July/August 2001 // Case Studies
Using a Web Site to Provide Literacy Lesson Models for Preservice Teachers
by Susan Tancock
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Susan Tancock "Using a Web Site to Provide Literacy Lesson Models for Preservice Teachers" The Technology Source, July/August 2001. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

I teach an undergraduate course in literacy methods for preservice K-6 teachers. As part of the course requirements, each preservice teacher spends two hours per week tutoring a child at a local elementary school. The course includes current literacy theory and discussions of ways to develop effective lessons that reflect those theories. My students learn to view the reading process as an individual reader's construction of meaning from texts through the lens of his or her experiential background and personal interpretation of the written words. I have developed a lesson framework for my students to follow when making lessons for this project. Within that framework, students make choices about designing and executing effective lessons (Tancock, 1994).

The Challenge of Designing Effective Literacy Lessons

There are various interpretations of what makes an effective literacy activity for young readers, so I wanted to give my students access to lesson models that reflected a variety of these current theories. I was aware that many students used the Internet as a primary resource for activity ideas, often to the exclusion of print resources; this left me with the challenge of providing appropriate models in a way that would meet students' modes of accessing information. I want my students to become intelligent consumers of ideas about teaching and not subscribe to the newest and trendiest ideas without critical reflection. Their understanding of how children learn to read, what processes occur in the mind of the learner, and what research illuminates about literacy acquisition is critical to their development as effective teachers. Armed with such information, they can select and reject ideas, techniques, materials, and strategies from an informed perspective, and they can ultimately design literacy lessons and activities that meet the needs of their students. I hoped that as they reviewed good models I made available, they would use them as standards against which to compare other activities and lesson ideas that they encountered in various Internet and print sources.

Early Solutions

In my first nine years in higher education, I used various means of providing resources to my students to help them prepare literacy lessons. I sought out texts that would provide activities, strategies, and techniques based on current theory, but I encountered few worthy resources written at a level that my students could understand, given their limited professional education. Although Roller (1996), Walker (1996), and Yopp and Yopp (1996) are all excellent resources, I found no single resource that I could comfortably require my students to buy and use in the course.

I then employed a new strategy. When I observed my students' tutoring sessions, I began to note instances of an outstanding activity or strategy and then ask that student to share his or her idea with the class. We also held weekly seminars in which students brought activities to share in small groups. I chose the ones that best reflected theories emphasized in the course and asked those students to share their activities with the entire class. Students then discussed how the activities met the criteria for an effective literacy activity based on their emerging understanding of current reading theory. I noticed that many students would draw sketches of the activities and write a few notes, and I encouraged them in this activity. They could refer back to their notes and sketch of an activity if they decided to recreate the activity and use it in their own tutoring situation.

My next step was to distribute slips of paper entitled "The Best of EDRDG 430" (Educational Reading 430 was the official course title). Students were flattered to receive a slip because it indicated that their activities were "instructor endorsed" and would be included in the notebook I kept in our literacy lab (an instructional materials center). The student provided a short description and a sketch of what the activity looked like. For example, for an activity that centered around a family tree to describe the relationships among characters in a storybook, the student's description in the literacy lab notebook included the name of the book as well as a quick sketch of the family tree.

Students consulted the literacy lab notebook for activity and strategy ideas, but they complained that the limited hours of the lab prevented them from consulting the notebook as often as they wanted. Responding to their complaints, I looked for a way to give students wider access to effective lesson ideas and strategies. Meanwhile, I also sought ways to introduce more technology into my courses, as the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education) standards for teachers had recently been adopted by our accrediting agency. These standards require that preservice teachers know how to use electronic resources to facilitate teaching. With this in mind, I came upon the idea of creating an electronic database to replace the literacy lab notebook.

