Monday, July 10, 2017

Three Ways to Rock Your Read Aloud

 A read aloud for an elementary teacher is one of the most powerful strategies that you can implement in your classroom.  As a rookie teacher, my read aloud was one of my favorites parts of my day.  It was relaxing opportunity for me to share my favorite books with my students.  Unfortunately, I was missing so many chances for powerful instruction.  I only had one purpose which was to share my love for reading and for that particular book.  While that is still the basis for my read aloud time, I have broadened my playbook.  I am going to share three strategies so you can teach powerfully with your interactive read aloud!

Three strategies to help make your read aloud lessons more effective for elementary students.

Book Selection
The most important part of a read aloud is your book selection.  An ideal read aloud is a book that is too difficult for almost all of your students.  The themes should be something that is engaging for the age group you are reading to.  The text difficulty is important because the teacher is doing the work of the text but the students and the teacher are doing the work of constructing the meaning.

Some questions to ask when selecting a read aloud text:

  • Is the reading level of the book too difficult for almost every student? (If it is not, you might want to use the book during shared reading.)
  • Will my students be engaged throughout the text?
  • Are the characters relatable for my students?  You want a mix of characters with some being just like your students and some being very different (on the outside) but then they discover that they have many of the same problems.
  • Have I chosen from a variety of genres?  We often think that read alouds are primarily fiction.  Can you pair a non-fiction text with a fiction text to add more meaning to both books?
  • Are there wonderful classic books I can choose?  Is there an author that you could read many of his or her books?

While it takes valuable planning time to pre-read and prepare discussion points for your read aloud, your time reading to students will be infinitely more valuable.  The most important thing to remember as you prepare is that you need to limit your teaching and discussion so you don't interrupt the flow of the book.  Remember your purpose is to teach children to enjoy and make meaning of a text.  Stopping every other page to discuss something can stop the flow of the story so students do not enjoy or understand the text.

Some tips for preparing a read aloud:

  • Try to stop only at planned interruptions. (This is difficult for me)
  • Try to anticipate where students are going to need support with the text.  This could be with vocabulary, a difficult concept, background knowledge, or where there is a great deal of inference needed to understand the text.
  • Plan a couple of places where you ask more open-ended questions.  I like to use question stems:
    • I wonder ...
    • I wish...
    • I think ...
    • I noticed...
  • If my purpose is a skill or strategy I save the teaching for the end.  I try to see if the students somehow use the strategy or skill first so I can reference that in my teaching.  
Three strategies to help make your read aloud lessons more effective for elementary students.

The Read Aloud Lesson
Your job when reading aloud is to do all of the work required to read the words.  By doing this you free up the minds of your students to concentrate on meaning.  This is so important because many times if a student has not been read to at home, they have missed this component.  When students come to school and have not been read to since birth, they think that reading is about letter sounds.  They have missed out on years of vocabulary and concept development.  As students move to upper elementary they need to be read to in order to introduce them to higher level concepts without them having to navigate a complex text to read it.

Tips for reading aloud:

  • Read with prosody.  This is a fancy way to say you need to read with a great deal of expression.  Your students will work to imitate your prosody when they read.
  • Stop only at the times you have planned.  This will help the students to easily follow the story or information of the read aloud.
  • Stop and add support or information to help them understand the text but this should not happen too often.  If you have to frequently stop then the text might be too hard.
  • Invite the students to comment on the text rather than you driving the discussion during the read aloud.  The less teacher talk there is, the more the students will talk.  The goal is for the student discussion of the text to construct the meaning rather than a teacher dominated retelling of the book.
  • Gently bring the discussion back to the book if student's discussion leads them away from the meaning of the book.
  • Let your read aloud time be a joyous part of your day.  Your enthusiasm about the book and reading will be contagious.

I hope these tips help you make your read aloud time even more productive.  For more information on read aloud strategies, Who's Doing the Work? How To Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris.  The entire book is wonderful and they have an entire chapter devoted to helping students do more thinking during a read aloud.  Please leave a comment with your favorite read aloud tip!

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