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Virtual Reading Strategies
April 2021


"What does the research say about leveraging virtual reading strategies in grades K-3 to increase student engagement in literacy?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Amendum, S. J., Vernon-Feagans, L., & Ginsberg, M. C. (2011). The effectiveness of a technologically facilitated classroom-based early reading intervention: The targeted reading intervention. The Elementary School Journal, 112(1), 107-131. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of a classroom-teacher-delivered reading intervention for struggling readers called the Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI), designed particularly for kindergarten and first-grade teachers and their struggling students in rural, low-wealth communities. The TRI was delivered via an innovative Web-conferencing system using laptop computers and webcam technology. Seven schools from the southwestern United States were randomly assigned to experimental and control conditions in a cluster randomized design. All children in the study (n = 364) were administered a battery of standardized reading skill tests in the fall and spring of the school year. Intent-to-treat analyses were conducted to estimate mixed models of children's 1-year growth in Word Attack, Letter/Word Identification, Passage Comprehension, and Spelling of Sounds. Results showed that struggling readers from experimental schools outperformed those from control schools on all spring reading outcomes, controlling for fall scores."

Baker, S. F., & McEnery, L. (2017). Building the foundation for close reading with developing readers. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 5(1), 71–80. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Close reading utilizes several strategies to help readers think more critically about a text. Close reading can be performed within the context of shared readings, read-alouds by the teacher, literature discussion groups, and guided reading groups. Students attempting to more closely read difficult texts may benefit from technologies and platforms that support their diverse reading levels, abilities, and special needs during close reading activities. The authors identify technologies which enable teachers to embed multimedia, interactive activities, and questions and activities that promote critical thinking and which guide readers to take a closer look at the content of their texts."

Beach, K. D., Washburn, E. K., Gesel, S. A., & Williams, P. (2021). Pivoting an elementary summer reading intervention to a virtual context in response to COVID-19: An examination of program transformation and outcomes. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 1-23. Full-text available at:

From the Abstract:
"This exploratory investigation examined the transformation of a traditional summer reading intervention (SRI) to synchronous virtual format in response to school closures due to COVID-19. Goals were to adapt and describe the adaptation of the in-person intervention to the virtual environment, examine program outcomes, and understand tutor and caregiver perspectives of virtual SRI. SRI involved tutor training, coaching, implementation of evidence-based practices, and student access to physical and virtual learning tools. Thirty-five low-income rising second and third graders who read below grade level, 13 tutors, and five caregivers participated. In summer 2020, trained tutors implemented Sound Partners in 1:1 thirty-minute Zoom sessions for 22 days. Data included students’ pre and posttest reading outcomes, instructional fidelity, and tutor and caregiver perceptions. Key considerations for the transformation of the intervention centered on intervention content and learning environment, attendance, and tutor selection and training. Results indicated strong student attendance and tutor fidelity. Students maintained reading fluency and accuracy skills, and improved by approximately 10 percentage points on curriculum-based mastery tests (p .001, d = 1.25 to 1.30). Tutors and caregivers reported virtual SRI was feasible and effective. Results highlight the potential for positive outcomes when SRI is provided virtually."

Ciampa, K. (2013). Electronic storybooks: A constructivist approach to improving reading motivation in grade 1 students. Canadian Journal of Education/Revue Canadienne de l’éducation, 35(4), 92-136.

From the Abstract:
"This study stemmed from a concern of the perceived decline in students’ reading motivation after the early years of schooling. This research investigated the effectiveness of online eBooks on eight grade 1 students’ reading motivation. Eight students were given ten 25-minute sessions with the software programs over 15 weeks. Qualitative data were collected from students, teachers, and parents through questionnaires, interviews, observations and field notes. The results suggest the promise of online reading software programs in supporting early readers with reading, motivation, and/or behavioural difficulties."

Ciampa, K. (2012). Reading in the digital age: Using electronic books as a teaching tool for beginning readers. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 38(2), 1-26.

From the Abstract:
"Beginning readers’ motivation to read and the texts they choose to read impact on their literacy achievement and willingness to engage with reading activities in the primary years of schooling. This study investigated the eBook reading experiences of eight grade 1 students. Eight students were given ten 25-minute sessions with the software programs over 15 weeks. Qualitative data were collected from students, teachers, and parents through questionnaires, interviews, observations and field notes. The results suggest the promise of electronic books in enhancing the reading motivation of beginning readers."

