Using Online Storybooks to Build Comprehension

Article excerpt

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, then we rob our children of tomorrow.

(Dewey, 1916)

John Dewey's words are still relevant today as educators across the world consider how to best connect the print-based literacies of the past to the technologically based literacies of the present. Dewey's advice of re-envisioning how to best teach children is especially applicable as teachers consider the technologies that engage children Dalton & Grisham, 2011), and the pervasiveness of technology in schools. Virtually every school in the United States has Internet access (Dalton & Grisham, 2011; Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010; Wells & Lewis, 2006). The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of excellent online storybooks and technology resources that have the potential for connecting children with text, while also noting strategies that help children's comprehension.

Online Storybooks

For more than a decade, researchers have documented ways in which technology helped students improve reading comprehension and motivation to read through the use of electronic storybooks (Doty, Popplewell, & Byers, 2001; Mathew, 1997), noting the importance of children receiving immediate decoding feedback through these electronic texts (deJong & Bus, 2002; Dory et al., 2001; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998). Online storybooks are appropriate for children as young as 3, and high-quality online stories allow for interactivity among children, the online story, and the computer (Lacina, 2007; Shanahan, 2005). Researchers (Block, Gambrell, & Pressley, 2004) explain the significance of exposing young children to numerous high-quality books, since such books motivate children to read and bond with a text. Similarly, researchers find that online storybooks lead to higher comprehension scores as children benefit from the narration and online dictionary components (Grimshaw, Dungworth, McKnight, & Morris, 2007). With online storybooks, readers can focus on meaning, instead of struggling with word pronunciation, narration, and vocabulary (Grimshaw et al., 2007; Mathew, 1997). Most importantly, when children have the opportunity to choose their own online reading stories, they take ownership of their reading (Lacina, 2007; McKenna, Labbo, & Reinking, 2003).

Comprehension Instruction

Comprehension is one of the five major reading components in K-3 schools in the United States (Block & Lacina, 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). In comprehending a text, effective readers navigate and make sense of the text using numerous strategies, many of which are used simultaneously. The ability to decode words automatically is necessary in order for children to build fluency (Block & Lacina, 2008; Lacina, 2008); however, comprehending a complex text involves more than decoding. Effective readers typically have a rich vocabulary knowledge and the ability to problem-solve to determine word meanings while they read (Baumann, 2009). Researchers have identified experiences that are helpful in developing vocabulary knowledge: reading aloud to students (Adams, 1990; Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985); independent reading by students (Baumann, 2009; Krashen, 2004; Smith, 1976); and teaching word learning strategies (Baumann, 2009; Graves, 2006).

Affective skills also influence children's success in comprehending text, including children's engagement with a story (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998) and connection to their background knowledge, or their home language and culture. Researchers note that learning to read in one's native language can lead to high achievement (Legarreta, 1979; Ramirez, Yuen, & Ramey, 1991; Snow et al., 1998).


Comprehending text is a complex process. Although we provide an overview of this process, many other factors contribute to the ability to effectively comprehend text. …