Literacy in a Digital World

Texts, Tools, and Techniques for 21st Century Learners!

What is digital literacy?

In this fast-paced world, education and technology have integrated to help students become 21st-century readers and writers that will be able to utilize different forms of technology in their every day educational lives. Research on technology integration within the classroom is a rapidly growing field in literacy education. (Shettel & Bower, 2013) Our students are researching, collaborating, and creating through these technological advances like never before, and they are learning to adapt to new learning opportunities and the changes that come with them. In order for our students to have these opportunities, teachers need to be willing to promote digital literacy in the classroom in the hopes that our students will develop these critical skills for future success.

In a recent article by Javorsky and Trainin (2014), "Mobile devices for reading are available to children today in the form of smartphones, electronic book readers (e-readers), and tablets, and a recent large-scale study found that up to half of U.S. children ages 8 or younger have one or more of these digital devices in their own home (Common Sense Media & Rideout, 2011). We can assume that these numbers have grown because elementary-aged children are now carrying cell phones to school and some schools are providing Chromebooks and IPads for every student or entire classrooms. As educators, we need to ask ourselves how our students are already utilizing these devices, and how can we connect learning experiences to them to promote reading and writing? The purpose of this handout is to provide practical tips for educators on the benefits of integrating technology into the classroom to promote literacy skills for our young readers and writers through recent research.

Tip #1: Active Engagement

The benefits of using technology are becoming more and more obvious as time progresses and as more in-depth research is conducted. By incorporating digital tools, educators provide the opportunity for their students and themselves to improve their proficiency through the regular use of technology. If technology supports increased engagement and collaboration outside of schools, then logically teachers should be able to use it in classrooms to support engagement and collaboration in their learning experiences. (Serafini, 2015) Doing so also encourages students to engage in meaningful activities, addresses the unique learning needs of a diverse student body, and allows both teachers and students to complete classroom tasks more quickly and efficiently. (Fuller, 2014) According to Hutchison, Woodward, & Colwell (2016), the research that exists indicates that students, particularly those who struggle, are more motivated to participate in digitally based literacy activities when provided the opportunity and that such activities might provide a sense of agency and empowerment among students who often struggle with traditional print-based reading activities (O'Brien, Beach, & Scharber, 2007). Students will become more competent readers and writers if teachers continue to provide more online opportunities that engage and motivate students to read and write through inquiry, collaboration, and creativity.

Tip #2: Critical Thinking Skills

Readers increasingly attempt to understand and learn from information sources they find on the Internet. Doing so highlights the crucial role that evaluative processes play in selecting and making sense of the information. (Goldman, Braasch, Wiley, Graesser, & Brodowinska, 2012) As readers search the Internet for information, they must think critically about the sources and information being provided. Teachers can model effective research techniques and strategies for students to help them navigate through so much information. Students need to read the information and be able to analyze and evaluate the text. Readers must be savvy at locating information that is relevant to their needs and evaluating the validity and reliability of that information. (Hutchison, Woodward, & Colwell, 2016) Think-alouds during modeling would also be beneficial for students to understand how to navigate through the source and process the information. A unique contribution of the analysis of the think-aloud data is in describing the relations that might exist among sense-making, evaluating, and monitoring processes during reading and how these may influence online navigation decisions. (Goldman et al., 2012)
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Tip #3: Collaboration

In the workforce, people must work together and collaborate on projects, so encouraging our students to work in small groups to plan, analyze, create, and evaluate together is preparing them for their future careers. According to Javorsky and Trainin (2014), Even in a digital environment, instructional strategies of collaborative exploration and practice will help your students see reading as a sociocultural experience. The struggles that arise in real-life situations often occur when students collaborate. They must learn to work through them, continue to work on their speaking and listening skills, and learn to compromise to finish the task. As learners of all ages turn to the Internet for information to satisfy their personal wonderings, they must learn how to work with peers to (a) search for and consolidate ideas across a much larger set of digital texts from increasingly diverse perspectives and (b) select from an endlessly growing set of digital tools to help them access, compare, and organize solutions around potentially controversial ideas. (Coiro, Castek, & Quinn, 2016) Hanover Research (2012) suggested that in addition to accomplishing these tasks, students cited the ability to connect and collaborate, as well as having meaningful and engaging experiences integrated into their education as major benefits of technology. (Fuller, 2014)

