Picture it: It’s time to start your next class read-aloud, and you have looked forward to reading a particular book to your students all year long. YOU are eager to begin reading, but you know that the moment you sit your kids on the carpet, your fairytale vision for this perfect storybook moment goes out the window with distractions, fidgeting, boredom, and most of your class zoning out. It’s a familiar frustration, isn’t it?
But have you ever reflected and asked yourself what you’ve done before, during, and after your class read-alouds to infuse genuine excitement and love for the narrative? Something that is beyond just stating your love for that title? Sit back and think about what you have done to foster engagement throughout the entire novel that keeps students looking forward to reading the next day. Reading to your class often comes with a “boring” connotation, and I am here to tell you in this post that YOU can change that with just one book. Let’s ramp up your class read-alouds by immersing your students in these experiences with memorable characters, instructional conversations, and interactive learning.
We are going to follow a theme that you are probably familiar with; the reading strategy we often use with students where we think about things “before, during, and after”. This first post in a three-part series is going to discuss ways to achieve the ultimate level of excitement before starting your class read-aloud. Before we can begin, we have a few essential things to check off our list. We must make sure we select the right text, prepare by reading ahead, plan out intentional reading instruction, set the expectations for our interactive story mat, conduct a book walk, and show a mentor picture book. Whew! It seems like a lot of preparation, but trust me, the end result is worth it.
Selecting the Text for Class Read-Alouds
First and foremost, the teacher has to be 100% bought in. It is important to select a text for your class read-alouds that you love, and that you feel your students will have an interest in. Your passion that shines through the words that you read has such a profound impact on the ears that are hearing it. When students feel your love for the text, they begin to reciprocate that same feeling, too. Picture books are absolutely an option for this and should never be underestimated. No matter the texts that you choose for class read-alouds, your own buy-in is key.
Read Ahead for the Read-Aloud
Once classroom teachers (that’s you!) have selected a high-interest text, then it is time to dive in. If the text has not been read before, it is crucial for the teacher to read ahead to anticipate its language nuances, emotions, talking points, and reading skills that you’ll highlight as the story unfolds. This enables you to share any connections you make to the text and prepare guiding questions to weave throughout the chapters.
Prep Activities and Story Mat
Sticking with the preparation topic, next on the list is to plan for the reading skills that you’ll be focusing on throughout the read-aloud. This will allow you to pull resources in advance that you will have your students use throughout the study. A remarkable resource I love using during read-alouds is interactive reading responses for notebooks. This resource is a great idea for any class read-aloud (can be used with ANY fiction or nonfiction titles) and keeps the engagement throughout the story high.
Another favorite way to create engagement during read-alouds is by creating a poster-sized interactive class story mat. For this, I create a place to list characters as we meet them, a space to jot down the setting as we travel to each one, an area to list questions as they arise, and a spot for a timeline that will show the story elements and plot (or true dates if your genre is nonfiction.) We simply use sticky notes to write on and stick under the corresponding category of the class story mat. The best part about sticky notes is they allow for thoughts to be moved as we synthesize new information. You will want to get this same setup ready for your students’ notebooks too, so that they also have a space to write these things down and refer back to.
Above is a class read-aloud story mat example.
Conduct a Book Walk Before Reading
Next up, it’s time to conduct a book walk. This is what I do the day before beginning a new book to ramp up my read-aloud with equal parts engagement and curiosity. I simply take photos from the text (or photos that relate to the text; for example: a map of Copenhagen if that is where the story takes place) as well as specific quotes or lines from the story and display them on construction paper around the classroom. As my young learners file in for the day, they immediately are captivated by the wonder and want to know why these different pages are hanging around the room.
Then, I encourage students to make their way around the room using sticky notes to record questions, insights, and predictions on each page. The whispers, conversations, and beaming faces of excitement always make my heart burst when I do this activity. We have now set the tone for the book and have bonded as a class through our anticipation for the journey we are about to embark on.
Here are students conducting a book walk before beginning a new class read-aloud. There are many benefits to this practice of exposing students to a new text.
Show a Visual Before Read-Alouds
Once students have completed the book walk and have been pondering all of their questions about this mystery text, it will be time to ignite their background knowledge. For this step in sparking engagement and interest in our class read-aloud, I show some kind of visual that is related to our text.
For example, if I am reading “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, I may create a slideshow that is going to pre-teach topics surrounding The Holocaust and World War 2 with age-appropriate photographs and information. (By the way, that book is AMAZING. Grab it here on Amazon for your next class read-aloud. Please note: book links in this post are affiliate links from Amazon.) I may also show a map of Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland to get the students to understand where these events were happening. Being able to provide something that your students can visually see will cultivate curiosity, trigger background knowledge on the topic, and allow your students to understand it more deeply.
Use a Mentor Text for Support
One last way to create buy-in before beginning a new class read-aloud is by throwing in a mentor text or picture book that relates. I keep going back to “Number the Stars” because it is one of my absolute favorites, but a picture book that I read before beginning that novel was “Rose Blanche” by Roberto Innocenti. Being able to give a glimpse into the topic (especially if doing a nonfiction book) gets the students to start imagining the storyline, creating wonder and interest in what is to come. This also allows you as the teacher to spiral in the skill of comparing and contrasting the two texts as your actual class read-aloud story unravels.
I ordered this book from Amazon, and you can grab your copy HERE!
The magic of your class read-aloud does not begin with the first word you read. It starts with the thoughtful preparation and passion that comes before the book. I want to challenge you to let your read-alouds become not just moments on the carpet but intense reading experiences that are waiting to happen with each book you choose. Let’s break the mold of letting read-alouds be thought of as “boring” or something we “don’t have time for.” They are valuable, and we can make them full of rich learning moments.
Be on the lookout for the next blog post about what to do now that you have done all things before beginning your class read-aloud. I will be discussing how to maintain that same excitement for the novel during and even after the text concludes. You can also check out my Interactive Read Alouds podcast episode to hear more about WHY they are so essential in the classroom. I am excited for you to be on this journey and to witness the love of read-alouds come alive in your classroom.