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Subtext is a free iPad app that allows classroom groups to exchange ideas in the pages of digital books and documents. Teachers can also use our tools to layer enrichment materials, lesson plans and assessments over texts.
Subtext offers all the functionality of ereaders like iBooks and Kindle—for example, adjustable fonts, brightness control, text highlighting and a built-in dictionary. But that’s only the beginning. Subtext includes a number of unique features developed specifically for schools. A few of our favorites include must-haves like closed groups and volume purchasing and new additions like ‘Book Blog’ and ‘Save to Subtext,’ a bookmarklet that allows teachers to save Web articles to their shared group shelves in Subtext.
At the most basic level, you can create a class reading group and leave notes for your students right in the pages of any text. (When you set up a group, your students will only see notes left by you and their fellow classmates as they read.)
Your notes can range from a simple question like “What do you think the author is trying to tell us here?” to a more involved assignment that incorporates Web content or multimedia like “Read this article on the same topic [link to article]. Then compare and contrast the authors points of view.” You can also control how your students respond to your notes: You can ask them to submit their replies directly to you (good for assignments); you can require that they submit their own reply before seeing each other’s responses (encourages critical thinking); or you can allow everyone to see replies as they’re added (perfect for open class discussions).
In addition, you can have your students leave notes for each other. A great way to do this is to have each student leave one note in a chapter AND reply to at least one of their classmates’ notes in the same chapter. This is an easy way to get started and typically spurs great classroom discussions.
Subtext is a free app. You need to purchase the retail books you read in Subtext (technically referred to as “trade books”), but you can read all types of content at no cost to you or your school: public domain books, documents in ePub format and Web articles imported into Subtext using a proprietary bookmarket called ‘Save to Subtext.’
We currently offer access to one of the world’s largest collections of free and paid books via Google Play—including more than three million public domain books and a collection of paid titles comparable in size to Barnes & Noble’s. You can also read web articles and blog posts with your class in Subtext using a new feature called ‘Save to Subtext’—think New York Times articles and posts on PBS Kids. In addition, you can read free or public domain books and documents in ePub format (or PDFs or Word docs converted to ePub format).
Yes, Subtext supports volume purchasing through a new tool developed with Google Books. Just choose the number of books you’d like to purchase, enter your students’ Gmail addresses, and we’ll automatically add the new books to their shelves in Subtext. It’s that easy!
We see teachers using Subtext in all kinds of interesting ways, but here are a few of our favorites to get you started:
-Use photos, videos and web articles to expand your students’ understanding of a book, document or web article. When you add a note in Subtext, you can add a link to just about anything on the web—a news article with an opposing point of view, a map of London at the time of Dickens, a video of an author discussing her book, a street view of a building that’s central to a story, an iconic photo of an historical event…the sky’s the limit!
-Have your students fill out the Book Blog prompt at the end of each chapter. They can rate the chapter thumbs up or thumbs down and then add a note. You can use the total number of up and down votes attributed to a particular chapter to kick off an in-class discussion and then discuss a few of your favorite book blog entries together.
-Ask your class to highlight examples of common literary devices while they read—for example, they can highlight similes in yellow and metaphors in red. As students are highlighting text, they can share all of their examples with you; then they can go back and share their favorite example out to the whole class with a note on why they chose it.
-Select an excerpt of text, ask a question that requires critical thinking and ask your students to respond to it—for example, what is the author trying to tell you as the reader, or how does this passage make you feel and why? Set your note so students won’t see each other’s replies until they submit their own. After they see how their classmates responded, encourage your students to add additional thoughts. You can also add comments, questions and prompts to guide the discussion.
When you and your students annotate a book or document in Subtext, notes are linked to a specific passage so there’s a built-in emphasis on the source text and close reading. Subtext also encourages a regular cycle of reading, analysis and writing. Two examples of this: A student reads a section of text, forms an opinion and explains her thinking in a note to the class. You select a passage, add a prompt like “Paraphrase this” and students respond directly to you with their interpretations. In either case, students are moving naturally from reading the original text to critical thinking to communicating a point of view.
Subtext allows you to layer all types of Web content over texts—videos, photographs and links to articles, blog posts, maps and even locations on Google Street View. Immediate access to a variety of related information encourages students to compare and contrast different media and creates a more complete picture of a story or topic.
We’ve developed shelves of Common Core recommended texts available in Subtext. You can browse them by grade level, and you’ll notice many more books being added across the school year. In addition, we’ve released a feature called ‘Save to Subtext’ that lets you search the web for interesting non-fiction content to read with your class. We’ve seen teachers use it to read everything from articles on global warming to historic documents like the Declaration of Independence.
We’re focused on middle and high school students when we develop features and functionality for Subtext. However, a growing number of fourth and fifth grade teachers are using Subtext, and we know it’s been used successfully with younger students.
Subtext is great for schools with shared iPads because it supports multiple accounts. This means students can be on the same device reading the same book or document without seeing each other or each other’s notes in the app.
Teachers with iPads can also use Subtext to exchange ideas with students and guide classroom discussions on Edmodo. You can share notes you leave or like in Subtext, and they’ll even include an excerpt of the original text so you never have to waste time transcribing a passage again.
We start with what we call basic training: an overview of what you need to know to set up a closed group, share a book or document with your class, and use our annotation tools to engage and guide your students. Depending on our travel plans and your schedule, we do this in person or over the Web. In addition, we work regularly with teachers as questions come up, and we’re happy to walk you through some of the most interesting and effective ways other teachers are using Subtext. We’re literally a phone call and email away.
We also update the support section of the website frequently—you can find step-by-step instructions for almost anything there—and we encourage you to watch a training video or attend an upcoming Subtext event.
Using Subtext with Edmodo has two key advantages:
1) It allows you to import your Edmodo groups into Subtext for iPad as reading groups. If you’re an Edmodo teacher, this saves you time getting set up in Subtext.
2) Once you’re logged into Subtext for iPad with your Edmodo credentials, you can share notes from Subtext out to your groups on the Edmodo stream. If your students don’t have iPads, this is a great way for you to engage them in discussions linked to the books and documents you’re reading as a class. (And you don’t need to rekey the excerpted text you’re referencing because we automatically include it and any relevant chapter information with your shared notes.) If your students have iPads and are already reading with Subtext, sharing out to the Edmodo stream is one more way to engage them.
The important thing to note in either case: Subtext for Edmodo is a companion app to Subtext for iPad. This means you need to have an iPad to use Subtext and Edmodo together—and you need to install Subtext for Edmodo as a first step in the process. Down the road, we’ll offer more functionality right on Edmodo, but we think this is a good first step!