Tip #4: Creating and Sharing

Creativity is an important skill in today's classrooms, and teachers need to embrace opportunities that invite students to create and share. Project Based Learning presentations, video booktalks, and digital book trailers are some of the ways students can utilize technology with creativity. To be successful in developing the creative abilities of students, it's important to be able to establish a supportive classroom environment. (Peterson, 2016) It is important to keep in mind that the goal of these projects is to get students to share what they have read, think critically about the books they select and read, and learn how to use various technologies to create and share these projects. (Serafini, 2015) Teachers can provide examples of video booktalks and trailers to students from the Scholastic website. Students would be able to compare traditional booktalks to new digital booktalks as featured on their website. offers students the opportunity to produce a book trailer and upload it to their website with approval. When students know they will present their work to an outside audience, urgency occurs as well as relevance. Students rise to the challenge and produce higher quality work than they would for just their teacher. (Miller, 2014)

Tip #5: Experience and Exploration Through Digital Inquiry

Kids are naturally curious, so teachers should facilitate that curiosity with engaging inquiry activities to promote student questioning and problem solving skills. Digital inquiry engages students to question, research, explore, and problem solve using advanced reading skills. Trend data indicate that students of all ages are using the Internet increasingly in their daily lives and particularly when they have to gather information for their schoolwork. (Goldman, Braasch, Wiley, Graesser, & Brodowinkska, 2012) Bruce and Bishop (2008) defined inquiry as "learning that starts with lived experience...where people actively shape their own learning as they work on real problems within their own communities." (Coiro, Castek, and Quinn, 2016) Inquiry-based learning like WebQuests facilitates not just reading and writing but other vital aspects of literacy such as participation in meaningful activities, explanations, reflections, and strengthening of critical thinking skills. (Ikpeze & Boyd, 2007) Even young students in kindergarten and first grade can use technology to engage in digital inquiry through PebbleGo, and intermediate students might use a website like National Geographic Kids to empower their inquiring minds.

Tip #6: Differentiated Instruction

As educators, we need to know each child's strengths and find ways to engage them. Our special needs students have assets to share with classroom learners, and we need to understand what their talents are, so we can help them incorporate their talents in group projects such as Project Based Learning. From gleaning new, viable technology skills, to becoming proficient communicators and advanced problem-solvers, students benefit from this approach to instruction. (Bell, 2010) If the notion that public schools should prepare children to be proficient consumers, producers, and disseminators of a variety of print-based and digital texts is taken seriously, then all students, particularly those receiving special services, should have access to pedagogies that promote fluency with tenets of the 21st-century literacies framework. (Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith, 2015) Warschauer's (2006) research found that laptops and connections to the Internet provided scaffolding for many classroom topics, thus building background knowledge. (Barone & Wright, 2008) For students that are identified as at-risk, special education, struggling, or English language learners, we need to promote learning experiences that include access to technology, research, and creative resources to develop reading and writing skills. Some of the popular apps and digital tools that promote literacy practice include Corkulous, Flipboards, GarageBand, Comic Strip Generator, PowerPoint/Prezi, and Stop-Motion Animation. ( Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith, 2015) All students are able to use these tools and experience success.

Tip #7: Social Networking

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram are popular social networking apps that students use to connect and communicate with friends daily. It's their way of staying in touch with the world and sharing their thoughts and feelings. Websites such as Edmodo and Twiducate can connect students and teachers in classrooms. Incorporating digital tools into the classroom can provide students with authentic audiences with whom to share their learning across a variety of modes. (Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith, 2015) Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter can also connect parents to current activities that their children are involved in at school. Teachers can share pictures and post comments to keep parents updated about student activities and projects. Parents appreciate the communication that teachers and schools provide to keep them updated with the latest information which keeps home and school connected in the best interest of the students.

Tip #8: Writing in Real-World Context......... Blogging

Research over the past five years notes that children say they are motivated to write when they have a choice in topics and when the writing is relevant to their lives and interest (Lenhart, 2008), and researchers find that students who create their own blog also tend to be productive writers both inside and outside the classroom (Lenhart, 2008). The teachers in this study refrained from heavily emphasizing writing conventions during the developmental time of writing development, and as a result, children focused on the drafting and crafting of their own writing. (Lacina & Griffith, 2012) Children of all ages can participate in blogging. It can be a powerful conversation tool that connects them to the real-world. Readers can develop comments of substance and respond to other writer's comments by asking questions or providing opinions. Integrating blogging into the classroom writing instruction can engage students and motivate them to participate more fully in the writing process. (Lacina & Griffith, 2012) We know from the research literature presented that children also write better when they know they have an audience reading and responding to their writing. (Lenhart, 2008) Kidblog offers teachers and students a blogging experience that is safe and engaging. Students can participate in digital book clubs, creative writing, and publishing with their peers.

