How to Use Interactive Read-Alouds in the Classroom

Do you remember your teachers reading to you?

I don’t remember much about being a student in first grade, but something I do remember is the feeling I’d get when it was storytime. Mrs. Mayerhofer had a way of engaging us with stories and it seemed magical!

Read-alouds are a cornerstone of instruction. We all know the importance and many benefits of reading aloud to children. Here are just a few:

  • Deeper thinking and comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Having a model for expressive and fluent reading
  • Enjoyment!

Although I LOVE reading to my students, I didn’t always feel confident when doing an interactive read-aloud. What books should I read, skills should I cover, discussions to have, questions to ask, etc.

If I didn’t have a well-thought-out lesson plan for a book, I felt I wasn’t being effective. The truth is, there are times you will just pick a book and read it to children just for enjoyment! That’s what books are made for, right? SO, that is totally ok.

But, more often, you will want to read books with a strategic purpose, to teach a skill children can use while they’re reading or listening to a book. Here are some tips to make planning for this painless (even the management!).

Choosing your Read-Aloud Book

First and foremost, choose a book that your students will enjoy!

If you focus on choosing a book your students will enjoy, whether it’s a captivating story or an interesting non- fiction text on a topic they are curious about, they are much more likely to be invested in learning the strategies that will help them understand that book.

You can also choose a book that lends itself well to a skill or strategy you notice your students need (but don’t sacrifice enjoyment value).

Some things to consider are including diversity, books that teach important information or have a great message, and again, books that are engaging! You want your students to be absorbed in the book, thinking and wanting to find out what happens next or asking questions about what they are learning.

Preparing Your Read-Aloud

Use post-it notes to mark places you can think-aloud, have children turn and talk (think-pair-share), and engage with the text. Color-code these for different lessons!

Write vocabulary words you will need to preview on a post-it or on sentence strips. If you can provide a visual aid to help students with these, that’s also helpful. I’ll write a separate post on tips for introducing vocabulary for a read-aloud.

Place a blank post-it note at the end of your book (I’ll explain why later).

Mark places to stop for discussion during interactive read-alouds with post-its. Keep a blank one at the end for a few reflective notes after you're done. Read more tips on interactive read-alouds in your classroom here! #tejedastots #interactivereadalouds

Introduce the Read-Aloud

You will want to set expectations for read-aloud time. Explain that although you will give them plenty of opportunities to share their thinking, sometimes you will ask them to do silent thinking, and this will require no talking.

It is helpful to have signals for each type of interaction you think you will use often. When kids learn to associate the gestures with the action, they’ll be more likely to follow quickly. Here are some ideas:

  • My Turn/ Your Turn– This will come in super handy because some children can’t help themselves when they can decode a word or solve a struggle you are pretending to have while modeling. 馃檪 Show them that when you point to yourself, it’s your turn to solve and when you put your hand out to them, it’s theirs.
  • Think– tap head
  • Silent Think- tap mouth with 1 finger as you look up to act out thinking
  • Turn and Talk – make your 2 pointer fingers meet.
  • Turn Back to You/ Stop– bell or chime (when the bell sound is over, they should be facing you and ready to continue)
  • Thought of an idea- tap forehead rather than call out
  • Share, Answer Question– raise hand

Once expectations are set, you can introduce the book.

Use schema and connect to prior learning, give them any background knowledge they need, preview vocabulary words (use visual aids, if possible), and set the purpose for reading- skill/ strategy.

I also like to have the focus strategy on my interactive whiteboard, using the words “I can…” I simply have a PowerPoint document I display. I make a slide for each strategy, with just the 1 sentence, so I can just pull it up rather than have to write it on chart paper. It is a helpful reminder as we read and we review it when we end.

During the Read-Aloud

Use all of your best character voices! I think I have a read-aloud alter-ego (I’ve yet to name her) and she has about 20 different voices. 馃檪 Seriously, though, books just come to life for kids when you’re as excited to read them as you want them to be.

As you read, stop for discussions where you previously placed post-it notes as reminders. Interact throughout the story to model for and engage your students.

