Home » technology » Classroom Applications – Teaching Digital Non-Fiction Reading Strategies

Classroom Applications – Teaching Digital Non-Fiction Reading Strategies

To fully prepare students for reading digital text, teachers need to incorporate…new literacy skills into the reading curriculum and support online reading comprehension during content-area lessons. (Coiro, 2005. p. 30)

In my previous posts I demonstrated how the changing landscape of literacy, influenced by the Internet and ICTs, necessitates explicit teaching of online/digital non-fiction reading comprehension. A very important consideration within the field of new literacies is how the dynamic features of technology affect the reading performance of our students. As Schugar, Smith and Schugar state, “Although it is tempting to think of today’s students as digital natives who are comfortable using tablets (or other mobile devices, like an iPhone), teachers cannot assume that students’ prior experiences with these devices have prepared them for the unique demands required of the reader” (2013, p. 618). Digital text features such as hyperlinks, pose challenges even for proficient offline readers (Coiro, 2011. p.353). Therefore, we must equip our students with skills and strategies to evaluate website, navigate multimodal features and collaborate to make meaning. In this post I’m going to share modeling strategies, lesson plans and online resources to support classroom instruction.

One of the biggest tasks students face when reading for information online is effectively evaluating websites for readability (at their level), accuracy, and purpose. I think we can relate, as teachers, to the inundation of Wikipedia sourcing, the pasting of vocabulary and concepts beyond their understanding and mediocre search queries performed by students. In her Edutopia blog post, Teaching Adolescents How to Evaluate the Quality of Online Information, Julie Coiro shares essential teachings & strategies to explicitly teach for online evaluation:

  • critical evaluation dimensions (such as relevancy, accuracy, bias and reliability)
  • modeling and practice
  • prompting
  • considerations for healthy skepticism

Furthermore, in her article Making Sense of Online Text (2005), Coiro uses the Think and Check strategy to encourage students to check for validity.

photo (4)

 As she states, “The Think and Check activity…holds students accountable for considering each question carefully and then checking the validity of the information by recording evidence to support their answers – before they incorporate sources of factual information into a research project” (pp.33-34).

Multimodality presents additional challenges for online reading comprehension. While  providing alternate modes of information, hyperlinks, graphics, audio and visual clips can also distract and disorient students. Furthermore, they can potentially affect a students’ textual reading skills as they “might channel students’ attention away from the actual reading of the text, and students might be tempted to ‘read’ through the pictures and interactions rather than looking at the text itself” (Schugar, Smith & Schugar, p. 620).

In the attached lesson sequence Exploring Multimodal Websites and handout student tracking sheet for online multimodal comp,  I have developed lessons which explicitly teach students how to explore multimodal websites when searching for specific information. Using a think aloud, the teacher models the reading and viewing process which students then practice in pairs. Finally, students create a multimodal blog post to apply their understanding and to “fully realize the interactivity of the Web” (Vacca, Vacca & Mraz, 2014, p. 40).

photo 1                 photo 2 (1)

Collaboration is an essential skill of 21st century learners. Social bookmarking tools provide students with opportunities to share opinions, make connections, co-ordinate resources, interact with online non-fiction text and ultimately support each other’s construction of meaning. Diigo is a good example of one such tool which allows users to tag, organize, highlight and annotate online articles (Ferriter, 2011). The following video is a concise tutorial that teachers could use to familiarize themselves with Diigo.


I’ve touched on 3 key areas of online non-fiction comprehension instruction; however, there are others to consider:

  • synthesising information
  • assessing digital literacy
  • access to technology and its impact on student reading performance
  • the role of e-books in supporting non-fiction comprehension

Fortunately, research is growing in this area, resources are readily available and conversations are shifting.



Coiro, J. (2011). Making sense of online text. Educational Leadership, pp. 30-35.

Schugar, H., Smith, C., & Schugar, J. (2013). Teaching with interactive picture e-books in grades k-6. The Reading Teacher, 66(8). pp. 615-624.

Vacca, R., Vacca, J.,& Mraz, M. (2014). Content area reading: Literacy and learning across the curriculum (11th ed.).  Pearson.





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