Tip #9: Teaching Digital Citizenship

Since technology is such an important part of our students' lives, they need to learn about Digital Citizenship. Students should learn how to be respectful online, use good manners, and have digital etiquette. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, it seems safe to conclude that about one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying, and about one out of every six teens has done it to others. Based on research, cyberbullying is related to other issues in the 'real-world' including school problems, anti-social behavior, substance use, and delinquency. (Brighi (Brighi et al., 2012; Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; Kowalski & Limber, 2013; Patchin & Hinduja, 2010; Wang, Nansel, & Iannotti, 2011) BrainPOP provides a video to explain to students what cyberbullying is and how it is hurtful to others. In addition to students learning about cyberbullying, they need to learn about online safety, privacy, and responsibility.
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Tip #10: Feedback and Assessment

There are numerous digital tools that teachers can use in the classroom for formative assessment and feedback. As effective teachers, we are bonded to our students, know them well, and seamlessly integrate instruction with evaluation throughout the day. (Routman, 2003) From an instructors point of view, technology provides the opportunity to deliver accurate and timely feedback to students through digital assessment. (Fuller, 2014) Assessment is necessary to evaluate student progress. For technology to be helpful for teachers, it needs to be efficient and simple to use. One tool that is quick and useful for assessment is Socrative. A few other digital tools that can be used for assessment and feedback include Google Docs, Plickers, Paddlet, BrainPOP Jr., Kahoot, Edmodo Quizzes, and BubbleSheet. Using digital tools to collect and evaluate student data can save time, increase organization, and give teachers more options for including parents in a child's education. (Fuller, 2014)

Tip #11: Supporting Vocabulary Through Multimodal Resources

Whether directly teaching vocabulary and word learning strategies, or increasing students' volume of reading, an important research-based principle that applies across the board is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008) Technology, when used flexibly in response to students' varied needs and interests, can and should be part of the solution to the vocabulary gap. (Dalton & Grisham, 2011) Digital resources that support several reading strategies can be used to explicitly teach vocabulary and help students become independent word learners. Serafini (2015) mentions another web-based resource that can be used to visually represent the frequency of particular words in a text is called Wordle. This is an online resource that allows you to cut and paste any digital text into its website, and then it calculates the frequency of the words in the text. (Serafini, 2015) Some other digital tools that help build vocabulary include Tagxedo, Word Hippo,, Wordle, and Lingro. Padlet can be used to create a digital word wall in the classroom.
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Tip #12: Navigating Digital Texts

Everything has changed with the advent of digital technologies, the personal computer, and the Internet. By turning images and written language into digital bytes that can appear on a variety of electronic devices, including eReaders, smartphones, and laptop computers, we have changed the nature and possibilities of what we know as a book. (Serafini, 2015) There are advantages to digital texts that print-based texts can not provide such as text-to-speech capabilities, translating, personalized preferences for font size and backlighting, hyperlinks, and other interactive features. Apps can also support readers by providing resources for social media, communication, education, and entertainment. Kids Media and Book Finder are two apps that provide book reviews and locations for free books online. (Serafini, 2015) Of course, it's always beneficial for teachers to model how to navigate various devices. It's helpful to display the screens on the overhead, so students can observe the teacher scroll through features, search, and set preferences.
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Five Points for Parents

1. Let children use reading apps and websites to build reading skills. Beginning readers can utilize apps that promote print awareness and phonics. Older students benefit from using literacy apps that promote vocabulary development, spelling, comprehension, as well as writing skills. Starfall is a favorite app with many younger learners.

2. Be a good role model by being respectful online and limit use of technology to spend quality time with the family. Children listen and learn from their parents and other important people around them, so we need to promote Digital Citizenship even as adults.

3. Be proactive in regards to student safety online. Talk to your student about what they're doing online, monitor usage, know the apps, know their friends, and keep them safe.

