Review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2014

Storyline Online

Notable actors' read alouds bring kids' storybooks to life

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts

  • Communication & Collaboration
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (9 Reviews)

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Pros: High production value, talented actors, and simple animations make these stories come alive.

Cons: Fewer than 30 books are currently available.

Bottom Line: Kids can experience the magic of books; though even better when accompanied by the site's extensions for further activities and reading

Younger kids can watch the videos and do the simpler activities, or simply explore the elements of the stories, like characters, motivations, plot. Older kids can delve deeper into the books' themes, and teachers can use a story to spark a particular learning unit. For example, show the video of White Socks Only, by Evelyn Coleman, and use the activity guide to lead kids through a discussion and exploration of segregation.

Suggested reading lists can help inspire kids to find more books that interest them -- teachers can take kids to the school library to find additional books. Mix digital storybook reading with face-to-face storybook reading and encourage older kids to read to themselves or to read aloud to one another. Help kids understand the elements of a story by having them write or share book reports. Or choose some books from the library and have kids practice dramatizing the stories themselves (e.g., read in different voices, act out the characters) just as the actors do in the videos.

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At Storyline Online, kids get a virtual read-aloud experience as they watch videos of storybooks -- their illustrations jazzed up with simple animations -- being read aloud by well-known actors. Produced and sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (Hollywood's charity arm), Storyline Online currently features about 30 books with the promise of more to come.

Each story is brought to life by a different actor (think James Earl Jones reading a bedtime story) and most have accompanying study guides with information about the author, illustrator, reader, plus suggested reading lists and ideas for discussion and activities that extend the book's learning themes or message. Video clips are housed on YouTube by default, but teachers can choose to view them through My VR Spot or SchoolTube. Each book is also available for purchase in hard copy.

Storyline Online succeeds in bringing books to life with dynamic readings and fun animations. Kids need only a computer (or tablet) and an Internet connection to unlock a world of stories that bring fantasy, history, other cultures, and different experiences to life. Accompanying activity guides are great resources for adults to help kids with reading comprehension issues, or to simply connect each story to a larger experience. For example, read about Harry the Dirty Dog, discuss the plot, characters, and themes, and then dive into finding out more about dogs or other animals.

The main drawback is that with fewer than 30 books currently available, pickings are slim. Also, possibilities for interaction with the site are limited: Kids simply click to watch and listen as an actor and simple animation transports them into the story. We can't neglect, however, the special connection between an adult and a kid -- or kids -- when they read a book together.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Notable actors' readings and simple animations make these stories come alive. Activity and discussion suggestions help teachers keep kids engaged in the story's theme or message.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The learning goal is to engender a love of reading, and the actors do a great job of making reading fun. Kids' experience is very passive though, and titles are somewhat limited.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Design is simple and easy to navigate -- the site accessible to a wide variety of kids. Activity guides help extend the experience off screen. Additional info, like age guidelines, would be helpful for teachers.

Teacher Reviews

(See all 9 reviews) (9 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Kelsey J. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Amazing Read Alouds
My overall opinion about Storyline Online as a teaching tool is that it's a great read aloud tool. It can be used in whole group, small group, or individual settings to support ELL students and low literacy students. I like that each video has a different actor or actress reading books to students. It would be great if there were additional resources to go along with each of the readings like basic comprehension questions for students who struggle with reading fluency.
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