Using Instant Messaging to Engage Children with Reading Comprehension

I recently had a great conversation with my teaching colleague Rick about the use of technology to engage children with reading comprehension. This post is about my lesson I taught today as a result of that brief yet productive talk.

Although we have been reasonably successful in addressing how we use our available technology to support the development of times table knowledge, reading comprehension has been much more elusive. This afternoon both Rick and I explored two different ideas we had, regarding the use of technology to engage and support the practice of comprehension skills. 

Rick was using the Flip Cameras in his lesson, he had about 3 available to him and was looking for the children to generate their own questions about a text. After talking with a partner and drafting the question on small whiteboards they recorded the question to camera. When there were a few Rick showed these to the class and worked on modelling the answers and then setting the children off to find the answers in pairs. By all accounts an engaging way to explore text.

Google chat feature in GPres

We have used the discuss tool in Google spreadsheets and presentation chat before to peer review presentations

I worked with a Google Presentation and wanted to engage the children with the text through the use of the instant messaging window that is available. All of my children love using MSN and Google Talk/Chat, it is the one application that they all use very regularly. For two years now both of my Year 5 classes who have been using Google Apps discovered Google Chat in GMail by themselves and have got busy using it.

So how was this all setup? There are some things that we have in place that have helped. Firstly the children are using Google Apps for Education and have a unique login. Secondly we are working in my classroom on laptops.

  1. I created a presentation, which is in effect our text, in my Google account.
  2. I shared the presentation with the class as VIEWERS. This is important as it will mean that the children will immediately see the file in presentation mode and not in editing mode. Loading time was slow today, although once all loaded we had no other problems.
  3. The instant messaging window will open when they click “View with others” (Bottom right hand corner) you will see their names appear in the “VIEWING NOW” box on your own presentation.
  4. We then did some shared reading of the text about Spies and Gadgets. I used the “CONTROL THE PRESENTATION” tool available to me as owner of the document. As I clicked and moved through the presentation everyone’s laptops updated. This was immediate in every case, not bad for sixteen wireless laptops and proved useful for whole class work.
  5. Once we had a good look through the text as a class, and some initial discussion, I then explained the question answer process. I would add a question in the IM window and they needed to navigate to the correct page and respond with their answer, also in the IM window.
  6. As I typed I muted the projector image so kids didn’t get a head start, that was helpful.
  7. The children answered in the IM window and I could see their name with the response showing ownership.

You may be thinking that some children may just look at other people’s answers. I talked to the class about this and encouraged them to engage with the text themselves, nevertheless seeing their peers answers proved a valuable function of this group IM session. Children were commenting on other answers and it caused some to question their own accuracy if they saw something different.

Of course there was the odd smiley! But that is what the children do when they IM, I was kind of entering their world. It is a delicate balance. I want to harness the engagement that IM brings and yet not make it too schooly so they switch off. I ensured that when they answered anything all of our usual literacy standards applied and the class responded well to that.

We worked on about 10 questions together and all of the children were totally engaged and motivated to find the answers and use the IM to form their response. They also maintained this engagement for considerably longer then when we work with paper and pencil.

As the answers rolled in I was able to immediately give feedback to different children, asking them to look again at what they had written. One particular question about the reasons why we use tables to present information caused the children to respond about the content and not the purpose. I discussed with the whole class what the correct answer might be, gave the children the start of the sentence in the chat window and asked them to answer again.

Beyond this one lesson I think that if the children were to use the Google Talk client then we could be looking at a variety of different texts and not just something created in Google Presentation. With the chat window open and a website or film playing it would allow us even more flexibility. In fact it could work with any other type of available application.

My target in the lesson was to engage the children with reading comprehension using technology we use in our classroom. I think we did that. It is taking what the children enjoy doing and harnessing that engagement, attempting to merge and utilise the skills they use outside of school to impact on their engagement with their learning. 

9 thoughts on “Using Instant Messaging to Engage Children with Reading Comprehension

  1. Tom,
    Really interesting idea and something I am willing to try out one day. One quick question. You mention that smileys did appear. What about SMS-like text? Was that allowed, discouraged, criticised? My setting is a secondary international school, so I am wondering whether one should make a point about that.

  2. Great idea!
    You could even use the function for in class lecture and notes. The students could use the IM feature for any ‘pair-sharing’ and other discussion points.
    Do the students have access to the IM transcripts later on? If so, they could possibly use them as a form of notes to study with.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a a great idea. IM meets reciprocal reading.
    I suppose what is happening here is that they are all ‘talking’ to you at the same time where as in a shared situation it would be one talking to you at time or in independent time some might not talk to you at all.
    To follow the reciprocal reading model the next step would be that a child would take the teacher’s role and lead the session on a very small peice of the text. They could also discuss words, phrases and sentences that they didn’t understand as they were reading and in fact the group could answer.

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  5. I was fascinated to hear of your experiences; as I start to follow your inspiration and explore Google Docs with classes, I’ve been starting to share Presentations as topic notes.
    We had a go today at doing a text chat around an RE lesson on Lent. I was able to test the load up gradually, one or two children at a time while the class were working on something else- quite slow but it all worked well.

    They got Smiley fever initially until I suggested it would be easier for me to be the only one to use Smilies to mark out my questions and comments which might get lost in the chat otherwise. We lost connection once, but it came back up and everyone reconnected automatically after a couple of minutes.
    A useful exercise- some novelty value perhaps devalued the RE content initially, but they started to answer my questions well with some prompting. Also very easy to see who is typing, even when they shouldn’t be! Some stopped following the leader at times, but when they did, my changing the slides was almost simultaneous around the room!

    One question- how do you save the chat? It looked Flash based and I could find no way of saving the complete transcript. Any ideas, I’d love to know, as otherwise the ideas generated vanish into the ether!

    With your Google Pres Chat exercise » link to Nothing found for 2009 02 25 Using-instant-messaging-to-engage-children-with-reading-comprehensi… did you find a way to save the chat transcript?

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  7. Hi David
    currently there is no way I know of saving or archiving the chat which is a shame. That is why the style I take with the work is not to look at a finished outcome, but to do it in a workshop style modelling and remodelling answers. Assessing responses and giving feedback straight away.

    I believe that chat can be archived either via GMail or in the Google Talk client that needs a separate install.

    I think that a Google Form for collating responses may also be a useful tool.

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