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Epic! - Kids' Books and Videos
Pros: Seemingly boundless library includes popular, well-loved authors and series.
Cons: Assessment tools are limited; app can't search by age; it'd be great to have multiple book styles for each book (audiobook, read-to-me, and solo reading).
Bottom Line: This large collection of books and videos on a wide variety of topics is an easy -- and free -- enhancement to any classroom library.
Use Epic! - Kids' Books and Videos as you would use a library. Students can read books that interest them during silent reading or free choice time. They can build their own collections, rate what they've read, and then report back to the teacher offline with a summary or a reflection on what they learned or liked about the book. Teachers can assign a theme (for example, biographies of important people in history) and let students find and read material on that theme. Or teachers can assign specific books based on reading level or by topic to get students investigating a particular subject or literature theme. Teachers can check on each student's progress through the dashboard. Given that this is a digital library, teachers also can project the book onto a smartboard and read to the class. After reading, follow up with related activities. Concepts of plot, theme, character development, and so on can follow a work of fiction. Historical reenactments, videos, reports, or further research can deepen learning after reading a nonfiction book. To help with assessment, teachers can use the limited number of books that have multiple-choice quizzes already, or write and post their own to the community.
Make sure to check out Epic!'s expansive collection of educator resources: tons of helpful stuff that's clearly made with educator input, from getting started guides to monthly themed calendars to handouts for parents and lesson plans. There are also video tutorials that go over all of the tool's key features.
Epic! - Kids' Books and Videos is a digital library and e-reader website and app that makes more than 40,000 children's books (with more added weekly) available at the touch of a finger. When signing up for a free educator account, teachers indicate the age of their students and a few areas of interest so that the app can target which titles to suggest. Those choices can always be changed later, and teachers can also search through the entire catalog whenever they want. Teachers can set up separate accounts for students, either by hand or by linking to a Google Classroom account. Once accounts are set up, teachers can assign books or entire collections to one or more students and track what they've read. Students sign in with a unique code to browse or read what's been assigned.
Books are Epic! originals and digital versions of actually published books, including some popular ones such as The Magic School Bus, National Geographic Kids, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. There's a built-in Merriam-Webster's dictionary that's written accessibly for kids; tap and hold on any word to see its definition. Some books have a read-to-me option (featuring an actual, vs. digitized, voice and word highlighting), while others are only for traditional solo reading. There are also books available solely in audiobook form. Along with books are short educational videos, multiple-choice comprehension quizzes, badges to be earned, and other features to encourage engagement, customize experiences, and track students' activity. Teachers and students can sign in on an unlimited number of devices, including on a web browser. Books also can be downloaded for offline reading to allow students to read without a Wi-Fi connection.
Though the appeal and satisfaction of holding a physical book in your hands can't be beat, it can be costly and time-consuming to build and maintain a library -- not to mention that it takes up a lot of precious space! Epic! - Kids' Books and Videos offers teachers an incredibly appealing (and free!) compromise with its huge collection of high-quality, high-interest book titles (including titles in Spanish, French, and Chinese). The library is, in fact, so big that it can be initially overwhelming to navigate it. The web version allows users to search by age, but the app doesn't, which can be frustrating. On both platforms, areas of interest and search fields can help narrow things down, though it may take a little getting used to to figure out how to find exactly what you're looking for.
Options for assigning single titles or entire collections allow teachers to help students narrow down and focus. And reading level or age markers on each book help match students with books that challenge them where they need it. Though the library includes lots of books, selection is heavily biased toward books for lower and middle reading levels, with lots of picture and beginner chapter books; advanced readers won't find much to challenge them. The quiz feature is a cute addition, but when they only have a few multiple-choice questions, it's a fairly surface-level assessment tool. Thankfully, teachers also have the option of making their own quizzes. Though it's great to have different reading options, those options are not usually within the same title. That is, it can sometimes be frustrating to find a book you want to read and discover that it's only available as an audiobook. Yet, there's enough here to really make Epic! - Kids' Books and Videos an invaluable addition to any classroom library -- not to mention that it's free for educators for use at school.