Kids and Kindles Part 2: Kindle teaches speed reading

Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle, can be a wonderful classroom tool, and it’s something parents can easily make available for their students at home. So wonderful, in fact, that I can’t do the Kindle justice in just one blog post.  Hence the Kids and Kindles series.

Part two: how to use the Kindle to teach speed reading

For a full lesson on speed reading, read my blog entry on the topic.  Here are the Cliffs Notes:

  1.  Speed read by tracking with your finger.  Yes, just like you did back in first grade.  Build up speed by sliding your finger more quickly under the text and challenging your eyes and mind to keep up.
  2. This helps because it focuses your eye.  Without imposing focus, your eyes will just wander over the page, re-reading, skipping along, and generally wasting time.
  3. It also teaches you not to read in your head.  You know how little kids read aloud?  Well, us older folks enunciate the words in our heads.  As you learn to track your finger faster and read faster, you will read much faster than you could talk.  Once you break the reading-aloud-in-your-head habit, you read much faster.

How does Kindle help kids with speed reading?

  1.  It focuses the mind.  With the Kindle, you are looking at a single page at a time, not a double-page spread.  It feels like you are cutting your distractions in half.
  2. The eye doesn’t have to slide so far.  With a traditional Kindle—the ones that are about 6” wide, the text is a little narrower than in many books.  Your eye doesn’t have to slide so far, and you take in many words at once, naturally scooping them into phrases.  This makes a huge difference in how quickly you read.  Think about a newspaper, and how those 3” columns are built for speed reading.  Your eye takes in several words at once.
  3. Kids get a feeling of accomplishment as they click through the pages.  You know how kids who are just learning to read chapter books stop constantly to brag about how many pages they have read or what chapter they’re on?  Kindle brings back that exhilarating feeling of accomplishment.  For some reason, it really is fun to click through pages.  This encourages kids to read faster—faster—faster!  (My advice to you: allow some time for goof-off clicking through pages to let kids get it out of their systems.)
  4. You can enlarge the font size.  This addresses many problems facing kids.  For example, a poor child might wait forever for new glasses while you and the school nurse try to secure a pair.  With a Kindle, you can enlarge the font size so the child can read without headaches.  Enlarging the font size also makes any book seem easier.  This can decrease the intimidation factor for struggling readers.  Click here to read comments about Kindle and kids on Amazon—there are some persuasive testimonials.
  5. Kindle is new.  Like any skill, you get better at reading—and speed reading—through practice.  Although it’s been around a while, Kindle is still a novelty.  Kids who don’t like to read will want to use the Kindle.  They’ll practice more than they would have otherwise.

Don’t miss Part 1 about how the Kindle will read any book out loud to you.  Important: you don’t get text-to-speech with the cheapest Kindle, the $79 one.  You have to buy a Kindle with audio features.  If you need text-to-speech, get a Kindle Touch or a Kindle Keyboard.

Kids and Kindles, an occasional series at the Class Antics blog.

Posted in Academics,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Dec 29, 2011


Kids and Kindles Part 1: Kindle reads to kids

Amazon’s e-reader, the Kindle can be a wonderful classroom tool.  So wonderful, in fact, that I can’t do it justice in just one blog post.  Hence the Kids and Kindles series.

Part one: harnessing the text-to-speech feature

The short version: the Kindle will read any book out loud to you.

The long version:

Kindle parents taught me this tip.  Over and over, parents say that Kindle has not only encouraged children with learning disabilities to read, it has practically taught them to read.  Click to read about how the text-to-speech feature has helped many Kindle users who have learning disabilities!

Important: you don’t get text-to-speech with the cheapest Kindle, the $79 one.  You have to buy a Kindle with audio features.  If you need text-to-speech, get a Kindle Touch or a Kindle Keyboard.

The text-to-speech feature will read any English language content to you.  This is extremely helpful for kids with dyslexia or a learning disability.  The kids can follow along as Kindle reads aloud—or not.  Either way, they are building their vocabulary though exposure to the richer variety of words found on the printed page compared to everyday conversation.

I think the read-along-while-I-read-aloud aspect of the Kindle is really valuable.  It hearkens back to Teddy Ruxpin and his books on tape I loved as a child.

Audiobooks, while higher quality than Kindle’s text-to-speech because they’re read by actors and not machines, are expensive.  If you want to follow along with an audiobook, you have to own the actual book, too.  That can get really expensive.

With Kindle, you can listen to any book read aloud.  The deal is especially great when you consider how many free books are available.  Kindle has an extensive collection of public domain books you can download for free.  Many classics are written at quite a high reading level, so even kids without learning disabilities might like the text-to-speech feature.  How nice for new technology to expose kids to classics like the Oz books, Beatrix Potter’s collection, or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

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Posted in Academics,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Dec 26, 2011


Speed Reading

I always thought I was a fast reader—until I met my mentor teacher.  She puts me to shame!   I thought it must be some natural talent of hers, not something that I could learn.  True teacher that she is, my mentor wouldn’t let me off so easily.  Speed reading is a skill you can acquire.  My mentor learned it as a child from a teacher who had a speed reading machine.

It was years before I figured out what a speed reading machine was—more on that later.  But that summer, I took a course in speed reading through my local university.  On the first night, we learned to track our reading with our fingers, just like a first grader.  Then we practiced all summer.

And I consider it $350 well spent.

Yes, sliding your finger under the words like a first grader really will make you a faster reader.  Our eyes wander all over the page, slowing down our reading.  We reread sections and don’t even realize it.  Tracking with your finger combats this human frailty.

