Making Your Browser More Reader Friendly

Photo: Student reading on their Chromebook

Student reading closely on their Chromebook.

With last week’s introduction the browser extension The Great Suspender received such a positive response it has inspired a short series I am calling Exploring Useful Browser Extensions. This is the second installment of that new series.

Now that both the middle school and high school have moved to a 1:1 computing environment and even greater amount of reading is being done on screens. Articles shared from Internet sites, stories shared in Google Drive, or readings shared in a learning management system (LMS) all have something in common. The items will likely be viewed and read in a web browser.

If the reading is from a commercially published website like The New York Times, for example, the article will be served in the browser complete with advertisements, not to mention formatted in a particular style to accommodate those advertisements and other content the site wants to entice you to click.

In fact, with all the potential distractions and available links to other places, there is a case to be made that using a web browser is not the best way to actually read anything closely or deeply.

Image: Clearly, a Google Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store

Available for free in the Chrome Web Store, Clearly, a Google Chrome extension, presents web content in a distraction-free format.

Fortunately, the browser extension Clearly, from Evernote, is a simple tool that renders pages in a web browser in a clean, easy-to-read format. Better still, Clearly is available for for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Not only does Clearly remove distractions from the reading experience, the text and images are rendered in a single, central column with around 12-15 words per line, making for optimum readability.

There are theme options that allow you to fine tune the visual look and feel of the layout when using Clearly. Adjusting the color scheme, or text size is as easy as a couple of clicks. You can choose from a few remade themes or completely customize a theme to your liking.

Additionally, there is a text highlighting feature, allowing for the most basic of text annotation.

Another great feature is that you can print pages from Clearly in a simplified, distraction-free format. The print format is different from the chosen onscreen theme, making better use of paper size. Also, since it is a print version of an online document, all of the hyperlinks not available in analog form are cleverly footnoted with a links section at the bottom of the page.

Logo: EvernoteWhile you do not need an Evernote account to use Clearly, having one opens even more useful features.

With a click, the page being viewed in Clearly can be clipped to an any of your Evernote notebooks, as well as tagged with keywords for easier searching later.

Any highlighting changes are also automatically updated in your Evernote account’s clipped note.

If you use tags regularly in your Evernote account, there is an option to automatically display related notes from your Evernote account in the lower right corner of the clipped note.

Of course, all notes in Evernote can be accessed on nearly any device and are easily shared via a publicly shared link, email, and select social media accounts.

Clearly has great potential in an educational context.

Whether teachers use Clearly to reformat pages or highlight or clip them as notes in Evernote, with a couple of preparatory clicks they can immeasurably improve their students’ reading experience. Using print format retains some of the benefits of a digital document by including all the relevant links, while providing the text with plenty of room for annotations by hand.

Even more, teachers can show older students the tool and how to use it for themselves across all kinds of web browsing experiences, modeling how to avoid distraction and read closely while online. Plus, older students may already be using Evernote because of its versatility and availability across nearly all networked devices.

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