I began my career many years ago and have worked with all grade levels at the elementary level now. I love what I do, especially my time reading aloud to students, no matter their age. Read alouds bring us together as a family and provide opportunities for all students to participate.
It wasn’t always that way. When I first started I thought of read alouds as simply a time to read a book to kids. But over the years I have realized it is so much more! As I journeyed to find the perfect combination to make a quality read aloud I tried many different things. I must say that I made my share of mistakes along the way: too many questions, low-level questions, and covering too much in one book, just to name a few. Since then, I have reflected a lot and now have a much better sense of what a read aloud should look like. I believe that a read aloud should be an interactive exchange between the teacher and students as they dive into a book or text.
What is an Interactive Read Aloud?
An interactive read aloud is instruction involving the whole class in which the discussion revolves around literature. The teacher picks a piece of literature to read aloud to the whole group, then plans for conversations and makes decisions about when they will occur during the reading.
In preparing for an interactive read aloud there are some important things the librarian or teacher must think about. Make sure to think about:
- The key skill or concept of the lesson
- Book selection that supports the skill or concept
- Text features
- Questions to ask
- Modeling of strategic reading behaviors and fluency
- Places to stop for interaction
And. . . you should plan for interaction to happen before reading, during reading, and after reading to make the most of the read aloud. Keep reading to find out how I prepare for all of these things when planning an interactive read aloud as part of my lessons.
1. Book Selection is Important
You want to select books with the students in mind when planning for an interactive read aloud. This makes your lesson more student-focused compared to teacher-focused. When we consider students’ strengths and interests and choose books that students will be excited about, it lets them know that we care about them. It also helps to nurture and foster a love of reading in our students.
Some questions you can consider when picking out a book are:
- What are my students’ interests and what might they need next?
- Does this book build on the previous books?
- Does it build on background knowledge?
- What’s our purpose for that particular book as it relates to what we want our students to gain?
- Is there an opportunity to teach students about how to communicate effectively?
I have found that by starting with the skill or concept that will be the focus of the lesson, I can narrow down the choices. Then from those books that fit the skill or concept, I can turn my attention to one that will really connect with my students.
Read Aloud Book Selection Example
For example, if you are teaching about character traits, you will want to select a book that does this well. Start by looking for a list of picture books or texts for teaching character traits. Once you have a list of good books for the concept, then narrow that list down to one or two books that your students will enjoy. When I look at the list of character trait books I can quickly tell you that my current students will love Grumpy Monkey! This group of students loves to laugh and funny books are their favorite. So this year I would choose that book for my lesson. Next year, it very well could be a different book. You can increase the engagement of your interactive read aloud if you consider your students when choosing the book.
2. Engage Readers + Preview the Book + Ask Questions
Before you begin to read, there are a few things that will get your interactive read aloud moving in the right direction. First, engage the students by sharing the purpose of the lesson and why it’s important for readers. If this is a skill or concept you have previously talked about connect back to your prior learning.
Next, you will want to preview the book with students without giving too much away. The goal here in this pre-reading portion of the interactive read aloud is to get students engaged and excited about the story to come. Take a picture walk to get them thinking about what might be coming. If the pictures give away too much, just a few pages to show them.
Finally, ask them questions related to the topic of the story. Find out what they know and set the stage for making text-to-self or text-to-text connections.
1. Model Reading Behaviors
While reading the text to students, you will be modeling what a good reader looks like and sounds like. Your reading will model decoding skills, reading fluency, and voice inflection amongst many other reading behaviors that you want students to develop eventually. This is a very important part of a read aloud.
Think about your reading pace, inflection, and emotions as you read. They all play a part in helping our students understand what good reading looks like.
2. Ask Interactive Questions
During reading, you also want to stop at strategic places in the text for questioning. Where you stop will depend on the skill or concept you are focusing on. But don’t be afraid to tie in other skills and questions too! A read aloud is a great time to review other skills that your students have learned. Your types of questions and timing of questions is a type of modeling because it clues students into what a good reader would be asking themselves.
3. Model Your Thinking
Finally, something else important that you can do during this phase of the interactive read aloud is to verbalize your thoughts or “think out loud.” Share what you notice in the story as you read the text, and talk about any thoughts that you have about the story and why you have them. This might be questioning the meaning of a word or thinking about the author’s word choice. This is also a great time to connect the story to another book you’ve read or your own experiences. All of these “thinking out loud” techniques show your students what good reading comprehension looks like.
Have a Conversation about the Book
The “after reading the text” portion of the interactive read aloud is just as important as the before reading and during reading parts. Ask students some questions to engage students in conversation about the book that was just read. Here are some questions you might want to use:
- What was your favorite part and why?
- What surprised you in the story?
- How did the character change from the beginning of the story to the end?
- What did you learn?
- What questions do you still have?
- Did this story remind you of anything?
This is also the time to weave in those skill-specific questions related to the concept you are teaching.
All of these questions are focused on getting your students thinking a little deeper about the story and putting their reading comprehension skills into practice.
Extend the Learning
Finally, wrap up your read aloud with a hands-on extension activity. This might be directly related to the skill you were targeting or it might be about the book. It might include finding the setting on a map or globe, or it might be a writing activity where students take the place of one character. Whatever you choose, this is the opportunity to really capture what students comprehended during the interactive read aloud.
One of my favorite stories to use as an interactive read aloud in January with K-2 students is the beloved, “The Mitten” by Jan Brett. There are so many hands-on and engaging activities that you can do with this book that really keep the little ones engaged. For a little fun, you can even have student helpers come up and put “paper animals” into a real mitten while reading.
This story is great for focusing on sequencing and retelling. I use this Mitten Activity Pack with my students and it helps me plan my entire interactive read aloud. It includes 24 comprehension questions, a game board that you can use with the questions, or an answering sheet to use the questions in a game of Scoot! It also has a variety of graphic organizers to help students focus on different reading skills. My youngest students love the mini-book that makes a perfect reader for them to take home. With everything in one resource, I can use this book to teach a variety of skills at different levels.
Save these Tips and Ideas for Interactive Read Alouds
I’ve come a long way over the years. I can confidently say now that interactive read alouds are my jam! I love them and all the benefits they offer. Save this blog post to your favorite reading Pinterest board so you can come back when you are ready to plan your interactive read alouds.