Tips for Integrating Reading Technology in the Classroom

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Most of our students are digital natives—they have grown up immersed in digital environments. And as many of us are all too aware, they are usually more comfortable exploring digital spaces than their teachers. This does not mean, of course, that they understand how best to explore, navigate, and use these spaces. As teachers, our responsibility is to address reading technology as both a topic of learning—media literacy (Palmer, 2021)—and as a tool for learning (Mills, Stornaiuolo, Smith, & Pandya, 2018). In this blog, we briefly explore guidelines for addressing technology as a tool in support of literacy learning in the reading classroom.

Steps to Teaching Reading with Technology

At the outset, it is important to keep in mind the pitfalls of relying too much on technology. We know technology shouldn’t drive how we teach, but too often, the hustle-and-bustle demands of instruction and management may lead to this outcome. There are, of course, times when we have no choice but to rely on technology. Teachers and their students recently lived online together for so long in synchronous and asynchronous spaces.

Step 1: Take a Step Back

Our first step, therefore, in using technology is to step back: We look at our instructional objectives for various facets of literacy—comprehension, writing, or word study—and then focus on those tools that may best support these objectives. Keeping our instructional objectives in mind, in other words, will help fine-tune our selection process.

Step 2: Select Digital Tools that Meet Objectives

Our second step is to select those digital tools that best address our objectives. Tools may support whole-class, small-group, and independent learning experiences. There are excellent resources available to assist in this selection, including Into Reading and Into Literature. Following the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” instructional model (Connor et al., 2016; Pearson & Gallagher, 1983).

Image source: HMH Into Literature

Digital Tools Can Support Whole-Class Modeling

Our use of effective digital instructional tools can support our whole-class modeling of a strategy—for example, how to decode unfamiliar words in print, read dialogue and punctuation, or annotate while reading closely.

Modeling the reading of a text for the class or a small group from a student eBook is reinforced when children independently “read along,” watching and listening as the text is presented digitally with an engaging voice while the words are visually highlighted—the 21st-century evolution of the “follow the bouncing ball” animations of almost a century ago. In this case, the teacher’s integration of whole-class and independent engagements does the following: 

  1. Models fluency for learners at different developmental levels, and 
  2. Supports young children’s development of a concept of word in text (Bowling & Cabell, 2019; Morris, Bloodgood, Lomax, & Perney, 2003), building a foundation for full phonemic awareness.

As we model close reading and analysis of text, we may annotate in an online writing tool such as Writable. For example, you might model your own reaction to the language and emotion conveyed by an author’s use of figurative language when you highlight lines in the projected student eBook as you comment, “Readers, this image says it all for me!” You then write Golden line! Figurative language! in the annotation window (Gehsmann & Templeton, 2022). “Reading with a Pencil” becomes “Reading with a Mouse” (or Trackpad) (Fisher, Frey, & Lapp, 2016; Plucker, McWilliams, & Alanazi, 2016).

This effectiveness is also illustrated by the “teacher assistant”—Amira—which provides complementary assessment and tutoring for students who are struggling.

Balance Between Digital and Hands-on Experiences

Most of our students are digital natives—they have grown up immersed in digital environments. And as many of us are all too aware, they are usually more comfortable exploring digital spaces than their teachers. This balance between digital and hands-on experiences with print is especially important for young children.

As we emphasize experiences with actual hand-held books, children’s writing should primarily be with pencil and paper. This is not because of wistfulness about the past and hesitancy to embrace the digital future—it’s because of the concrete advantages afforded by this level of engagement (Templeton, in press).

The Physical Act of Writing Is Critical 

Beginning with late emergent readers and writers and continuing throughout the beginning and transitional reading and writing stages, the physical act of writing in literacy development is critical in integrating the tactile with the sights and sounds of writing by hand (Planton, Jucla, Roux, & Démonet, 2013). Evidence from neuroscience and the science of reading confirms that children’s developing knowledge about word structure is supported by shared neural structures for both writing and reading (Longcamp, Velay, Berninger, & Richards, 2016; Templeton, 2021).

While online writing tools support students in interacting with and reflecting on texts, most also allow students to digitally compose and provide feedback to one another, as with the Peer Review feature in Writable. It is important, however, not to abandon the classic paper-and-pen writing journal. You may have students alternate formats as you move from one module or unit of study to the next.

Digital Programs Should Be Aligned with Instruction

When students work independently, as in station rotations, the format of their digital experiences should, of course, be motivating and engaging but need not mirror the online games with which many students otherwise may spend considerable time. Phonics and spelling activities should reflect the research on how children learn the structure of words. 

Word Sorts

For example, you could conduct word sorts in small-group instruction. This provides structured opportunities for discovering patterns in written words, so students’ independent digital experiences will reinforce this learning while increasing their interest in the logic underlying these patterns (Templeton, 2020). Rather than simply blasting words out of the sky in a spelling app, word sorts may engage learners by actively comparing, contrasting, and categorizing words according to similar features and patterns (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2020; Treiman, 2017). The use of digital programs and apps appears to be most effective in reading when closely aligned with your instruction and intervention (Cheung & Slavin, 2013). 


