Engaging Students with Interactive Read-Alouds
You’re likely spending valuable classroom time reading aloud to your students, but are they benefitting from it? Get the most out of that time by engaging your students in the text and developing their reading skills with interactive read-alouds.
An interactive read-aloud helps students think more deeply, grow their vocabularies, and develop discussion skills—but it involves planning and purpose. Below, we’ve provided some helpful tips for you to consider while planning your next read-aloud. Before we get into that, though, let’s look at how an interactive read-aloud differs from a traditional one.
What is an Interactive Read-Aloud?
Interactive reading varies from regular classroom read-alouds. Instead of reading a book without interruption, you pause to discuss, complete an activity, or point out something about the text. Students become active participants in the reading by engaging with you and their classmates.
The Benefits of Interactive Reading
The importance of interactive reading cannot be overstated. By having interactive read- alouds in your class, you can enhance your students’ learning in the following ways.
Expand Content Knowledge
You can incorporate interactive read-alouds into all areas of the curriculum. Use them in science, math, and social studies, as well as language arts.
Studies show that students in early elementary grades don’t read enough nonfiction text, and most spend less than four minutes per day reading nonfiction. Read-alouds are a great way to increase that time and engage students while delivering content.
Improve Reading Comprehension
Interactive reading helps early readers to learn how print works, including:
- Reading from left to right and top to bottom
- The difference between words and letters
- How print represents oral language
In early elementary classrooms, use explicit print referencing to promote understanding. With print referencing, you highlight text features as you read aloud. Follow the words with your finger, and show the page to the students as you read.
In addition, ask questions and make comments to help students understand print features, such as:
- “Where should I start reading on this page?”
- “Which words start with the letter B?”
- “I see the word school on this page three times.”
How to Plan an Interactive Read Aloud
A good interactive read-aloud requires some forethought. Take some time to plan each interactive read-aloud for your students to get the most benefit from it. Here are some tips to help you.
1. Select a Suitable Book
The text you choose makes a big difference. Consider the following tips while choosing an interactive read-aloud book.
- Pick a book that your students wouldn’t select on their own. It should be slightly above grade level, but they should still be able to understand it.
- Look for a book that ties into multiple areas of your curriculum.
- Find a lesser-known book by a popular author.
- Choose a book that goes with an upcoming holiday, special event, or season.
- Don’t limit yourself to fiction. Look for nonfiction books, poetry, or even age-appropriate news articles.
- Find books that incorporate fun sounds, new words, or a different language.
2. Preview the Book
Before starting your interactive read-aloud, be sure to read through the book on your own. Prepare questions or thoughts to “think aloud,” and jot down your thoughts on sticky notes throughout the book.
Here are some interactive read-aloud questions to guide you while previewing the book:
- Why did this character say that?
- How does the character feel right now?
- What is the author’s purpose in writing this book?
- How does this picture help you understand what the text says?
- The author uses the word campaign here. What do you think campaign means?
3. Prepare Your Space
Your reading area may need to change based on your planned interactive reading activity. If you’re going to use discussion groups, make sure there’s space for the groups to gather. If you have props, gather them beforehand and have them readily available. If you’re using a display, make sure it’s visible to all students.
Next, make sure that you are always visible to your students. You may need more or less space to move around depending on your interactive read-aloud.
You may also need to think about where you place certain students. Place those who need additional help or who are reluctant participants close to you so that you can engage them more easily.
4. Introduce the Book
Now that you’ve chosen a book and prepared your space, it’s time to introduce the book to the class. Show your students the cover of the book first. Read the title, the author’s name, and the illustrator’s name.
Next, ask students what their initial thoughts are. Talk about their general first impression. Ask if they have read anything by the author before. Then, look at the cover picture and give them time to share their thoughts.
Finally, have students make predictions about what they think the book will be about. Ask them why they think their prediction will happen, and have them think about their prior knowledge of the topic.
5. Read the Book in Sections
Remember, an interactive read-aloud is meant to be interactive! So, after you read a section of the book, stop to talk about what happened, ask questions, and point out important elements of the story. Have students think about the predictions they made. Then, allow them to alter their predictions as they go or make new ones.