Here are some ideas for types of interactions:

  • Model thinking aloud the strategy
  • Ask students to think silently, then share their thinking with a partner (turn and talk)
  • Ask students to act out important words/parts (for example, you might ask them to show the word ‘scurrying’ with their hands, as if scurrying like a mouse, or you might ask them to show how they think the character is feeling.
  • Have students read out repeated parts, for example, the refrain in The Gingerbread Man.
  • Have students make sounds when possible to keep them engaged: clap hands for a celebration, slap laps for the sound of running, roar for a bear character, etc.

It’s important not to stop too often or try to discuss and cover every possible strategy the book offers! This can really extend your time, plus kids may lose interest and start to fidget if sitting too long. I usually stop about 3 times for discussions and a few times for silent engagement or interaction (acting out, making a sound).

Management Tips

Kids can’t help but call out sometimes (adults can’t either!). To help minimize this, below are some more tips besides the ones mentioned under expectations above. I prefer to use the silent ones first, as they are less disruptive.

  1. Continue to read if it’s not disruptive, maybe raising voice just a tad for 2 words. I like to do this and add expression to get them engaged- kind of hard to describe in text 馃檪
  2. Stop and wait until they’re quiet
  3. Use the ‘Teacher turn” signal (see above)
  4. Compliment a student who is listening quietly or raising their hand
  5. If none of these work, remind them they will have time to share, but now it’s time to listen- remind of signal for ‘their turn’ (see above). “I know you have great ideas, but you will have time to share in just a bit, don’t worry.”
  6. If you notice kids are distracted, gasp and say something about the picture to grab his/her attention without calling the child out. Ask a question, have them move, act out, anything that pulls them back.
  7. Don’t be afraid to stop reading the book if children are continually disruptive. Students love stories and if you send them back to their seats for a few minutes, have a discussion about why it’s important to listen quietly, and try again, they may be more inclined to listen. This may be more effective than having to stop every few seconds for management.

After Reading

Discuss the book, debrief and review the strategy, evaluate, have students share additional thoughts. Summarize, have students retell to a partner, act out with pocket chart pieces.

You can also use graphic organizers on your interactive whiteboard to go over comprehension skills. You can grab some free ones in my resource library.

You don’t need to have an “activity” after every read-aloud. But, if you do want to extend the learning with an activity, you can use student notebooks to respond. I like to print out slips with the title and author for kids to glue at the top of their page, so it doesn’t take up much response time.

I also have a few Read-Aloud Response packs, if you’re looking for some other ways to respond. Here is a link to my 12 Days of Christmas Read-Alouds pack. It has multiple differentiated activities for 12 popular Christmas books, including The Polar Express and The Gingerbread Man.

I also have a pack for January/ non-holiday Winter books.

Time to Reflect (and plaN Ahead)

Here is where the blank post-it note mentioned above comes in handy. If you’re anything like me, you have great ideas while you are in the middle of something, tell yourself you will jot it down later, but forget! Having the blank post-it note right there makes it easy to jot down your notes.

Here are some questions you may ask yourself:

  • Was there a part students didn’t understand/ needed help with?
  • Was this book great to teach another strategy as well?
  • Is there another place in the book you could have stopped for discussion?
  • Was there a vocabulary word you should have previewed?

Any notes can be quickly jotted on your post-it note for next time.

If this book makes a great mentor text, reread several times and refer to it during your reading and writing workshops!

If you used any visual aids or vocabulary words on sentence strips, place them in a baggie and tuck into the book for a no-prep lesson next time! The ones pictured below are from my Gingerbread Man Mega-Pack.

Keep visual aids, including pocket chart pieces, to go with a read-aloud inside a baggie to keep from losing them. Mark places to stop for discussion during interactive read-alouds with post-its. Keep a blank one at the end for a few reflective notes after you're done. Read more tips on interactive read-alouds in your classroom here! #tejedastots #interactivereadalouds

Keep a list of texts that you can use for different strategies. When you want to target a strategy, look at your list to quickly find a great book!

For more blog posts on reading aloud, click below:

Teaching Growth Mindset with Rosie’s Glasses

Manana Iguana

Phonemic Awareness using The Hungry Thing

Using Big Books to Teach Decoding Strategies

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