How to Use Skype to Connect Students to the World + World Read Aloud Day Tips

up_skype_1In our library, it is not uncommon for my elementary students to share cultural traditions with a class in Ecuador, hear award-winning author Drew Daywalt read aloud from his wonderful book The Day the Crayons Quit or learn coding from a high school computer science class, all without ever leaving the building. For us, Skype is the tool that makes these amazing connections possible and provides students with engaging 21st-century learning experiences.

Why Skype?

With minimal planning, Skype visits offer students the opportunity to connect with field experts, authors, illustrators, teachers, and most importantly, other students. Skype visits deliver authentic, real-world learning experiences and help my students broaden and enrich their worldviews. My students know that when we Skype it is their time to interact in a meaningful way with our Skype guests and to let their voices be heard.

up_8_Benefits_of_skype_in_the_classroomBeyond the myriad curriculum connections, Skype visits encourage my students to work on learning behaviors, presentation skills, collaboration, and independent reflection. Before each visit, we discuss active listening and nonverbal communication. During the visit, we practice public speaking and sharing our unique thoughts and ideas. Afterward, we review what we learned and the insights gained from our experience. I cannot imagine our library program without Skype and the robust multimodal learning opportunities these virtual visits bring to my students.

Microsoft Educator Community = Awesome Connections

 When speaking to other educators about Skype, one of the questions I often receive is “How do I find field experts, authors and other educators?” One of my main avenues for making these connections is Skype in the Classroom, which is part of the Microsoft Educator Community.

The Microsoft Educator Community is an invaluable free resource, which can best be described as an international hub for educators, experts and thousands of others to connect and share. Through the Microsoft Educator Community, educators can find multiple learning opportunities:

  • Virtual field trips to the Great Barrier Reef and U.S. National Parks
  • Guest speakers such as Jimmie Briggs, the founder of the Man Up Campaign to stop violence against women
  • Author and illustrator guest speakers, such as Nancy Krulik and Adam Watkins
  • Other educators from all grade levels looking to connect with other schools

Getting Started

Using the Microsoft Educator Community site is simple. Once you have a Microsoft or Skype account, find a Skype connection, sign up for your session on a specific date and time, receive email confirmation and create truly amazing learning experiences for your students together. Lauren Griffin, from Skype in the Classroom, created a useful guide to help you get started accessing the Microsoft Educator Community.

World Read Aloud Day

For first timers and veterans alike, global reading celebrations are a wonderful way to connect your students to the world using Skype. World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) is an annual event celebrated in February created by LitWorld, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting literacy worldwide. According to their website, World Read Aloud Day began in order to “motivate children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words and create a community of readers taking action to show the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries thanks to people like you who participate and spread the word across the globe!”

Invite Authors for a Virtual Visit

We celebrate World Read Aloud Day in our library in a variety of ways. One of the most special ways we celebrate is by inviting authors in, virtually, to read us their stories and celebrate the power and importance of storytelling. This past year, we were fortunate enough to be a part of a special Skype visit with Marci Johnstone, a school librarian at the Punahou School in Hawaii, and the incomparable Margie Palatini, author of Moo Who? and dozens of other picture book and middle-grade titles. During our visit, Margie spoke to our students about the author’s craft. She answered students’ questions, talked about her writing process, then read Moo Who? As she read the story aloud, Margie gave each of her characters a distinctly different voice. My students and I were in awe of Margie’s creativity, and it was clear the voices she did for each of her characters played a strong role in her writing. Needless to say, Margie’s books flew off the library shelves after her visit, and my students came away with greater insight into the writing process and fresh ideas for their own stories.

Mystery Skype

up_mystery_skypesWe also use World Read Aloud Day in our library as a chance to celebrate the joy of reading and how fortunate we are to have access to a variety of books. In addition to authors, we connect with other teachers and librarians during our weeklong celebration. During our Skype visits, we spend time learning about each other’s classes, including how our students spend their school days, what they are learning, information about their country or state and, of course, reading together.

One of our favorite WRAD activities to do with other classes is to participate in a Mystery Skype. For a Mystery Skype visit, the connecting teacher and I know where our students are located, but we do not share this information with students ahead of time. Each class comes up with clues about their country or state, and we share the clues during our Skype visit. The classes use each other’s clues to guess the locations. Mystery Skypes are a great way to enhance geography skills, to encourage students to ask thoughtful questions, and to learn about other countries and states directly from people who live there.

Resources for Connecting During WRAD

Many teachers and librarians celebrate World Read Aloud Day for an entire week (or two). In January, participating educators begin developing their WRAD plans and scheduling their Skype visits. There are many resources available to get connected during WRAD:

  • WRADvocates (World Read Aloud Day Advocates)
    Every year teacher librarian WRADvocates Andy Plemmons and Shannon McClintock Miller, post an open Google document in which educators can post their schedules and find WRAD connections with other educators. LitWorld posts a link to this document in the beginning of January. This is a great place to start and to find other educators willing to Mystery Skype, choral read or share their favorite books with you and your class. You can also read about past WRADs on Andy’s blog, Expect the Miraculous, and Shannon’s blog, The Library Voice.
  • Kate Messner’s Blog
    Kate Messner, author of the Ranger in Time series, posts an open call to other authors and illustrators to do virtual read alouds during WRAD. On her blog she lists the protocol for the Skype visits and makes it easy to invite an author into your classroom or library for WRAD.
  • Skype in the Classroom
    During WRAD, Skype in the Classroom is the place to go to find educators looking to make Skype connections. Once you have your own account you can even post your own availability and other educators will contact you for Skype visits.

Skype as a Professional Tool

As a teacher librarian, I have many tools in my “professional toolbox.” Skype is one of my favorite tools because it is easy to use, the educational possibilities are endless, and it enables me to enhance and enrich the curriculum for the benefit of my students. I am sure many teachers in the past wished they could show their students the places they were learning about in their classroom or have them hear firsthand from an expert on a topic. Skype makes these experiences possible and truly connects our students to the world.

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Additional Resource

Author

Eileen Gardner

Eileen Gardner

School Library Media Specialist at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School
Eileen is a technology and maker enthusiast with a passion for innovation. Her library program focuses on 21st-century global learning and empowering student voice. Follow her on Twitter @EileenBGardner.