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.

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 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.





Two Voices

The following is a two voice poem with the voices of my students on the left and my voice on the right. Our voices combine to share our thoughts on how we see ourselves as writers.
(sorry mobile users – the formatting gets messy. check it out on your pc)
We need to Write?                                                                                            
I feel irritated
I find writing really hard
What’s that?
It’s really hard
I can relate – writing scares me
I don’t like being forced
Writing for an audience is scarier than
writing for myself
When I’m in the mood I write for myself
I love writing in my journal
It’s something I’m excited about
I have most of my life down on paper
I don’t see myself as a REAL author
Does writing emails make me a writer?
One day I could be an author
An author of emails?
Writing is annoying and boring and I don’t
like it.

It’s Moody                                                                                                                          

I like to write when I’m upset or bored
It helps me clear my head
It seems to help me up when I am down
I write more when I’m sad or angry
I just love to write – but only when I’m happy
Seldom when I’m feeling good
I can express my feelings
It pulls it all together.

                                                                                                                Time to start

I hop on my computer
and start typing out ideas
It takes forever to get going
My stories aren’t planned – I just write
My ideas are maps
Staying on topic is hard
Walk away, come back, walk away
I take short walks or look out my window
Come back again
My imagination is huge.
There’s Purpose                                                                                                
To be a writer is to think about
the things you like
Thinking about learning
At school but not at home
I write to learn
I can create a different world
It’s for an audience
Poetry for friends and family
Better for me than others
Writing music to help escape the real world
A journey to build confidence
It’s a supply and demand kind of thing.


Goldie Eyes

It started with an inspiration. The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald  After reading this book I knew I wanted to do a similar activity with my class…two years later I finally had my chance. I set out to model the writing process with my students.

link to

I started here as a pre-write

I needed to think of who I was writing for, why I was writing and what were some of the big ideas I would use to discuss my eyes.

Pre-write continued…

I thought of some specific examples to fit with each of my big ideas. I explained that I wasn’t going into detail here, but I would be in my draft. This was to act as a reminder or an inspiration board to help me later.

It was time to piece it together in the writing phase
More challenging than expected (it’s not easy doing this in front of a crowd!), I pulled the ideas together making sure to share how I was organizing my thoughts.
Almost there – edit and revise
I read and re-read the poem aloud. I omitted phrases, added words, and reorganized sentences to help the flow or change the impact.  I left out a few words because they just wouldn’t come to me. I trusted that they eventually would.
Publish time…
my eyes are the best part of me
from peeking open in the morning 
drooping closed at night
they bring me gifts
my children’s SMILES
their tussled hair
sullen pouts
first soccer goals
dimpled cheeks and dirty knees
Without them I would never see
the fiery glow of the morning light on my favourite oak tree
the delight of a student’s “A- HA!” moment
the soothing words of my novel as it eases me to sleep
they are
flecked with gold and shades of green
odd and mismatched
almond shaped with eyelashes that pop when coated black
a memory of my father
the best part of me