What makes a good, workable, instructive, enjoyable ebook for young children? Certainly the established criteria of quality children’s literature apply to ebook texts. Strong features of good storybooks over the ages are similarly the features of enduring ebooks into the future: age-appropriate material that interests children, strong plots, and rich characterizations of the human condition are most likely the types of features we’d hope to find in a high-quality ebook. In this way, ebooks are very much like traditional books, and their literary or informational content can be judged by the same general criteria.

However, the addition of electronics impacts reading in new ways. An ebook, for example, can have background music whereas a traditional book cannot. Ebooks can provide mini-tutorials in hotspots, hyperlinks and virtual assistants who instruct and explain on-the-spot, in essence, ‘teaching’ children early literacy skills, such as phonological awareness and vocabulary.

When selecting ebooks for use in the classroom, teachers need to pay close attention to the scaffolds and tutors provided for learning to read, such as decoding helpers, animations and audio. During their evaluation, teachers should make sure that common ebook design mistakes are avoided, such as confusing taps, swipes, and page turns or lack of easy access to the menu and controls. Additionally when selecting an ebook, teachers need to consider what type of devices (desktop computers, laptops or tablets) to use to maximize children’s participation throughout the ebook reading experience.

Using ebooks to support learning in the early elementary classroom is much like teaching with traditional books, a practice that is familiar to all early elementary teachers.

  1. Select a quality ebook.
  2. Gather a small group of children around a touch screen computer or a tablet.
  3. Explore the ebook together.

Teachers can use a number of familiar shared book reading activities with ebooks—the application of the Before-During-After framework, for example—and the introduction to the title, author, and illustrator on the initial screen page of the ebook. Evidence-based instructional techniques are retained, such as making predictions, asking/answering questions, learning new words, linking to prior experience, and discussing print and picture. After reading, make sure you take the additional step of modeling the proper use of devices for independent book browsing and re-reading, and helping children to engage in responsible ebook reading on their own or with a friend.

As you are getting started with ebooks in your classroom, remain open to new procedures that expand the ebook reading experience, such as modeling the digital features of the ebook first! Be thoughtful and patient as you begin to incorporate ebooks into your early literacy curriculum. Choose ebooks wisely and start to build up a library. Use the electronic capabilities of ebooks, like hotspots & virtual assistants, to help you teach early literacy skills. Show your students how to navigate apps and ebooks effectively and encourage lots of ebook browsing and sharing. As you follow these tips to select and incorporate high-quality digital texts in your classroom, you will begin to see the potential of ebooks for increasing the resources and opportunities for early reading experience.