Open-source literacy resources

Written on 12 Jun 17 by Mary McKenna, Jacob Bronstein
Literacy and reading

Open-source literacy resources have the potential to bring quality instruction, reading materials, and improved reading skills to marginalized students around the world—especially when they are matched with effective teacher training.

The spread of computer and internet technologies has not yet created the impact on literacy rates that many expected. Free, Internet-based, open-source book repositories like African Storybook, the Bloom Book Library from SIL International, and Pratham Books StoryWeaver have the potential of vastly increasing the amount of reading materials available to children and teachers in local and international languages. Yet children may never gain the full benefit of these resources without additional steps, particularly teacher training in how to use the material as an integrated part of literacy instruction.

The National Education Support Trust USA, Inc. (NEST USA) has taken up this challenge with Word Scientists, an initiative that provides open-source literacy resources like books and lesson guides, coupled with teacher training content to guide educators in using these free resources to maximize student learning.

The Two Missing Elements

1. Open Source Access to Teacher Support

Teacher preparation in much of the world does not include training in how to teach reading and language development. Teachers need easily accessible courses that can provide background knowledge on reading instruction.

Generally speaking, the online book repositories that exist, while useful for enrichment, are not systematized into a classroom-ready curriculum to develop literacy in beginning readers. Teachers need resources that have been fully developed into a curriculum. They need training along with books and activities designed to teach core alphabetic concepts with supporting lesson guides to implement best practices in teaching reading.

NEST USA set out to fill this need by creating an interactive website. This site provides free literacy resources, including books available in various languages, with companion lesson guides, as well as teacher training videos.

 2. Free Literacy Resources for Beginning Readers and Their Teachers

Many schools around the globe simply do not have the funds to purchase high-quality literacy materials. NEST USA bypasses this problem by providing free, open source materials that can be accessed in a variety of ways. For schools with limited internet access the entire website can be downloaded onto a USB drive and copied from computer to computer, or school leaders can simply print the books and lesson guides, allowing even teachers in areas with limited internet and electricity to have opportunities to use these valuable resources.

All the Elements to Create Proficient Readers in One Place

NEST USA has organized these resources into a curriculum based on the latest research in literacy development, with an emphasis on promoting mother tongue literacy as both a goal in itself and as a bridge to learning other languages.

Multilevel Books

Word Scientists provides engaging books that align with the different stages of early reading development so teachers can meet the needs of beginning readers. The teacher first reads to her class a sophisticated “Read Aloud” version of the book to provide context and background knowledge. Students then practice with a simplified version of the same book, matched to their stage of reading development.

Global Themes in Various Languages

Books are designed to tell engaging stories with global themes and topics. Story translations are available at the push of a button to support multilingual settings and home-school connections. This encourages translanguaging practices, because teachers and students can choose the language of the text.

Lesson Guides

The lesson guides provide explicit and systematic instruction of phonemic awareness, phonics, narrative language, vocabulary, metacognitive thinking, and inference-making. The guides support teachers in using books and activities effectively to accelerate student progress through the early stages of reading development.

 Teacher Support

Video mini-courses provide clear and concise demonstrations modeling research-based techniques for how to teach students to recognize phonemes, read words, use new vocabulary, and answer questions that require inferences. The use of brief videos, each one less than 5 minutes long, allows teachers to learn at their own pace and easily review activity explanations and demonstrations.

Early Results Show Potential

In February 2017, NEST USA conducted research to assess the effectiveness of the Word Scientists project, which included long-distance learning sessions supported by a prototype of the website. 43 teachers in Nepal who used the prototype website were compared to 42 teachers of a similar background in the local area who had not been exposed to these resources. On a test of their knowledge of the foundations of literacy and early reading development, statistically significant differences were found between the two groups of teachers at a confidence level of 99%. This is encouraging because teacher knowledge is a robust predictor of student learning and progress.

What started off as a small collaboration between volunteer US educators and teachers in Nepal has since grown to a platform that can assist with literacy instruction efforts around the world. Word Scientists has the potential to provide the resources and training needed by teachers worldwide. By sharing open-source literacy guidance and resources with both students and teachers, modern technologies can finally live up to the promise of overcoming traditional barriers to global literacy development.

We invite you to explore our site and share the resources we provide.


Contributed by: Mary McKenna, Founder & CEO of Word Scientists Jacob Bronstein, Director of Operations of Word Scientists


Word Scientists

Jacob Bronstein

Director of Operations of Word Scientists

Word Scientists

Mary McKenna

Mary McKenna is the founder and CEO of Word Scientists