Teachers Share Their Secrets for Engaging Students in Virtual Reading Instruction

by Angie Barnett | Apr 28, 2020

Teachers Share Their Secrets for Engaging Students in Virtual Reading Instruction

Teachers across the country are coming up with brilliant and creative ideas for connecting with their students during school closures. Here’s what a few of our customers have learned about connecting with their students and ensuring their reading progress stays on track.


Student access and offline strategies

I’m making “porch drop-offs” to celebrate students that have been attending class, participating in class, and working hard on Reading Horizons software. Fun to see those students that come to the door (and keep our social distance) and chat for a short time.

– Sherrie R., Derby USD260, KS

Since our governor just closed schools for the remainder of this school year, our school is sending 4 weeks worth of packets out to every student. As a special education teacher, I have 8 students on my caseload, so I pulled their packets and made notes throughout the packets to remind them of strategies we have used. I wrote notes to remind them that some of their general ed teachers are doing storytime on Google Classroom every day in an effort to get them excited. I also wrote each one a personal note from me telling them how much I miss them!! This isn’t much, but I hope getting a personal, handwritten note will mean as much to them as the times they drew pictures or wrote notes meant to me.

– Kelley M., Alcorn School District/ACES, MS

We are developing online lesson plans with links to everything that our students are able to access via technology so that it is as smooth of a transition as possible. Additionally, we are developing grab and go packets for every grade level with additional materials to supplement the lessons that are being asked to complete. Our district buses are making stops every week to distribute these materials and resources to families as well.

– Cortney, Haskell/Rockford STEAM Academy, IL

My students and I are all senior citizens, so we really are confined to quarters at this time, and most of us, including me, are not the most computer-savvy people. I have two students who have continued to work on their computers, and we talk on the phone a couple of times a week. Several others work with me over the phone. We have the same materials in front of us at our respective kitchen tables, and the lessons take about an hour. I give out assignments to write, and they read their work to me. They are still learning and delighted to have this work to do, to keep going.

– Maggie, Union County, NC

I am making PowerPoint presentations to teach the lessons virtually for those that have the technology. For those that do not have the technology, I am printing the PowerPoint presentations and adding lots of notes on the slides. I then include practice pages for the students to practice on.

– Barb M., Maryville R2 – Eugene Field Elementary, MS

Favorite virtual teaching tools

Being the reading intervention teacher for my students (not the homeroom teacher) has left me in an awkward position for knowing just what to do to help during these odd times. So, I have done many different things. I offer support to my teachers by keeping them updated on everything Reading Horizons has done that I thought might be helpful, as well as sending them other helpful reading resources as I find them. I have also set up a Google Classroom for my 2nd and 3rd-grade students where I post “Reading Challenges” for them to complete. The challenges consist of a Reading Horizons virtual lesson and a game or activity that I created or found online that correlates to that lesson. For my kindergarten and first grade students, who are all working on paper packets, I am sending out links to the Reading Horizons virtual lessons so that those who have internet access can watch and participate. For all of my students who do not have internet access, I encouraged teachers to include Reading Horizons practice pages in their packets, and make contact with the parents periodically to see if I can help.

– Julie C., Lumpkin County, GA

Some teachers are making videos of themselves doing direct instruction and posting to an online platform, such as Class DoJoGoogle Classroom, or Facebook private groups for students to watch at their convenience since some students are having to wait until parents are home from work to have access to a device. Other teachers whose students have access to digital platforms during the day are doing LIVE direct instruction through Zoom. Each day students are assigned to do 20 minutes of Reading Horizons software instruction and as the school admin for Reading Horizons, I am seeing more participation. However, our students who are not as fortunate and possibly need direct instruction even more so aren’t getting that. Due to mailing expenses, which is how we are getting materials to students, admins decided not to make copies of Reading Horizons review lessons for those students without internet access. Some teachers include as much direct instruction as possible on their weekly contacts via phone calls but those students are at a disadvantage for receiving that much-needed phonics instruction. We are making it work the best we can in such unchartered waters. Kudos! to the teachers at Monticello Elementary and all their efforts!

– Panesia H., Monticello Elementary/Wayne County Schools, KY

Many of the teachers that I work with have set up Facebook pages to be able to teach lessons each day to their students. Also, many of the teachers I work with have sent home the Reading Horizons virtual learning packets and have the students send pictures of their finished work to them.

– Addie D., Curry Elementary/ Walker County, AL

LiveLesson Rooms (from Pearson) work great! I do a PowerPoint with lessons from the chapter that I have made.

