Monday, August 25, 2014

NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

This is a guest post from Beth Holland of, an advertiser on this blog.

Whether you teach elementary, middle, or high school, a common challenge exists: finding non-fiction content at reading level. This is an especially pressing concern for teachers incorporating the CCSS Standards into their curricula. Given that varied reading levels may exist within a single class, it can seem virtually impossible to have all students access the same content in a way that allows them to comprehend the material. Creating differentiated reading groups may seem equally unrealistic since it is impossible for a teacher to work with multiple students or groups all at the same time. To quote Jennie Magiera (@MsMagiera), we also need a means to “clone the teacher.”

Solution: NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

NEWSELA solves the first dilemma by providing teachers with a database of non-fiction articles. Additionally, each article can be adjusted by Lexile for up to five different reading levels, and some articles include comprehension quizzes.

Sample NEWSELA article

Though it is possible to create classes and push out content from within NEWSELA, by incorporating Google Docs, we can address the second challenge of allowing teachers to virtually be in multiple reading groups, and with multiple students, all at the same time. By disseminating the content to your students as a Google Doc set to Comment Only, you create collaborative, leveled reading experiences!

With Google Docs, you can leave comments as reading prompts to which your students can reply as well as give them the opportunity to highlight and comment on the text themselves. As a teacher, you can then take part in all of the virtual conversations as well as see what connections your students are making to the content.

Sample Google Doc with Comments
Sample Google Doc with Comments.

In fact, you can experience this as a student by responding to my comments in this Google Doc. I adjusted the NEWSELA article, Baby elephants born in zoos celebrated, and presented it at the lowest available Lexile (750L). Note that with NEWSELA, the available levels adjust depending on the intended audience of the article.

Even if students do not have Google accounts, this activity is still possible by setting the sharing permissions to Anyone who has the link can comment and asking the students to visit that link in order to participate in the activity - just like I did with the sample Doc.

Set-Up Process

From a teacher’s perspective, here is how to make this all happen.
  1. Find an article from NEWSELA that you would like for your students to read.

  2. Create Google Docs for your desired reading levels.

  3. Copy & Paste the contents of the article, at reading level, into the Docs. IMPORTANT - don’t forget to model good digital citizenship for your students and cite the original article.

  4. Share the Docs as Comment Only.

  5. Watch your students start reading from any device (laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, even smart phones)!

As an added bonus, if you have your students are working on computers or Chromebooks, they can install the Read & Write Chrome extension in the Chrome Browser to hear the documents read out loud. From an iPad or iPhone, students can comment using the Docs app and use Speak Selection for that text-to-speech feature.

By combining these two FREE tools, it is now possible to differentiate your instruction, provide your students with a new way to connect to content, and clone yourself all in one!

To learn more ideas like this one, EdTechTeacher will be hosting two FREE, live webinars in the coming weeks: Back to School with iPads and Back to School with Google. Registration is Open!