And what about the ubiquitous spell-checker? It’s a very helpful tool, and older students should use it as part of their editing process. But will it over time remove the need for attention to spelling or the need to attend to the written structure of words at all? The reconceptualization of the role of spelling knowledge in literacy suggests not (Templeton, 2006). Because spelling knowledge underlies reading as well as writing, written words and the information their spelling encodes will still need to be examined and learned. And there remains developmental work to be done to bring spell-checkers and their accompanying grammar suggestions closer in line with the ways in which language actually works.

Project-Based Learning

More broadly, students’ collaboration—particularly in project-based learning—may be supported and enhanced with online tools that address different classroom needs. As Weston Kieschnick (2017) reminds us, however, it is very often useful to “start low-tech or no-tech”—collaboration and planning are, in the long run, more important than the final product.

Reading Technology Complements Instruction

Teaching reading with technology begins with identifying your literacy instructional objectives, which then guide your selection of supportive resources of the most appropriate digital tools. Many robust digital tools are effective across whole-class, small-group, and independent instructional contexts. While integrating technology and reading instruction can complement your instruction—it is important that hands-on experiences involving reading and writing continue to play a significant role (Wolf, 2018).


Check out the AI-powered Amira Learning, an intelligent reading assistant that improves students’ oral reading fluency. You can get a free demo here.

Streamline feedback and grow great writers with Writable. Scaffold student practice, increase engagement, and connect writing directly to your daily instruction. Request a free demo here.

Explore how Waggle personalizes practice in math and ELA to help students in Grades K–8 thrive. Request a self-guided demo.

Hear from Dr. Shane Templeton in the webinar "Decodable Readers: Where Do We Go From Here?" to hear what the research says about using non-controlled or “natural” texts in the early elementary classroom.


Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2020). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (7th Ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Bowling, E.C.C. & Cabell, S.Q. (2019). Developing readers: Understanding concept of word in text development in emergent readers. Early Childhood Education Journal. 47(2), 143–151. Cheung, A. C., &

Cheung, A. C., & Slavin, R. E. (2013). Effects of educational technology applications on reading outcomes for struggling readers: A best‐evidence synthesis. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(3), 277-299.

Connor, C. M., Day, S. L., Phillips, B., Sparapani, N., Ingebrand, S. W., Mclean, L., …, & Kaschak, M. P. (2016). Reciprocal effects of self-regulation, semantic knowledge, and reading comprehension in early elementary school. Child Development, 87(6), 1813–1824.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2016). Text complexity: Stretching readers with texts and tasks. Corwin Press.

Gehsmann, K. M., & Templeton, S. (2022). Teaching reading and writing: The developmental approach (2nd ed.). Pearson.

Kieschnick, W. (2019). Bold School: Old School Wisdom + New School Technologies = Blended Learning That Works. International Center for Leadership in Education, Inc.

Longcamp, M., Velay, J. L., Berninger, V. W., & Richards, T. (2016). Neuroanatomy of handwriting and related reading and writing skills in adults and children with and without learning disabilities: French-American connections. Pratiques. Linguistique, littérature, didactique, 171-172.

Mills, K. A., Stornaiuolo, A., Smith, A., & Pandya, J. (2018). Handbook of writing, literacies, and education in digital cultures. New York, NY: Routledge.

Morris, D., Bloodgood, J. W., Lomax, R. G., & Perney, J. (2003). Developmental steps in learning to read: A longitudinal study in kindergarten and first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 302-328.

Palmer, E. (2021). 4 Tips for Teaching Media Literacy in the Classroom. Shaped, October. https://www.hmhco.com/blog/4-t...

Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.

Planton, S., Jucla, M., Roux, F. E., & Démonet, J. F. (2013). The “handwriting brain”: a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motor versus orthographic processes. Cortex, 49(10), 2772-2787.

Plucker, J. A., McWilliams, J., & Alanazi, R. A. (2016). Creativity, culture, and the digital revolution: Implications and considerations for education. In The Palgrave Handbook of Creativity and Culture Research (pp. 517-533). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Templeton, S. (2006). Dispelling spelling assumptions: Technology and spelling, present and future. In M. McKenna, L. Labbo, R. Kieffer, & D. Reinking (Eds.). Handbook of Literacy and Technology (2nd Ed.) (pp. 335-339). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Templeton, S. (2020). Read by Grade 3: Developing Foundational Skills for All Children. Shaped, July. https://www.hmhco.com/blog/rea...

Templeton, S. (2021). The Science, Art, and Craft of Teaching Reading and Writing. edWeb, March. https://home.edweb.net/webinar...

Templeton, S. (in press). Spelling: Theory, assessment, and pedagogy. In Tierney, R., Rizvi, F., Ercikan, K., & Smith, G. (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Education (4th ed.), Vol. 7: Literacies and languages education (D. Yaden & T. Rogers, eds.). Oxford, GB: Elsevier.

Treiman, R. (2017). Learning to spell words: Findings, theories, and issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 21(4), 265-276.

Wolf, M. (2018). Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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