People tend to vocalize the words we read.  Little kids actually read everything out loud.  Most older kids (and adults) tend to read silently, but we pronounce the words in our heads.  By tracking with your finger, you can move faster than your mind can pronounce the words.  With a little practice, you’ll get to the point where you feel like you’re reading with lightning speed—because you’re flashing past the words, absorbing their meaning but not pronouncing every phoneme.

In addition to just getting faster, there are unexpected uses for speed reading:

  • It keeps you focused (and awake).  Speed reading will help you pull an all-nighter.
  • It gets you through boring text.  Focus on the skill of speed reading, not the dull text you are required to read.  College kids and those working on master’s programs, take note!

I found an online speed reading machine that teaches you how to focus your eyes.  You can let your students use it individually in the computer lab.  I like to project the online speed reading machine using our classroom computer-projector hookup.  Then the whole class can practice together.  The strong readers pull everyone else along.

You have to input your own text into the online speed reading machine.  Use free books from Project Gutenberg or just pull text from online encyclopedias and articles for kids.  My class and I had the best time doing that.  I let the kids suggest topics for study.  In this manner, we learned about everything from sea turtles to Justin Bieber.  The kids had so much fun learning about a variety of topics that they forgot they were improving their reading fluency.

Want to learn more about speed reading?  Click here for an article about speed reading from the Four Hour Workweek Guy.

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Posted in Academics,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Dec 19, 2011


The b-d Method for Setting the Table

Winter holidays often feature lavish feasts, and no matter how old you are, it’s hard to remember how formal place settings are designed.  Nothing causes tension at a formal meal quicker than anxiety over which drinking glass is yours …or your tablemate’s.

I learned a cool tip that helps kids with their table manners.  It’s called “b—d”.

As you can see from the photo at right, you make a sort of “good job” gesture with each hand and your fingers form lowercase letters b and d.

The b is for your bread plate.  The d is for your drink.

Your bread plate is on the left. Your drink is on the right.

See how helpful this can be at formal dinner parties?

It remains to be seen whether this tip will help children tell their b and d apart—or create “which bread plate is mine?” confusion for students who can’t tell the difference between b and d.

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Posted in Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Dec 16, 2011


The Class Vaseline Jar

I always try to take care of my students’ basic needs: hungry, cold kids can’t learn. Add to that list a wintertime problem—kids with chapped lips can’t concentrate.

I solve this problem with the class Vaseline jar. It’s not gross, I promise!

I buy a big jar of Vaseline (or generic petroleum jelly) and Q-tips (or the cheapo knockoffs.) When kids have chapped lips, I supervise them as they dip the Q-tip in the Vaseline. No double dipping allowed!

The students swipe their lips with Vaseline and feel much better. The kids are really grateful for the class Vaseline jar.

…until I pronounce them “all better” and put them back to work!

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Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Dec 12, 2011


Introducing my new book, Double Switched!

bookI am pleased to announce the release of the third installment in the Buckley School Books: Double Switched. It’s about Connor, who knows he will be a Major League Baseball star—if he can just get through sixth grade.

Connor’s dad says make straight A’s or no baseball—but that’s not so easy when Connor has been Double Switched. Switched ballparks, switched classes, switched baseball positions—the bases are loaded with problems for Connor. Can he live up to his dad’s high standards? Would his hero Jackie Robinson approve of the choices Connor makes?

Double Switched is loads of fun, with action and comic misadventure. There is also a serious side. When Connor’s dad talks about growing up in the desegregated South, he draws on stories my mom told me about life during the Civil Rights movement. In Double Switched, I honor my mom’s childhood heroes: Cheryl and Eloise, two brave girls who integrated her junior high school in Montgomery, Alabama.

Inspired by his heroes, Connor sets out to address an inequality staring him in the face—his younger sister Nisha’s experience with softball. For Nisha, everything is less-than: poorly maintained fields require endless fundraising to fix up, poorly attended games give her no opportunity to shine. Connor, Nisha and friends put on a Boys Against Girls exhibition game to bring awareness and needed funds to level the playing field.

I hope you enjoy Double Switched. Visit the official Double Switched website for fun activities and features created by the kids in the book. (My favorite is You are the Umpire, but I think you will also like Chris’s Southern Recipes and Baseball Superstitions.)

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Posted in Book Reviews,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Dec 6, 2011


The Lunch Wagon

Many schools have a giant plastic “lunch bucket” for each class. After eating, students place their lunch boxes in the bucket before going outside to play. Two students are charged with transporting the lunch bucket back to class.

It’s not a pretty sight to watch students transport this bucket. They drag it down the halls and scuff up the linoleum. Lunch boxes fall out—and not all are retrieved. For the youngest students, moving the bucket is pretty much an impossible task.

…the lunch bucket system is just okay. Here’s how to make it great!

Get a lunch wagon! Ask your students’ families for a used wagon. You want a classic Red Flyer type wagon. It’s nice and strong and will last for the rest of your teaching career.

I was incredibly fortunate — one of my class families had a wagon, and when I sent out a call, they responded immediately. Then they took generosity to a new level and painted the Lunch Wagon green, in honor of our G3 classsroom brand.  We have an alcove just outside the door to our classroom where the G3 Lunch Wagon lives when it’s not in use.  We use a pretty green vinyl tablecloth to line the Lunch Wagon bed, so it’s always attractive (and easy to clean!).

I hope you and your class like the Lunch Wagon system. The Lunch Wagon is loads of fun and very useful!

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Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Dec 5, 2011