“Did I have you in seventh-grade language arts?”
As the spark of recognition intensifies, the first question is followed by, “Do you still read The Glass Castle to your students?”
Read-alouds leave an impression on students long after they leave the classroom.
There are different ways you can include read-alouds within your classroom routines. You can use them as a warm-up for the day’s lesson or integrate them as part of a larger unit of study about reading or writing effectively. Students can even use read-alouds themselves to go on self-guided reading and writing journeys. I’ll share with you a lesson where I used a read-aloud to teach writing and then share examples of independent interdisciplinary projects that students can do.
A Read-Aloud Lesson
Vocabulary building (5–10 minutes): When students enter the room, a new vocabulary word from the day’s read-aloud is on display. This immediately engages kids, and they quickly settle in—for one thing, they know they’ll soon hear the read-aloud.
We study and understand the word in a variety of ways. Through vocabulary immersion games, students learn how to apply the unfamiliar word by writing original sentences, researching synonyms and antonyms, and creating a pictorial representation of it. The culmination of this portion of class is that students share their work with their peers.
As an extension of the lesson, when students come across unfamiliar words, they use these same vocabulary techniques. It’s inspiring to hear one student say to another, “I also learned that word from a book I was reading!” When students read their own books, I encourage them to make their own word discoveries as part of our vocabulary practice.
The read-aloud (5 minutes): After we discuss as a class the key story developments from the previous day, I begin the read-aloud. Looking around the room, I can tell the students are completely immersed. At this point, the text for them comes to life. To sustain the buzz in the classroom and encourage discussion, I make sure the read-aloud ends on a cliffhanger.
Discussion (5–10 minutes): We transition from the read-aloud to students talking in small groups and then into a whole-class discussion. Instead of my asking a single question, which may limit responses, students use discussion starters like the ones below, which allow for a more creative flow of ideas and increased participation:
- I’m thinking…
- What stood out to me was...
- A question I have is…
- I’m wondering…
- A connection I made was…
- I feel…
- I disagree with…
- I can relate to...
- I would change...
This is a student-led segment of class where students call on one another. It frequently results in passionate, animated debates, with everyone eager to express their viewpoints. “If I were the dad, I would never have done that!” one student might argue. “What he should’ve done instead was....” Then another student will add to the discussion. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of selecting an evocative read-aloud text for stimulating productive discussion.
Reading and writing mini-lesson and workshop (30 minutes): I use the read-aloud text as a model to demonstrate a reading or writing strategy during the mini-lesson. Take, for example, the goal of encouraging students to include setting details in their writing. I’ll begin by handing out copies of the read-aloud text. Next, students collaborate in small groups to highlight, analyze, and discuss the passage’s setting details.
Students then go through their own independent reading book looking for examples of setting details. Finally, they write and highlight vivid setting details in their own pieces, then present their favorites to the rest of the class.
Further Creative Connections
The read-aloud also provides a platform for other creative explorations. Here are a couple to consider.
Projects: Since reading aloud Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle, my students are inspired to create real or digital models and floor plans of their own glass castles. Everything from cardboard dioramas and meticulous doodles to Minecraft and Tinkercad mansions demonstrates my students’ ingenuity and excitement. During a gallery walk showcase, they describe their models using the vocabulary they’ve learned. They share feedback and celebrate each other’s creativity.
Playwriting and performances: Students reenact or create new situations based on the day’s read-aloud. Groups use the guiding questions below to plan out their ideas before drafting their skits.
- Describe the characters in the scene. How do they look? How do they act? Decide which group members will perform each role.
- Will your scene have a narrator or be told from a first-person perspective?
- What problem does a character or characters face?
- What’s the theme or lesson? What message should your audience take away from your performance that will leave an impression?
- What props and/or creative elements will you include?
For example, I’ve had students write a scene from Quixote the cat’s perspective from The Glass Castle, depicting his new life after getting tossed out of a car window.
When students act out characters’ experiences, it also cultivates empathy and helps them to relate to the story on a deeper level. Often my students choose to reenact scenes of homelessness, filming themselves outdoors in winter, lacking essentials.
Read-alouds can be expanded outside of language arts. Here are just a handful of the areas that my students explored based on their own interests in subjects related to The Glass Castle.
- Create tourist brochures with information about the cities where the characters lived
- Read articles about underlying issues in the United States, such as poverty and food insecurity
Math and science:
- Collect and compare statistical data about the various cities where the author lived
- Investigate things that interested the father character, such as binary numerals and the solar system
- Write and perform songs based on characters’ experiences
Read-alouds encourage enthusiasm and creativity in the classroom, transforming isolated lessons into ones that stick. They encourage students to think critically, foster a sense of community in the classroom, and make learning fun and enjoyable. I’ve never looked back since I started reading aloud to my classes years ago.