The most amazing reading teachers I know have made the read aloud the heart and soul of their reading instruction. For them, it is not an after thought or a “fill-in” activity when there are a few extra minutes before lunch or at the end of the day. Instead, it is the jewel in the crown their reading instruction.
Why? Because the read aloud allows them to introduce kids to all kinds of books and authors and genres and series they might not otherwise discover on their own. It provides them the format to give every student in the room access to rich, complex texts – the kind of texts that many of them are not yet ready to read on their own, but all of them need and deserve to experience. It is the perfect time to push kids into deeper processing of texts and help them develop both the thinking and reading strategies that we want them to eventually use on their own. These teachers know the well-chosen read aloud is unrivaled as a means of bringing robust vocabulary into the elementary classroom. But most importantly, they understand that the read aloud is our chance to spotlight and sell the love of reading every day. It the chance for students see for themselves the doors and windows that can open on their world when they pick up a book and read.
Below I offer a refresher to support any teacher wanting to make the interactive read aloud a central feature of their reading classroom.
Read Aloud – 10 Tips and Some Things to Avoid
1) Read aloud at least once per day. The read aloud, done-right, becomes the foundation of everything else we do in the reading classroom. It’s where we build the love of reading. It’s where we demonstrate strategic thinking and problem solving by thinking aloud. It’s where we introduce new genres and authors and reasons for reading. It’s where we take kids into text that richer and deeper and more complex than they are ready for on their own. It’s where we build community and go on adventures together Don’t let the read aloud be the first thing to go when time gets tight. Instead, make it the absolutely non-negotiable part of every learning day.
2) Choose amazing books. This world is way too full of incredible books and read aloud time is too precious for you spend time on anything less than amazing. Taking time to select great books to read aloud is critical work of the reading teaching because the read aloud plays such a pivotal role in the reading classroom. Across time, you’ll want a wide variety of genres, styles, and text types. Don’t limit your read aloud to only narrative fiction. The nonfiction that is currently flooding the market is full of possibilities for read aloud. Look for rich language and vocabulary. Choose fiction with intriguing story lines and interesting characters. Get recommendations from your colleagues and media specialists. Checkout the web for all kinds of great lists.
3) Don’t get stuck in a rut. Variety is essential. Read aloud one book from a series (usually the first) might be worthwhile if it’s an incredible book that meets the criteria of number 2. But don’t let yourself fall into the rut of reading an entire series. The year is too short. The importance of exposing kids to variety is too important. “But my kids begged me to read the next books in the series!” Kids beg for lots of things. You’re the teacher.
4) Read the book yourself before reading aloud. A close cousin of Tip 2 -this is the first law of preparation. Don’t waste the time of 20+ students on something you haven’t experienced and wholeheartedly endorsed yourself.
5) Gather them close. Come on, intermediate level teachers. . . this means you, too. Pull your kids in close. Gather them on the carpet or in the corner. The read aloud is a community experience. You’ll want kids to engage deeply, see the pictures, and participate in turn-and-talk, without the distractions of desk and table.
6) Take time to help kids connect the book you’re about to read with background knowledge and/or past and present learning. Let kids know how and why you chose a particular book and why it is relevant to their lives or your current learning path. Consider sharing a little about how you chose the book. Did you choose it because of its connection to your study of life cycles? Because of its beautiful illustrations? Because it has great examples of visual imagery? Or was it because you think it can help the class extend their conversation about resolving conflicts on the playground.
7) Select key stopping points for academic talk. Don’t leave the conversation or learning to chance. Before you begin, use sticky notes to map out the places where you want to stop.
- Prepare to highlight rich and powerful vocabulary. Teaching vocabulary during the read aloud is logical, practical, and motivating. Because you’ve great texts, you’re kids want to get every drop of goodness out of them. So, be sure to highlight vocabulary, teaching meaning directly or creating opportunities for students determine meaning by considering context.
- Ask questions that lead to deep thinking. If the book is worth reading aloud, there will be plenty of deep thinking to pursue. So, brush off your higher order thinking and questioning skills. Ask open ended questions that force kids to make connections and think deeply about what the text says and why it matters.
- Use turn-and-talk to give everyone a chance to share his or her thinking. To make the read aloud truly interactive, everyone has to get engaged through thinking and accountable talk. An efficient routine for turn-and-talk with partners is essential to the success of the read aloud. While some teachers have assigned partners for a week or a month at a time, others leave it up to kids to pair with the person sitting next to them. Whatever system you use, make sure kids can move seamlessly in and out of it without wasting precious instructional seconds.
8) Be strategic about pacing. Never, ever, ever read a book straight through. You’ll not only want to plan strategic stopping points where you can have meaningful conversation, but you’ll also want to pause for effect, reflection, and to provide processing of key ideas throughout the text. If we barrel right through the text, we miss all kinds of opportunities to deepen the learning.
9) Give a great performance. This is your time to shine and to sell reading as the most engaging and amazing show on earth. Varied expression, tone, inflection, volume, and speed are all important to model during the read aloud. You’re the expert reader. Give them your best show.
10) Don’t hesitate to reread great books. Subsequent readings allow students to process text on deeper levels and through multiple lenses. And sometimes, the pure pleasure and amazement of a book makes it a necessity to it more than once.
Off with you, now. It’s time to find that book you just can’t wait to share with your students. Choosing just one can be the hardest part!