You should also incorporate different types of discussion, such as:
- Turn and Talk: Assign partners before you start reading. During the interactive read-aloud, ask students to “turn and talk” to their partner about some element of the text.
- Break Out Groups: Before reading, put your students in small groups. At given points, give them time for a group discussion.
- Large Group Discussion: Incorporate the entire class in the discussion. Be sure to draw out even the reluctant students by using total participation techniques and low-risk activities. That way, everyone has an opportunity to participate.
6. Wrap It Up
After your finish reading, allow ample time for discussion. Ask students questions about the book, such as:
- What did you think of the ending?
- Was your prediction correct?
- Did something about the book surprise you? If so, what was it?
- What was your favorite part?
- Which character was your favorite, and why?
- Which character did you relate the most with, and why?
- What is one new thing you learned from this book?
- What do you think was the most important part of the book?
- What was the funniest/scariest/strangest part of the book?
- How does this book help you understand what we are learning in science/social studies/math class?
Once you wrap up your discussions, use a follow-up activity to keep students thinking about the book. You could have students:
- Draw new cover images
- Illustrate a part of the book
- Write several paragraphs telling what they think will happen next
- Write several paragraphs telling what they think happened before the book started
- Evaluate a character using this graphic organizer
- Map the story using a story map
- For nonfiction texts, use a main idea and details graphic organizer
Getting Creative with Interactive Reading
Use your creativity to make interactive read-alouds as much fun as they are educational. Here are just a few ways that you can spice up the experience for your students.
Incorporate puppets as characters or as reading “helpers.” Ask one or two students to help you with the puppets. Have a puppet who is always your interactive reading puppet and who “reads” the books.
Get Into Character
Dress up as a character or someone from the same time. When you interject thoughts, act as though you are part of the story.
Use Different Voices
Change your voice for different characters. This adds some excitement and variety to the reading. It can also help students who may have trouble following the story to more easily follow the exchanges between characters.
Use other classroom objects to support your reading, such as scientific equipment, maps, and any other appropriate props that are relevant to the text. If the book features real people, find some additional pictures of them to display.
Have Students Play Roles
Assign roles to a few students beforehand. After reading a chapter, have students act out a part of it for the class.
Don’t stay seated as you read. Get up and move around the reading area. This will allow all students to get a close look at the book and to feel more involved.
Focus on Vocabulary
Interactive read alouds are a great way to introduce new vocabulary to students. When choosing a book or article, make note of new or difficult words.
First, choose two or three words per book. If you are reading a longer book, choose two or three words per section. Introduce the words before you begin reading. For each word, give a definition, and use the word in a sentence. If appropriate, you can even act out the word.
Next, tell students to listen carefully for those words while you read. Have them clap when they hear the words. With each clap, stop and read the sentence with the word a second time. This keeps the students actively listening for the vocabulary words.
Interactive reading can help to grow students’ academic vocabulary. When you choose interactive read-aloud books that align with your science curriculum, for example, students will hear important vocabulary words in a different context. Be sure to relate the vocabulary words to what they are learning.
After reading, give students a chance to talk about the new vocabulary. Have them turn to a partner and use the word in a sentence.
As an ongoing activity, use a Vocabulary Wall to display new words. Display new words on colorful pieces of paper. List them under the book that you read. Alternatively, have students keep a vocabulary journal where they record the new words. They can write their definition, draw a picture, and write the word in a sentence.
Promoting a Joy of Reading with Interactive Read-Alouds
Interactive readings can grow your students’ joy of reading and introduce them to new ideas. They allow even struggling readers to become engaged in a text.
Choose one or two goals for each interactive read-aloud. Stopping too often can make it difficult for students to follow the text. You may need to read the text more than once. If you focus on making predictions in the first reading, focus on vocabulary in the second.
Ultimately, students should be able to understand the text and enjoy it! Make interactive read-alouds essential parts of your daily schedule so students anticipate them with excitement.
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