4. Use technology as a tool to communicate with other family members such as grandparents. Skype, Google Hangout, and email provide opportunities for students to communicate with distant family and friends.

5. Download books on an eReader, so students can read on-the-go! They can read while they're waiting in line at the dentist's office or riding in a car. They can build up their digital library and have lots of books available to read anytime.

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Young readers involved in digital inquiry can navigate through this website which is designed for beginning researchers. The added features for young students include spoken-word audio, text highlighting and audio/video media. It is available on Apple products, Android devices, Chromebooks, and PC. It embraces multimodal literacy such as visual literacy, digital literacy, and media literacy which helps students retain information.

The Scholastic website has always been a source of literacy resources for teachers and students. One of the features available on this website is booktalks. The purpose of the feature is to inspire students to read the children’s books listed by presenting booktalks in traditional print version and the new video booktalks. These booktalks might inspire students to make their own digital booktalks to share with other students and get them excited about reading.

Blogs provide students with opportunities to share their ideas, creativity, and views with an authentic audience. Kidblog is a secure website that allows students to post their thoughts and ideas and share responses to classmates' posts. There is an initial fee for the teacher, but this website serves as a useful resource for the students all year, and they love to publish and receive feedback from their classmates and teacher. The teacher moderates what is published, and it's private, so it is a safe online tool. They also get to exercise digital citizenship and learn to respond respectfully to others.

Wordle is one of the online tools that can be used by students to make "word clouds" using text. Students can type in vocabulary words that are being studied on a topic or insert text from a website or book that will be presented with words that appear more frequently. Students can choose different fonts, print colors, and shapes for their word clouds. They can even download them and share their word clouds with other students.

Common Sense Media offers a curriculum for educators to instruct students about digital citizenship. They provide the tools and resources to help schools build a positive culture and teach their students to be responsible citizens while using technology. Eight topic areas of information are presented based on research that include internet safety, security and privacy, cyberbullying, identity, and communication.

Teachers and students love BrainPOP Jr.! This popular website can be used on any mobile device or at home to engage students through learning games, activities, lessons, interactive quizzes, videos, and concept mapping. It offers cross-curricular lessons and activities that are aligned to the standards. One of the best features is that teachers can check for understanding by having students take a quick assessment after the lesson and share it with the teacher by email.

Tumble Book Library makes checking out a book so easy! It provides students with access to a great selection of popular children's books that are animated and narrated. It's compatible with mobile devices and easy for students to navigate through the features to check out books they want to read. There is a 30 day free trial to sign up for a subscription. If schools or districts purchase a subscription, the code can also be shared with parents for reading at home.

Annotated Bibliography

Burns, M. (2014, April 30). Resources for using iPads in grades 3-5. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Monica Burns is the founder of In this resource guide featured on Edutopia, she provides an extensive list of engaging online activities, resources for finding apps, and teaching with best practices. In many schools, third through fifth grade classrooms have access to iPads, but it can be difficult to know which apps to download. Burns offers a list of articles that feature the most favorite apps for iPads. This article also offers resources for coding, lesson plans, creativity with iPads. She reminds educators to choose apps carefully that will best benefit the needs of the students.

Crowley, B. (2014, October 29). What digital literacy looks like in the classroom. Education Week Teacher. Retrieved


In this online article, the author describes how students are connected to digital devices 24/7, and it's changing the way kids learn. Students are considered to be "digital natives" since they have grown up with technology since birth. Because students utilize so much technology, educators need to find ways to integrate it into the classroom. The author also mentions ways to use social media in the classroom and teach students about digital responsibility.

Knight, D. (2015, November 19). Why use digital interactive notebooks? 21st century learning. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

In this blog post by Danielle Knight, she shares her ideas for implementing digital interactive notebooks. As more schools become one-to-one with digital devices, educators need to look for ways to implements technology and engage students with different online tools and resources. She lists 10 reasons why educators should implement digital interactive notebooks in the classroom which include improved student writing, high engagement, access anywhere, and paperless among other reasons that she mentions. She uses Google Drive apps in her classroom.

Miners, Z., & Pascopella, A. (2007). The new literacies. District Administrator. Retrieved from

Many administrators and educators are recognizing the need to provide 21st century literacy technologies in the classroom. Students will need to be able to use the Internet and communication technologies such as wikis, blogs, and email to be college ready and work in the future. Students need to learn to navigate the Internet by understanding the features that are provided, being able to critically evaluate the information, and inquire new information through self-directed learning.

