Teachers are always on the lookout for new ideas about teaching practices, classroom design and organization, and how best to reach students. They also need to keep up with the technology tools they provide to students. One tool that’s often taken for granted is the browser students use to access the internet, but there’s a lot that teachers can do to make a browser more effective. For the many schools using Google Chrome, extensions are an easy way to adapt students’ browsers and equip them with personalized support they can use on assignments and classroom activities throughout the year.
When downloading a Chrome extension, it’s important to ensure that the tool is appropriate for students, including evaluating its data and privacy regulations, age restrictions, and overall connection to learning goals. Since it’s easy for anyone to get their self-created extension into the Chrome Web Store, one important consideration is whether or not the extension has an Established Publisher badge, which indicates that the extension publisher is verified and meets Google’s developer program policies. Be sure to also check out the Privacy Practices section of each extension before downloading.
The following are the top 10 extensions that I recommend and use, and that support student learning in the classroom. These extensions do not require students to create an account before using. Each tool can be used immediately after downloading—and they’re all free.
1. Google Dictionary: This extension is a reliable choice for students. It was created and is managed by Google. When it’s enabled, students can double-click a word within the browser and see the definition in a pop-up bubble. They can also listen to the pronunciation of the word. Within the bubble, there’s also a “More” option, which opens a new page with a Google search for the word that will often include additional definitions, sentences, or relevant webpages. An option exists to translate words into a variety of language options, as well.
This extension has been around for years and is still very useful to students today.
2. Dark Reader: Dark Mode is considered an accessibility feature that removes some of the light from screens while still ensuring that the color contrast ratio makes content visible and readable. Dark Reader is one of the most popular of the many extensions that accomplish this task on all browser pages.
Dark Reader allows users to darken their screen and customize the brightness, contrast, gray scale, and sepia tones. Users can further customize by specifying adjustments for individual websites. For students, especially in the secondary years when screen time is more prevalent, this extension can be a great option for some students who prefer the comfort of a darker view when reading digitally, especially in low-light environments.
3. Mindful Break: This extension offers the digital version of a brain break. Mindful Break was developed by Google and provides students an opportunity to engage in mindfulness. The extension will create a pop-up in the browser while students are working. These pop-ups include breathing exercises or a mindful support strategy.
Students can customize how frequently these break pop-ups appear and set a schedule for the extension to run on certain days of the week and between specific times. They can also adjust how they receive reminders.
4. Postlight Reader: The name of this extension has changed—it used to be called Mercury Reader—but the general functionality has remained consistent.
When activated on a webpage, Postlight Reader immediately eliminates ads and distractions and places the text into a format that mirrors an e-reader. Students can customize the text size and font and whether the text appears in light or dark mode for viewing comfort. For students doing research online, this extension is helpful by providing an opportunity to focus on the text in front of them and not the distracting ads that fill so many webpages.
5. Auto Highlight: This extension helps draw students’ attention to key ideas and details of an online text. When activated, Auto Highlight will scan an article and highlight specific information that students need to focus on while reading. The extension can be clicked up to three times within the same article, and the more it is clicked, the more details it will highlight.
Students can customize the highlight color, text color, and link color based on personal preference. They can also opt to have the highlights start automatically when a page loads instead of having to manually start them each time they visit a new page.
6. Visor: Visor is an excellent option for students looking for support in tracking text as they read. When activated, it emphasizes one line or several lines of text at a time, while darkening the rest of the screen. The student can use the cursor to move the area of focus as they read. For students who may need additional support with focusing or who lose their place frequently when reading in a digital space, this extension could be useful.
7. Page Marker: This extension offers students the opportunity to annotate and write on top of an article or PDF. Once it’s activated, students can use their mouse to create drawings, highlight information, add text, and embed shapes or lines. The color and size of the annotations are customizable. When finished, students can export their work. The extension will automatically take a screenshot, saving it to the Downloads folder of their device. For students looking to mark up a reading passage, highlight important information or key words in a word problem, or digitally show their work in math, Page Marker is an easy-to-use option.
8. OpenDyslexic for Chrome: This extension converts all text on a webpage to the OpenDyslexic font. There is some debate about whether there’s any evidence of the effectiveness of this font, but many people have said that using it has positively impacted their digital reading experience. Students can set the extension to automatically run when a new page is opened or manually enable it when needed.
9. Google Translate: This extension is a staple for English language learners. Once it’s downloaded, students can immediately begin translating full webpages or individual words within a page. When a word is double-clicked, the student will see the translation and part of speech and can hear it in both English and their chosen language. Students can also activate the extension to translate an entire page for them.
Google Translate was created and is managed by Google, and if a student highlights and right-clicks a word, it immediately takes them to the Google Translate website, where they can translate the word into multiple languages and find out more information about it.
10. YiNote: This extension, which is simple in design and navigation, allows students to generate notes on YouTube videos. Once activated, a side panel appears with a space for notes. When the student reaches a moment in the video where they would like to note something of importance, they type their note and save it within YiNote. This process continues as the video progresses.
After the video is complete, the student can view all their notes, including returning to the time stamp of their note to review the video. They can edit their comments, annotate on top of video screenshots, and export their work. This extension makes it simpler for students to track their learning than if they used a split screen and took notes in an external document.
In addition to the concerns mentioned above—privacy, data collected, and age restrictions—it’s important to remember that students should only download necessary extensions. Adding too many extensions or setting all extensions to automatically run on new webpages can cause the browser to slow down. To help limit the number of extensions that students download, you can present the options above to them based on needs you observe in your classroom or on their requests.