Enriching Read Alouds with Technology

Today’s contributor: Erin Tigelaar is the librarian, CIC, and Device Manager at Odom Elementary School in South Austin.

As an elementary school librarian, I am always looking for new books and strategies for engaging kids in reading. One of my new favorite ways for Prekindergarten through second grade students is to use the app Novel Effect while reading a story aloud.

If you haven’t heard of it, Novel Effect listens to a person read a book and adds music and sound effects timed perfectly to the story as it is being told. Imagine wave sounds and seagulls as kids play at the beach in All the World by Liza Garton Scanlon or creaky stairs and spooky music as Laszlo descends into the basement in The Dark by Lemony Snicket.

The first book I read in the library with Novel Effect was Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds to a first grade class. We turned down the lights, I connected a bluetooth speaker to my iphone, and I began to read. From the first sound, the kids were completely mesmerized. With each new sound – timed perfectly to the words I was reading – I saw their eyes get bigger and bigger. At the end, there was a pause and then calls of “Again! Again!”. They simply loved it!

Since that first read aloud, I have realized the many ways I can use Novel Effect to not only increase engagement but to build on students’ understanding of and connection with the stories we read. Now, as we read a book with Novel Effect, we discuss why the music sounds sad or exciting (mood of the story), what emotions the sounds make them feel and why (text to self connections), or what other sounds they would have added if they were in charge. For books we read without Novel Effect, we sometimes discuss what kind of soundscape they would expect to hear and why. Next year I plan to extend my use of Novel Effect to have students record themselves reading books aloud and using an app like iMovie on their iPads to create their own soundscape. The opportunities for extensions are endless!

Novel Effect can be downloaded for free onto any Apple or Android device including your AISD teacher iPad. You can play the sounds right from your device or connect it to a bluetooth speaker and place it at the back of your classroom or library for a surround sound experience. While paid subscription plans are available (including a discounted educator plan), the free plan includes 5 premium read alouds a month plus unlimited read alouds of the many free titles. The app currently has 730+ book soundscapes available including a small but growing collection of Spanish titles and is constantly adding new ones. So, if you teach prekindergarten through second grade (and maybe beyond), I highly recommend you check out Novel Effect. Your students will thank you!

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