– Juli R., Alabama Connections Academy, AL

Instructional video tips

Right now, all of the Weber School District trainers are videoing all of the lessons from Lessons 32-93. We will be sharing these with the teachers to use when they need them. This will be a resource that we can use later in years to come as well.

– Lesli N., Weber School District, UT

Using Zoom has been a great help to me. A few things that have helped, I wear lipstick to help my students see my mouth better. I work with English Learners and they often need the visual movement of my mouth and face to understand what they’re hearing. Conference mode instead of personal mode is your best friend. It took me too long to realize personal mode meant we couldn’t hear each other if there was any other noise. I also have a toddler at home. I let her say hi and play for a few minutes to get it out of her system. This helps me run a more smooth session (most of the time). Hope this helps!

– Shasta B., Jordan, UT

I am using a small dry erase board at home during video class meetings. Also, we have created a first grade Facebook group where teachers are alternating posting instructional videos for the weekly phonics skills. Parents are able to respond or reach out to teachers if assistance is needed, and we can go from there providing individualized support. Additionally, we have been required to send home packets by week, and each week includes sample pages of the weekly phonics skills for the most basic form of instruction.

– Lauren H., Haleyville Elementary School, AL

Creating routines

Definition of the roles each stakeholder has:

  • Student is the learner;
  • Parent is the Learning Coach/Teacher ensuring the student is being taught;
  • Teacher provides the explicit direct instruction and expectations, meet virtually with the parent and student at least weekly.

Create a visual schedule—students do better when they know what is next or how long they have to work before going onto the next activity.

– Ann, Inspire Charter, CA

I teach 2nd grade so I try and keep the amount of work rather small and limited. I also try and keep it light and fun. I post the assignments so it follows the routine of the day like when we were in the classroom. I do instructional videos then upload them. I don’t try and “zoom” because a lot of them have older brothers and sisters who should have access to technology first. The videos take time to load but it is working for me. I do math, reading, and phonics every day. I am stretching out the lessons so they are not overloaded with work and so the students don’t burn out. With Reading Horizons, I spend a week on a lesson. This should get us through Special Vowel Sounds by the end of the year. I do a teaching video, then assign a practice page or the whole class transfer card for them to read to parents. The practice page they can either print and do then submit it or just tell a parent how they would prove it. For reading, they work on a comprehension assignment, vocabulary, or writing that goes with the story we are reading that week. As I said, I am trying to keep it simple and fun yet still incorporate learning.

– Jamie K., Tooele County, UT

Tips for teaching the Reading Horizons program virtually

I teach kindergarten. I have been recording lessons for the kindergarten teachers in my school. I chunk the lessons. I try to make the videos about 15 minutes going through the core 4. The lesson is very interactive and right now I am teaching blends. The first lesson we review the blends by punching them out or timing them to see how fast they can say them. I teach the new blends, then put them with slides for instruction. For dictation, I use only slides and for transfer, I give them words to decode or play games. One game is putting the blends in ABC order. The second lesson we start with the blends review with reading slides, then on to teaching how to build words. Dictation is building words and transfer is marking words or building words with flashcards. I monitor the students by having them post their dictation and transfer activity. They can do this by video or picture. I have been very impressed of how well it has gone. I also send transfer cards for them to read and they post. The students really enjoy the lessons.

– Merideth B., Sumiton Elementary/ Walker County, AL

Thank you Reading Horizons for providing virtual lessons. My heart was heavy on how to reach my special education kiddos. They are already behind their peers and could potentially fall further behind. I did not have any Reading Horizons resources at home, but because you quickly responded I have been able to engage my students through this format. Thank you again!!!

– Kathy J., Broken Arrow Public Schools, OK

When I am conducting a small group Zoom for Reading Horizons, I find the whiteboard feature very helpful. I schedule and start the group through my laptop and then join as a participant from the iPad. The audio and video are off using the iPad interface and I choose “share content” to access the whiteboard. This is where I can ask students to spell and mark words. It is very interactive as long as they have a touch screen. They can also type text on the whiteboard. If I want to use the lesson slides, I stop sharing content through the iPad and return to sharing through my computer. The slides available on the Reading Horizons Accelerate website are very helpful! To access Little Books during Zoom, I use the Preview Content tool (on the Reading Horizons software) and share my screen with the group. It takes some navigating and getting used to, but the kids love it!

– Melissa F., Anderson School District One, SC

shared the login information for online access to Reading Horizons Discovery® and Reading Horizons Elevate® software to every student. Some of our teachers are also doing phonics lessons each week.

– Leah E., Haleyville City, AL

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