Read-alouds are like Triple Crown winners. In a few short minutes, they affirm student identities, nourish the class community, and nudge along a wide range of academic skills. And while sharing a text with students is always worthwhile, there is also room to make this routine even more powerful.
I like to think of the read-aloud experience running on two parallel tracks: The first involves fostering a sense of enchantment, curiosity, and joy. The second track is about building background knowledge, facilitating conversation, and stretching students’ thinking. Following are some practical ways you can work the magic along these two lines.
Select a text with a purpose in mind
In my most recent book, Mentor Texts That Multitask, I share reflective inquiries that help teachers choose engaging texts and ensure their teaching goes the distance. Each query is tied to one of three central themes: identity, community, and curriculum.
It is essential that the texts we feature represent and celebrate different identities, match the prioritized next steps of current class members, and align with district and/or state curriculum.
(Image Source: Mentor Texts That Multitask, Koutrakos, 2022)
While it’s okay to occasionally lean on beloved classics, classroom text choices need to appeal to today’s learners. As I prepare to curate contenders (with the above inquiries in mind), I talk with colleagues, check in with local librarians, visit my favorite bookstore, or scour go-to websites. Other tips I’ve learned along the way:
- Variety is essential. Select texts that span genre and format. Feature picture books, wordless texts, short videos, and other multimedia.
- Seek out options that are inclusive, celebrate individuality, and promote community-mindedness.
- Look for books with rhythm, rhyme, rich vocabulary, and memorable language.
- Switch it up! Sometimes, you may highlight texts with predictable patterns, and at other times, you might choose books filled with surprises.
- Consider sharing texts that include translanguaging and/or have full translations available.
- Choose books that create a sense of awe, fortify imaginations, and cultivate creativity.
When considering a new read-aloud contender, always take the time to reflect on how this choice would enhance the set of books that have already been shared with the class. Curriculum expands and evolves as teachers get to know students; when the books we read aloud reflect the community and curriculum, students notice this coherence.
Invite all students to playfully participate
A primary goal of read-aloud is for all students to feel confident sharing ideas about texts. Throughout the planning process, consider how to actively include students with different areas of readiness. There are plentiful ways of breaking down participation barriers. The first step to success is referenced above–by choosing texts that center and celebrate different identities, students feel affirmed, engaged, and interested. What follows are additional tips for enticing students to participate in classroom read-alouds.
Carefully craft questions and prompts
Open-ended questions feel like invitations. There is not one acceptable answer, and students are free to respond in a variety of ways. These strategically worded prompts also enable teachers to scaffold and stretch students’ expressive language. Here are a few examples that would work with different read-aloud texts:
- Fiction: Would you be friends with this character? What would you do if you faced this problem? What did this character teach us?
- Nonfiction: What are you picturing in your mind? What are you wondering? What facts feel important? Now that we have this information, what will we do?
Offer multiple participation options
Receptive, expressive, and written language don't always develop at the same rate. This is why it is beneficial to provide plenty of opportunities for low-stakes participation. During an interactive read-aloud, you could invite students to “turn and talk” and share their thoughts, ideas, reactions, and wonders with a partner. However, you might also try one of these twists on the typical way students participate:
- Pause & ponder
- Stop & act
- Listen & respond
- Stop & sketch
- Stop & jot
- Imagine & share…
Encourage students to use their full linguistic repertoires
While students are always encouraged to use the language that feels most comfortable for them, teachers can also support language development by utilizing icons (visual prompts) and sentence frames. Although particularly useful for those learning an additional language, this kind of support could benefit everyone in the room. These reference tools increase confident participation. Here are a couple of additional ideas that promote active participation in read-aloud experiences:
- Co-create stems with students, using words and phrases that feel authentic for those currently in the room.
- Post sentence stems and frames in more than one language.
- “Pre-introduce” a text to a small group of multilingual learners and/or those with differing processing or speech abilities. Then, when the text is later revisited during a whole-class lesson, students feel ready to participate.
Classroom community, conversation, and joy have never been more important. Read-alouds bring all this together! The above tips represent a few (of the many) ways we provide the space for student voices to be centered and amplified. What else do you consider when choosing texts to share with young learners? How else do you ensure experiences feel warm and welcoming? What will you put into action?
About the author
Pam Koutrakos is an experienced educator who has worked as a teacher, instructional coach, and consultant. She is the author of Word Study That Sticks: Best Practices K-6, The Word Study That Sticks Companion: Classroom-Ready Tools for Teachers and Students, K-6, and Mentor Texts That Multitask: A Less-Is-More Approach to Integrated Literacy Instruction, K-8. Pam has blogged for ILA, NCTE, CCIRA, Learning Without Tears, MiddleWeb, Gravity Goldberg LLC, Two Writing Teachers, and Corwin Connect. She presents at conferences and events across the country.