Technology-based Solutions

I was working on my first course Web site when I started the database for the course. At first, I made a Web page for each idea in the notebook. The first set of ideas included either rough sketches of activities or descriptions with no images at all. I created a table and listed each activity by name, placing it next to the grade level for which it was most appropriate. I found it tedious to construct all of the Web pages, but I soon noticed that the site received many hits. I fondly named my site "The Black Hole," because I found that I could easily fall into the hole and lose hours developing and maintaining the site each week. To use my time more efficiently, I placed counters on each page so that I could track the number of hits per page. This allowed me to prioritize and focus my efforts on pages with the heaviest traffic.

Once my course Web site was fully functional—and in hopes of reducing my workload—I required each student to submit her or his three best activities. From among these, I chose the ones that best reflected current theory and added Web pages for them. I also added a scanned image or digital photo of each activity. Yet once again I spent an inordinate amount of time creating a Web page for each new activity and adding the page to the database.

Finally, I found a satisfactory solution. I taught students to use the scanner, the digital camera, and the HTML editor Netscape Composer to create Web pages for their own activities. Now, after students submit their three best activities and I choose one to be included on the Web site, students create their own Web pages. We take a trip to the computer lab after I have posted the new pages, and students are pleased to see their contributions to the course Web site. They also list the URL in their resumes to demonstrate to prospective employers their ability to create Web pages.

Technology-based Problems

Although the technology skills that students learn in my course are valuable, there is a cost to my decision to teach such skills. Devoting time to training students to use Netscape Composer, the digital camera, and the scanner means that I have less time to teach on the course's objectives: the teaching of reading. Currently, I spend several class sessions each semester in the computer lab for training.

I have noticed, however, that it takes less and less lab time to teach students these tools, since each new group of students is more technology-savvy than the last. My hope is that soon I will no longer have to train my students to use this software and equipment, that instead they will already possess the skills to complete their work. The ability to share information instantaneously with others helps students see themselves as members of the academic teaching community. In this case, they are using technology not only to access useful information, but also to provide it to other teachers.


I have an extensive (and still expanding) Web resource that students can use to develop effective literacy lessons based on sound reading theory. Current and former students also tell me they use this database to great success in their student teaching and professional teaching positions. The Web-based format allows them uninterrupted access to these materials from anywhere in the world. It also gives me an authentic and meaningful way to teach them how to construct a Web page and operate a scanner and a digital camera. These skills are in high demand, especially in elementary schools. One final benefit is that I have a record of the work students have done under my tutelage that they can use for years to come.

For the past three years, I have been part of a group of faculty members that uses technology extensively to promote active learning (Butler, 2001). In addition to thinking of active learning, though, I think that instructors working with technology should also consider the interactive learning through which students learn to communicate, collaborate, research, and share their ideas as they encounter and assimilate new knowledge. This interactive principle applies to faculty as well. At my students' urging, I decided to remove the password from my Web site so that other instructors could take advantage of the materials in the database and see how I chose to arrange it. The three major categories of material—"Before Reading Activities," "During Reading Activities," and "Response Activities"—represent the stages of an effective literacy framework. The number of hits my site receives demonstrates that many review its materials. Collaboration with the faculty members in my technology group has confirmed that the time I devote to my Web site is not in vain—we in the faculty group believe that the most important power of technology lies in its ability to promote active learning. My Web site continues to grow and improve as a result of our lively discussions, which push me to consider different approaches to technology, and my students benefit from these new approaches as well.


Butler, D. (2001). Faculty development at the grassroots level. The Technology Source. Retrieved July 1, 2001, from http://technologysource.org/?view=article&id=125

Roller, C. (1996). Variability, not disability: Struggling readers in a workshop classroom. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Tancock, S. M. (1994). A literacy lesson framework for children with reading problems. The Reading Teacher, 48, 130-140.

Tierney, R., Readence, J., & Dishner, E. (1990). Reading strategies and practices. A compendium. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Walker, B. (1996). Diagnostic teaching of reading: Techniques for instruction and assessment. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Yopp, R. H., & Yopp, H. K. (1996). Literature-based reading activities. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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