Early Elementary: Differentiate Reading Practice

In my last post titled “Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model,” I provided a blended learning strategy that creates more time in the classroom for teachers to work individually with students. This week I was presenting on technology infused reading strategies and resources for K-5 teachers and wanted to share them. They can be used in combination with the Station Rotation Model to help differentiate reading practice for younger students.

This is what a reading practice could look like in a station rotation model.

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This strategy uses technology in two stations. In one online learning station, students listen to books/stories with an audio recording. In the read-to-self station, students read a digital storybook and record an audio capture of their reading.

Here are some great online resources for the online learning stations.

Read & Listen Resources

Storyline Online is a fantastic site sponsored by the SAG Foundation. There is a wonderful collection of popular children’s books read by actors. The simple animation is captivating and each book comes with a resource guide teachers can download to access discussion points and activities. This is perfect for students who might benefit from both reading and listening to a text.

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Storynory is another online resource that allows students to hear audio stories and read the text. The stories can also be downloaded to a device if connectivity is an issue in your classroom. The free version has minimal advertising on the site

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National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine is a great resource for nonfiction reading. Students can click through the magazine playing audio clips while reading along. The word being read in the text is highlighted in a different color so it is easy for the kids to follow along with the audio clips. There is a collection of magazines that include articles about animals, plants, stars, etc.

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Read-to-Self Books

We Give Books is a Pearson Foundation initiative that allows students to read books (no audio) for ages 4-10 years old. These are fantastic for students reading on their own in the classroom on a device. Students can select their own books depending on thier reading level and interest.

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International Children’s Digital Library has an incredible collection of stories in a wide range of languages. The site also allows teachers to customize searches by age, genre, book lenth, or type of story (kid characters, animal characters, fiction or nonfiction).

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If you use other online reading resources, please post a comment and share them! I’d love to hear what elementary teachers are using to get students reading online.

Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology  Available NOW! 

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Create Small Learning Communities with the Station Rotation Model

Whenever I’m asked the question, “How do we fix education?” I find myself emphasizing the importance of creating smaller learning communities within the context of the larger classroom. I passionately believe the most effective learning communities are those that allow teachers to spend more time working individually or in small groups with their students to customize and personalize instruction.

Smaller learning communities also provide students with more opportunities to work collaboratively and engage in a variety of activities that appeal to different learning modalities (auditory, visual, tactile and kinesthetic). Students engage with the world in different ways, so it’s important to keep activities and tasks varied to ensure every student is able to receive and process information in a way that works for them.

My interest in blended learning and weaving together learning mediums to include both in-class and online learning was in part driven by my desire to create smaller student-centered learning communities in my classroom. One strategy for a teacher interested in pursuing this approach come fall is experimenting with the Station Rotation Model–a blended learning model.

Station Rotation Model

The Station Rotation Model does exactly what the name suggests–students rotate through learning stations either on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion. At least one of the stations must be an online learning station for this to be considered a blended learning model.

Learning stations are not a new concept in education, so this is an easy model for teachers who are shifting from a traditional teaching model to a blended learning model. Teachers can use this model within a traditional classroom setting by simply breaking students into small groups and having them rotate through different stations set up around the classroom or rotating the whole class through a series of learning activities.

Station Rotation Model in ActionThis model is flexible and can work with almost any age level or subject area. My classes are usually composed of 30 students, so I tend to design a minimum of 6 stations. That way my stations do not exceed 5 students, which feels like the maximum amount of teenagers who can be in a group and work together effectively. I have 90 minute block periods, so I typically have them work 12-15 minutes in each station or we break the work up into 2 days and they can have 25-30 minutes in each station.

I find it’s helpful to sketch out my stations on paper and ask myself the following questions:

  • What is the objective of each station? Will students produce something?
  • How much time do students need in each station? How long will they have to transition between stations?
  • What materials do they need in each station? How many devices are needed for the online learning stations? Do they need any special programs, apps, or software?
  • What will be the cue for them to transition to the next station?
  • Will directions be frontloaded, provided in written form at each station, or presented via mini-video tutorial at each station?


The online component can take many forms ranging from students using dynamic creation tools to researching topics to using adaptive software depending on the objectives of the lesson. However, the addition of an online component requires that teachers have access to technology in some form or another to execute the Station Rotation Model in their classrooms. I don’t have any actual hardware in my classroom, so I have to use student devices or arrange to take my students to one of our computer labs on campus.

As a teacher, it takes more time to plan this style of lesson; however, the benefits far exceed the challenges. I love being able to work with small group and provide real-time feedback, answer questions, lend support, or direct students to an online resource. Students also enjoy the freedom they have as learners in this model. I am not hovering over them or controlling the pace of their learning. They are driving the learning, which is much more powerful for them.

A teacher does not have to use the Station Rotation Model for every lesson, but it is an easy way to explore the benefits of blending online work with face-to-face interactions to create smaller learning communities that are student-centered.

For more on blended learning, check out my first book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12.

Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology  Available NOW! 

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Simple K12: PD in Your PJs

I work in a district with next to no funding for professional development. As a result, I’ve had to aggressively pursue my own learning to stay current with the changes happening in education. I follow interesting people on Twitter, read popular education blogs, and attend as many sessions as possible at the conferences where I speak.

For teachers who are looking for an alternative to traditional conferences, which can be expensive to attend if your school doesn’t pay your registration, travel, room, and board, SimpleK12 offers a convenient alternative…professional development in your PJs.

SK12 bunny slippersI’ve had the pleasure of presenting over 70 webinars for SimpleK12 over the last four years! As a presenter I love rolling out of bed in my pajamas, slipping on my SimpleK12 bunny slippers, and presenting from the comfort of my own home. I’ve presented topics ranging from blended learning to Google Apps to Common Core.

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SimpleK12 has an impressive collection of presenters who cover a wide range of topics. There are events throughout the year that are free and open to the public, which anyone can attend. Teachers with a membership can search the archive of webinars and watch any of them on demand. They can also earn Certificates of Completion (CEUs) for attending webinars.

I love the on demand option! When I’m interested in exploring a new edtech topic or trend, I stop by SimpleK12 to see what is available on demand. It’s a great resource and the cost of the membership is about the same as you pay to register for one conference.

I recently participated in a conference call with the SimpleK12 about ways to improve on their current offerings. In exchange for my time, they offered me a 6-month full membership to give away to one my readers. Click here to fill out the form to enter the giveaway! I will select a winner on July 25th in time for the lucky winner to gear up for the new school year with some free PD in their PJs!

Congratulations, Lynn O’Connell!

Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology  Available NOW! Just in time for summer reading!

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