Sylvester, R., & Greenidge, W. (2009, December). Digital storytelling: Extending the potential for struggling writers. The Reading Teacher, 63(4), 284-295. Retrieved from

In this article, the author provides information about motivating struggling writers with digital technologies. Research was done on three 4th graders who were struggling writers based on their writing performance. Information is provided about the different approaches that were used with each student and how they were motivated to write by utilizing the technology provided and scaffolding
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Barone, D. & Wright, T. E. (2008), Literacy instruction with digital and media technologies. The Reading Teacher, 62: 292–302. doi: 10.1598/RT.62.4.2

Beck, I., McKeown, M., & Kucan, L. (2008). Creating robust vocabulary: Frequently asked questions & extended examples. New York: Guilford.

Bell, S. (2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st century: Skills for the future. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas 83(2), 39-43. doi: 10.1080/00098650903505415

Brighi, A., Melotti, G., Guarini, A., Genta, M. L., Ortega, R., Mora-Merchán, J., Smith, P. K. & Thompson, F. (2012). Self-esteem and loneliness in relation to cyberbullying in three European countries, in cyberbullying in the global playground: Research from International Perspectives (eds Q. Li, D. Cross and P. K. Smith), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.Retrieved from

Coiro J., Castek J., & Quinn D. J. (2016). Personal inquiry and online research: Connecting learners in ways that matter. The Reading Teacher, 69(5), 483–492. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1450

Common Sense Media & Rideout, V. (2011) Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/MOM/Downloads/zero-to-eight-2013.pdf.

Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. L. (2011). eVoc strategies: 10 ways to use technology to build vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5): 306-317. doi: 1598/RT.64.5.1

Price-Dennis, D., Holmes, K., & Smith, E. (2015). Exploring digital literacy practices in an inclusive classroom. The Reading Teacher, 69(2), 195–205. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1398

Fuller, L. (2014). Technology tools for classroom management. International Reading Association. doi: 1598/e-ssentials.8044.

Goldman, S., Braasch, J., Wiley, J., Graesser, A., & Brodowinska, K. (2012). Comprehending and learning from internet sources: Processing patterns of better and poorer learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(4), 356–381. doi: 10.1002/rrq.027

Hutchinson, A., Woodward, L., & Colwell, J. (2016). What are preadolescent readers doing online? An examination of upper elementary students’ reading, writing, and communication in digital spaces. Reading Research Quarterly. doi: 10.1002/rrq.146

Ikpeze, C., & Boyd, F. (2007). Web-based inquiry learning: Facilitating thoughtful literacy with WebQuests. The Reading Teacher, 60: 644–654. doi: 10.1598/RT.60.7.5

Lacina, J. & Griffith, R. (2012). Blogging as a means of crafting writing. The Reading Teacher, 66(4),316–320. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01128

Lenhart, A., Sousan, R., Smith, A., & MacGill, A. (2008). Writing, technology and teens. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and National Writing Commission. Retrieved from

Miller, A. (2014). Designing PBL projects to increase student literacy. International Reading Association. doi: 10.1598/e-ssentials.8060.

Peterson, R. (2016). Establishing the creative environment in technology education: Creativity doesn’t just happen by chance; the prepared environment nourished it. The Technology Teacher. Retrieved from

Javorsky, K., & Trainin, G. (2014). Teaching young readers to navigate a digital story when rules keep changing. The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 606–618. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1259

O’Brien, D., Beach, R., & Sharber, C. (2007). “Struggling” middle schoolers: Engagement and literate comptetence in a reading writing intervention class. Reading Psychology, 28(1), 51-73. doi:10.1080/02702710601115463

Routman, R. (2003). Reading essentials: The specifics you need to teach reading well. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Serafini, F. (2015). Reading workshop 2.0: Supporting readers in the digital age. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Serafini, F., Kachorsky, D., & Aguilera, E. (2016) Picture books in the digital age. The Reading Teacher, 69(5), 509–512. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1452

Shettel, J., and Bower, K. (2013). Infusing technology into the balanced literacy classroom. e-Journal of Balanced Reading Instruction. 1(2). Retrieved from


Sources: All photos are personal photos.

Source: Word Cloud by Tagxedo (Personal Word Cloud)