Benefitting from Digital Text Tools in a Browser

Photo: Student working in Google Docs

Student working in Google Docs

This is the seventh installment in the series Exploring Useful Browser Extensions. Previous tools highlighted in the series include The Great SuspenderEasyBib Tools, and Grammarly.

With the entire Hopkinton district committed to using Google Apps for Education, the apps have become an important part of the educational experience. Students are using Google apps to accomplish any number of tasks in classes across the curriculum. Be it Docs, Slides, or Sheets that is a lot of text on screens.

As already showcased in this series, there are some distinct advantages for students once a text becomes digital. One of the best examples of these advantages are the multimodal possibilities. Specific tools can read text aloud, take dictation, even make annotation a collaborative effort.

No tool necessarily does all these things, yet Read & Write for Google Chrome is a browser extension that does offer a handful of beneficial features, beginning with text-to-speech.

Image: Read & Write for Google Chrome, a Google Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store

Read & Write for Google Chrome, a Google Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store

Similar to Announcify, Read & Write for Google Chrome will read on-screen text aloud. It also includes built-in translator support. All these features are part of the free version of the extension.

Additionally, there are a host of premium features that make the extension interesting and worth trying. Most notable, the number of possible types of digital text increases with premium access, including Google Docs, PDFs, and ePub files, as well as files from Kurzweil.

Once activated in the browser, a toolbar drops down below the address bar. The toolbar activates the array of available tools.

When working in Google Docs even more features are enabled.

Image: Read & Write for Google Chrome toolbar

Read & Write for Google Chrome toolbar

There is a word predictor tool that will anticipate words as you type them, similar to auto-correct features available on handheld devices. As a bonus, the word predictor will actually voice the word when holding the mouse over it in the menu.

There is a dictionary, which will provide definitions for selected words in the Doc. The definitions can also be read aloud.The picture dictionary will present a visual for a selected word.

In addition to the text-to-speech function, there is a speech-to-text feature, when activated, composes text from dictation into the computer’s microphone.

Also, there four highlighters available in the toolbar. Clearly, also includes a highlighter, but this Read & Write for Google Chrome affords more options and functions with the highlighter tool.  The bonus of this feature is that the highlighted text can then be collected, by color, and saved as a separate Doc. The highlighting feature also can be used to build a vocabulary list in a new Doc, complete with picture and definitions.

The combination of tools and features available from Read & Write for Google Chrome can certainly benefit struggling students, especially younger ones. However, the real benefits are only available as premium features.

Like many tools, some choices come down to preference. It should also be understood that there are a number of other extensions that provide similar features, albeit not in a single tool. However, there is a constellation of other extensions that can do most, but not all, of the things that Read & Write for Google Chrome can do without the premium cost.

Regardless, it is a tool that could be extremely handy for students that could benefit from additional literacy supports. For that reason, it is worth trying.

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