. I mention lots more prompts in my articles Try These Prompts to Encourage Kids into Writing, and Inspiring Kids to Write with Prompt Generators, and Bruce Van Patter has hundreds more ideas at his website. If creative prompts interest you, I am up to 16 in my Creative Prompt series where I suggest ideas for encouraging a little creativity in ourselves and our kids.

For many of us, there are times technology enhances the reading and writing experience. I hope the online resources above prove useful to include in your own family's balanced approach to literacy. With all the great gadgets like iPads, Nooks and Kindles, there are apps for just about everything. You can read fascinating articles about them in other posts in today's Unwrapping Literacy 2.0, hosted by Danielle at There's a Book, part of Share a Story - Shape a Future, 2011.

What's your favourite online resource for reading or writing?

Susan Stephenson is an Australian teacher, writer and book reviewer who regularly blogs about children's literature, literacy and learning at The Book Chook.

{Images:  I generated the cartoon involving Napoleon at, and the Messy Fingers at Pic-Lits. I created The Diet cartoon at ToonDoo. I added text to public domain images with great software called Comic Life Magiq. Find the original Snow White at wikimedia commons,  the original The Reverend Randall Burroughs and his son Ellis at wikimedia commons,  and the original Lord Horatio Nelson at wikimedia commons. }

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