Gaudreau, C., King, Y. A., Dore, R. A., Puttre, H., Nichols, D., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2020). Preschoolers benefit equally from video chat, pseudo-contingent video, and live book reading: Implications for storytime during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2158. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"During the unprecedented coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, virtual education activities have become more prevalent than ever. One activity that many families have incorporated into their routines while at home is virtual storytime, with teachers, grandparents, and other remote adults reading books to children over video chat. The current study asks how dialogic reading over video chat compares to more traditional forms of book reading in promoting story comprehension and vocabulary learning. Fifty-eight 4-year-olds (Mage = 52.7, SD = 4.04, 31 girls) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (Video chat, Live, and Prerecorded). Across conditions, children were read the same narrative storybook by a female experimenter who used the same 10 scripted dialogic reading prompts during book reading. …. After reading, children completed measures of vocabulary and comprehension. Results revealed no differences between conditions across six different outcome measures, suggesting that children comprehended and learned from the story similarly across book formats. Further, children in the three experimental conditions scored significantly higher on measures than children in a fourth condition (control) who had never read the book, confirming that children learned from the three different book formats. However, children were more responsive to the prompts in the Live and Video chat conditions than the Prerecorded condition, suggesting that children recognized that these interactions were contingent with their responses, a feature that was lacking in the Prerecorded condition. Results indicate that children can comprehend books over video chat, suggesting that this technology is a viable option for reading to children, especially during the current pandemic."

Ho, H. Y., & Smrekar, M. (2020). Implementation and efficacy study of Raz-Plus for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. Denver, CO: McREL International.

From the Abstract:
"The current study examined the effect of a web-based literacy program, Raz-Plus, that serves as a resource for blended learning instruction in K-5 classrooms. Following a 13-week implementation period at three rural elementary schools, comparisons of the treatment (21 teachers and 249 students) and control (18 teachers and 198 students) groups revealed greater outcomes in the treatment group for overall literacy achievement, student interest in academic reading, and student interest in recreational reading, as compared to the control group. Core dimensions of implementation fidelity were measured through classroom observations and surveys with participating teachers; analyses revealed no significant associations between fidelity measures and student outcomes. This study provides evidence of the efficacy of Raz-Plus as a tool for supporting literacy development of elementary students. Additional research is warranted to determine the elements of implementation that support optimal student outcomes."

Korat, O., & Segal-Drori, O. (2016). E-book and printed book reading in different contexts as emergent literacy facilitator. Early Education and Development, 27(4), 532-550. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Research Findings: We present 3 studies that focused on preschoolers' electronic book (e-book) reading in different contexts aimed at supporting children's early literacy. In Study 1 we researched the impact of children's age and number of independent readings on phonological awareness and word reading. We found that all age groups benefited from e-book reading, and 5 readings benefited most skills better than 3. In Study 2 we investigated (a) parents’ behavior during joint e-book reading with their children compared to joint printed book reading and (b) parental mediation in joint reading of a considerate e-book compared to joint reading of an inconsiderate e-book. The joint printed book reading yielded more expanding talk than the joint e-book reading, and reading the considerate e-book yielded higher expanding talk than reading the inconsiderate e-book. In Study 3 we compared adult support in joint e-book reading to joint printed book reading and compared both readings to children's independent e-book reading. Reading the e-book with adult support assisted children in progressing in phonological awareness and word reading compared to other group reading. Practice or Policy: Well-designed e-books may serve as good tools to support children's early literacy, and when parents or educators read them with children, children's progress is enhanced. We recommend that these findings be taken into account by e-book designers, policymakers, teachers, and parents."

Kucirkova, N., & Cremin, T. (2018). Personalised reading for pleasure with digital libraries: Towards a pedagogy of practice and design. Cambridge Journal of Education, 48(5), 571–589. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This paper discusses the pedagogical practice of developing reading for pleasure in pre- schools and primary phase settings through the lens of one key dimension of twenty-first-century reading: personalisation. It draws on a series of studies and examples to identify, address and problematise human- and digitally mediated personalised reading for pleasure. Through a content analysis of the key features of current digital library systems, it shows how these increasingly popular systems position teachers as librarians, curators and monitors, and undermine their potential roles as listeners, mentors and co-readers in order to foster children's personal response to texts. Through a theory-driven approach it identifies ways in which current design limitations of library management systems can be addressed and from which their effective application and use can develop. This conceptual elaboration, which combines contemporary reading theories with the affordances of digital personalisation, provides new insights concerning personalisation in digital library systems."

Lasley, E., Sosebee, T., & Cox, D. (2017). Increasing motivation of struggling readers: Can e-readers, apps, and support features help? Journal of Literacy and Technology, 18(2), 1535-0975. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In this exploratory study, researchers analyzed data regarding children’s use of e-readers on a weekly basis to determine engagement and motivation to read using a digital device. Findings from a pilot study conducted in the spring of 2015 revealed an increase in motivation to read among six male participants in Grades 1-4 based on interview responses from children and parents, as well as data indicating the completion of 103 books for a total of 1040 minutes read. In this follow-up study, we provided a refined Reading Rainbow app, new Kindle Fires, and included 17 children in Grades K-6 attending an after-school literacy program. Increases in engagement and motivation to read using an e-reader were indicated in the initial weeks of the study; however, a decrease in reading time was noted after the first few weeks for most of the children. Although the majority of children and parents indicated increased motivation to read using the app and digital device versus traditional texts, most children did not continue to read on the device after the tutorial program was completed."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: (virtual OR online OR ebook* OR "electronic book*" "digital book*"), Reading, Engagement, Early elementary, K-3, Read alouds, Shared books

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.