Interactive Read-Alouds in the Early Grades

Guiding preschool and early elementary students to interact with texts can engage and empower them to develop their reading skills.

August 3, 2023
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When teachers read aloud and also let students interact with a text in meaningful ways, they’re offering one of the highest-impact instructional moves—interactive read-alouds (IRAs). Interactive read-alouds are important all year, but especially at the beginning of the year.

Through IRA, students can see themselves and learn about others; we can build community and normalize the range of feelings that students have at the beginning of the school year. When we offer a range of texts, we honor students’ funds of knowledge. When teachers read to students, we provide a model of expert reading. The following are some ideas for high-quality IRAs to start the school year.

Making a Read-Aloud Interactive

A read-aloud becomes interactive when a teacher strategically plans for opportunities for students to interact with the text. By reading the text to students, the teacher is taking on the cognitive load of decoding, enabling students to think deeply about a text. I recommend stopping for interaction four times during a 10-minute read-aloud; don’t stop too many times—it feels choppy and inauthentic.  The interaction can include a question or noticing followed by asking students to do one of the following:

  • Stop and think.
  • Stop and jot down a few words or a quick sketch.
  • Turn and talk: After some time to think, students turn and talk to a partner. (Often partners are assigned, so the students have built a relationship and a talk routine.)
  • Gesture by giving a thumbs-up/thumbs-down, a fist to five, etc.
  • Act it out: Make a facial expression or use body language to show an emotion that a character may be feeling.

When planning for interactions, I consider the standards I’m teaching. Then I preview the text and choose where I’ll stop and what I’ll ask students to do, and then write these on a sticky note to refer to when I read. Often I’ll also provide sentence stems to support discourse and thinking.

IRA is one of the most impactful teaching strategies teachers can use; it gives students opportunities to interact with complex, grade-level text, which is necessary for rigor and growth. It provides a teacher with modeling fluency, effective comprehension, and vocabulary strategies, all of which students need for strong reading development.

An interactive read-aloud builds listening comprehension, which is important for our youngest students. Beginning readers read simpler texts, so teachers need to expose young students to texts with higher language demands early in order to prepare them for later reading. (Students can read from within several levels, depending on interest and background knowledge, so you’ll be choosing texts more personalized for each student during their small group and individual reading.)

Interactive reading provides oral language opportunities that are crucial for building vocabulary and knowledge. It helps unpack the code of written text that empowers students both as readers and in their own choices as writers. According to Shifting the Balance, by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates, “Interactive read-aloud provides an important bridge between spoken and written language combining a more conversational guided experience with the more complex and formal language of books.” 

Selecting a narrative text

An effective IRA begins with carefully selecting a text. I ask myself, “Of all the texts in the world, why am I choosing this one for this group of students?” Students need to feel a sense of belonging in order to learn and that a sense of belonging can grow from seeing one’s identity represented in the texts read.

Over time, I strive to provide a variety of narratives with diverse characters to expose my students to new perspectives. By offering a variety of perspectives, I model that we value and learn from differences. By presenting a range of human experiences, I strive to normalize the range of emotions we have as humans. Carefully selected texts provide windows and doors into others’ experiences and reflections of one’s own experiences. They have the potential to humanize the classroom and the curriculum.

Choosing a range of texts 

IRAs can take the form of a variety of texts beyond narratives. I use Gholdy Muhammad’s definition of text: “anything that can be read—both print texts and nonprint texts.” I’ve used poetry, lyrics, images, video clips, letters, and nonfiction texts, depending on the priority standards of a lesson and what students will find the most engaging.

Texts can both honor the funds of knowledge, interests, and expertise that students bring to the classroom and expose students to new topics and build background. Nonfiction texts can help students grow skills and expertise in a variety of subject areas, increasing their disciplinary literacy. They can read like a scientist, an artist, and more. This is empowering and helps nurture a learner identity.

When we choose texts intentionally, students feel seen, heard, valued. Stories and texts can normalize the range of human experiences. We sit together in community to read and delve into the text, which builds a sense of belonging. IRA is a beautiful and important strategy to use at the beginning of the school year and throughout the year. 

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Filed Under

  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • Pre-K
  • K-2 Primary

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