Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching and Assessing Reading Comprehension with Explain Everything

This past year, I really focused on explicitly teaching comprehension strategies to my students.  I taught how to reread a text, annotate a text, leaving tracks of thinking while reading, questioning techniques and most importantly, instilling in my students that reading is thinking.

We used Padlet walls to show our thinking, we drew pictures and wrote information digitally as I read aloud, we used today’s meet to make our thinking visible.  Using these different strategies kept my students engaged and allowed their thinking to be seen by their peers and myself.

Near the end of this past year we began an inquiry on Africa.  I find one of the most challenging things about student inquiry is to find resources that are interesting and at my students reading level.  One resource I use often is readinga-z.  Reading a-z is a website that has more than 2,500 downloadable books (including English, Spanish, and French versions) and thousands of teaching and learning materials.

I use to search for specific topics and then match my students reading levels to the text.  I would then print the various books out for my students.  This took a lot of time to print and a lot of paper!  I can usually find 2 or 3 different texts on the same topic in varying difficulty.

While I was searching for different books on Africa, I noticed that the books could be downloaded in a PDF.  This was a game changer.  Having 32 iPads in my room, I was able to save the book as a PDF and save it to Dropbox.  My classroom iPads all have the Dropbox app, which means:
  • Students open the Explain Everything app
  • Choose open file and download the PDF to Explain Everything
  • The PDF opens in Explain Everything and now students can annotate, draw, highlight and record their voice right on the document.
  • They can also save their work and go back to it for research purposes and it is a great way for me to assess their comprehension strategies.

You could also use this same format to have your students show non fiction text features like the example below:


  1. How does your Dropbox work? Do you have the same account on every iPad or different accounts but share the folder with them?

    1. I have the same dropbox account on all of the iPads and the password is already saved so all the kids need to do is open the dropbox app and find the folder.

  2. Outstanding! You have just helped me see how to connect what I have done to what I need to do now! Such a helpful post, thanks so much!

  3. This is great! Thank you for sharing it! I use 'reading is thinking', but I've never heard anyone else use it. I think I got it from Cris Tovani's book. Teaching kids this concept is powerful! The struggling readers don't know that those who do not struggle are constantly stopping and thinking while they read. It's eye opening for them. I am also blogging - it's about kids adopting a growth mindset. Please check it out -

  4. Love this! What a great way to assess students' understanding of nonfiction features! Thanks so much for sharing!