Interactive Read Aloud:
How To Do It and Why It Works

Every teacher should know how to do an interactive read aloud.  Here is why it works and how to do it.

When you consider a framework for best literacy methods within a classroom, daily read alouds from a variety of genres should be a foundational teaching practice.

There are a variety of purposes for reading books out loud. Sometimes it is simply for pleasure, and that is an experience many students never received. 

  • develop background knowledge necessary for understanding a topic
  • target vocabulary development
  • demonstrate prosody
  • learn how to inference, make judgements and use meta-cognition strategies
  • integrate higher order questioning skills
  • set the stage for a unit or lesson
  • develop connections to a text (text-to-self, world or another text)
  • meet academic content standards at a students frustration level

However you choose to use reading aloud to kids, it should be done in a variety of ways across different genres, every single day.

What is an Interactive Read Aloud?

Interactive Read Aloud infographic

An interactive read aloud is comprised of a series of purposeful activities that also incorporates reciprocal teaching.

  • Previewing the book
  • Scaffolding on prior knowledge
  • Modeling vocabulary development
  • Teaching reading fluency
  • Emphasizing elements of the story
  • Asking purposeful questions
  • Using think-alouds to assist comprehension
  • Summarizing the story to bring closure

Texts used during the interactive read aloud should be from a wide variety of genres. They should tap into the readers' interests and be full of rich vocabulary. These same texts can be used as part of a focus lesson where kids learn to read during the Reading Workshop.

Stories about Cinderella are fabulous for interactive read alouds!

Strategies for Reading Aloud

1. Previewing the Book

Previewing the book is the first step of an interactive read aloud. It means to look at the elements of the text before reading to children. During the preview time I begin scaffolding the students prior knowledge to those elements.

This means taking what the students already know and helping them to use it to make sound predictions about the text. Each prediction should be based on what they see or hear in the preview. Always ask why they made the prediction.

  • Look at the cover and predict if the book is fiction or non-fiction and why. Older grades should predict what specific genre they think the book is. What story elements would they expect to find in this particular genre (i.e. fairy tales have animals that talk).
  • Ask what the title is, who the author is and if there is an illustrator shown. This is especially important for primary grades who need continual reinforcement of basic story elements.
  • Discuss the type of artwork used on the cover. The artwork is often a clue to the type of genre a book is. I also like to refer back to this if the students write a story similar to the read aloud as they can include artwork like the author and illustrator did. A great example of this is "Little Cloud" by Eric Carle.
  • Read the back cover. This is a great teaching moment for discussing a "hook" that draws readers into the story and allows an opportunity for refining predictions.
  • Take a picture walk - that means do not read any of the text! Give the students a chance to look at the pictures to begin to construct meaning. If it is not a picture book, take a chapter walk - use the chapter titles in the table of contents to make predictions about each part of the book.

2. Scaffolding on Prior Knowledge

Scaffolding on prior knowledge means that the teacher is helping students to make predictions and connections to what they already know. This is critical for deep comprehension. Think about it: if I was asked to read a book about biochemical engineering, I can guarantee you that I would understand very little of it.

They need you to help them relate to the text in order to make concise, accurate predictions and connections. This is also the time to introduce rich vocabulary words found in the text.

*Using read aloud books is a great Tier 1 Response To Intervention. It is simply a best teaching practice that is good for all learners.

3. Emphasizing Elements of the Story

When you choose a book to use as an interactive read aloud, be aware of the elements of the story. Elements of a story are generally concerned with setting, characters, and the plot (problem and solution) in the primary grades. If you are working with older students, you then need to address exposition and climax, as well as introducing the terms conflict and resolution instead of problem and solution.

This is also the appropriate place to discuss what readers would expect to find within certain genres. These elements should be discussed through predictions, scaffolding and as you read the story. For example:

Elements of a Fairy Tale

  • "Once upon a time..."
  • Conflict between good and bad characters
  • Magic
  • Events often occur in threes or sevens

Elements of Historical Fiction

  • Characters are people who really could have lived at that time
  • Place and time are set in a real historical period/location
  • Most events are historically accurate
  • Characters are shaped by the setting

4. Asking Purposeful Questions

Consider the questions you model, if they are of real value, and where they fall within Bloom's Taxonomy Questions.

Gear your questions towards a specific comprehension skill you are working on, such as inferencing or recalling a sequence of events. Kids learn to read and comprehend when they are hear the teacher model purposeful thinking using Think Alouds and are given opportunities to respond either orally or in writing.

  • "I wonder why did the character said that?"
  • "Who is going to be the hero in this situation? Why?"
  • "That is a great word the author used to describe the character! It must mean ____, because I remember he did this earlier."
  • "This story reminds me of another one I read..."
  • "What do you think the author is trying to tell us on this page?"

5. Summarizing and Sharing Thoughts About the Story

Summarizing the story is essential to solidify your students' comprehension of the text. An interactive read aloud should always include how the students related to the story.

Making deep connections and inferences are critical reading comprehension skills that are embedded in helping kids learn to read.  Reading stories isn't a waste of class time - it's an intelligent and purposeful use of our time.

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