8 Read Aloud Strategies

I love to read aloud to kids.  I put out a googledoc (please add more!) on twitter asking for good read aloud books for kids.  Tons of responses came back!  To be honest, I haven't heard of half of them, so I need to get studying.

Modeling visual reading is a worthwhile endeavor for any class.  However, when reading aloud there is always the chance that kids will be left behind, uninterested, unengaged, or lost in the plot.  Particularly with ESL students in the class.  How can we make the read aloud more visual? There are many strategies to help guard against these problems (bearing in mind that a book may not capture 100% of the kids imaginations, no matter what) and to help keep everybody on the same page.

Here are 8 that have helped my group.

1) Slow-down, model, discuss
When reading aloud, it is beneficial to stop, especially after something important has just happened.  This is easier to do if you have read the book that you are reading, but it is also fun to read a book that you have never tried yourself.  Knowing when to stop and when to reflect is important.  I have stopped too much and made them lose interest, and I have stopped enough and they have gotten lost.  A dynamic harmony is needed, and it completely depends on knowing your class.  I find that asking a probing question and then having them a) think about it individually, b) discuss the details with each a partner, and then c) come together and talk as a group, is a great structure.  Eventually, this process becomes automatic, and as you ask a question, they will immediately think, then share, then discuss.

2) Maps and Drawings
When reading Coraline by Neil Gaiman, we were also thinking about ways to make the story visual.  As Susan Zimmerman says, creating the movie in your head.  This is a great book for this, very dark and haunting.  To take it further, we drew pictures of what the setting looked like.  What does the garden look like to you?  How about other mothers apartment?  The mouse circus?  We also drew maps of where everything was in relation to the other.  Each map and each image were different, but they represented what we saw, and how we were visualizing the story.  We collected all of the diagrams into a portfolio that we kept on our lap as we read, flipping to the pages to help the visual grow, adding to it as the story went and we got more details.  The floor plans of the building were helpful to keep us oriented in time and space.  The JHS teacher in my school also did this with City of Ember, creating a 3D model of the city as they read.

3) Personal Connections
During our reading of The Whale Rider, I put up three large pieces of paper above our carpet; text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world.  Anytime that we read, I placed a bunch of sticky notes on the carper and everything that kids made a connection to the events in the story, they wrote them down and stuck them up.  At the end of our reading session, I always tried (not always successfully) to make time to discuss the connections and have the kids explain them.  This was done with a partner, or sometimes as a whole group.  Of course, I would model and stick notes up as well, and talk about my connections.  This usually sparked new connections.

4) Plot Diagrams
When reading the Tale of Despereaux, we plotted the plot on a piece of paper.  Despereaux is a deliciously complex little novel, not the subject or the themes, but in how it moves.  The author takes you back in time, forward in time, multiple stories are overlapping, key events are happening at the same time and then in the end it all comes together.  They loved thinking about the shape of the plot, and I saw some really interesting risk-taking in their own story writing.  They tried to make their own stories more non-linear.  It took a model from a master to help them see how this is sometimes more engaging for the audience.

5) Character Trees
At the moment we are reading Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh.  For this book we are trying to make trees that connect all the characters together, and how they are related and interact with each other.  This is first time I have tried this, and it is too early to say if it is effective.  However, during Despereaux we made a table of the different character types; mice, rats, and humans.  I used this table, which was front and center when reading, to orient attention to who the characters were.  After a while, it become unnecessary  as the kids knew who was who.  I am convinced this table helped them to keep the many characters straight.  We also did the same thing during the Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

6) Questioning/Wondering
When I read my class The Giver, we used the sticky notes to ask questions.  We had a question grid to help us get to deeper questions, while at the same time recognizing that your basic yes/no/factual question is incredibly important to understanding the plot.  These questions let us some great conversations about types of questions, or classifications.  It also dovetailed nicely into making inferences.  At the end of every session, we would go through the questions, take down the ones that we could answer, and reclassify the ones that we could not.  It was really interesting to see the questions that remained at the end of the book, and how the potential answers were based on our own perception of the story.

7) Graffiti
When reading the Hunger Games with my class, one boy would jot down little pictures as we read.  One day, I encouraged him to share these pictures with the class and explain them.  He was capturing his favorite scenes in visual form.  Before I knew it, they were all joining in and all jotting down their own doodles and drawing.  At the end of the book, we had about 4-5 huge pieces of paper filled with random little moments captured from the book.  Like a photo book of our favorite memories.

8) New Worlds
I haven't done this, but a teaching mentor in Toronto did this.  While reading ??? (can't remember the book, something by Eric Walters) she had the students create their own side stories that were connected to the main story.  Usually it involved taking minor characters and making them more 3D, or minor occurrences and giving them more depth.  I wasn't around long enough to see the end, but it was fascinating to watch how they engaged with the book and used the context of the book to create something new, but believable.

Any more?  What do you do during read aloud?


  1. Thanks for sharing this collection of strategies. In particular I like #8 as a way of responding to the story through writing. It could enhance their understanding of the perspectives of the minor characters. I'll try it out with my students and see what happens.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I've done it with picture books before, Flotsam is a great resource. Each kid took an interesting thing that they noticed and created a backstory. Never tried it with a novel, but it would be interesting to create some more complexity to the world of the story.


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