The interactive read aloud, a dialogic teaching strategy, is often used in junior year classrooms (McGee and Schickedanz, 2007).
However, this practice can be easily used across the primary school. The interactive read aloud practice provides a systematic approach to analytical discussion and the introduction of new vocabulary through the repeated reading of a text (McGee and Schickedanz, 2007; Beck and McKeown 2001).
Ideally rich picture books or non-fiction texts should be used for interactive read alouds to provide opportunities for predicting, inference making and adjusting of thoughts as the reading unfolds.
Read more information on dialogic classroom discussion.
A suggested procedure for an interactive read aloud
Conducted across three or more sessions with a text such as “Go to sleep Jessie!” by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood (2014) Published by Little Hare, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont.
Examine the front cover, title and blurb. Include a crafted book introduction that outlines the problem clearly for students:
This is a story about a big sister who has to share her bedroom with the new baby, Jessie. Jessie upsets the peace and quiet by waking up and screaming all the time. The big sister gets very frustrated, then exhausted when Jessie doesn’t stop screaming. Jessie’s parents try to help stop the screaming too. Let’s find out who finally gets Jessie to sleep.
Encourage initial connections to be made, especially if students have younger siblings. The main goal of the first read aloud is for meaning and enjoyment. However, key words in the text can be explained in context or demonstrated using dramatic gestures. For example:
- When reading the word ‘stomp’ demonstrate the moments of stomping up the stairs.
- When reading the clause ‘tears are running down her cheeks’ gesture with fingers to show the tears coming from the eyes and falling on the cheeks.
- When reading the word ‘snuggles’ say, “snuggles means being able to curl up into a warm comfortable position”. Link to the illustration on the last page. “See, Jessie is doing that next to her big sister”.
After reading the entire book, the teacher asks why questions which require students to make some inferences. For example:
- I wonder why the big sister couldn’t get to sleep when Dad took Jessie for a ride in the car?
- I wonder why Dad had to drive around the block again and again when Jessie was in the car?
Students retell the text before listening to the story being read again. Encourage repetition of the vocabulary elaborated upon in session one.
The goal of the second read is to strengthen comprehension and provide further opportunities for analytic discussion. As the teacher reads she replaces gestural definitions with verbal ones and supports inference making. For example:
- “Stomp means stepping loudly and noisily. Big sister must have done that because she was feeling angry”. Encourage students to make additional inferences by asking them to look at the body language and face of the big sister at the bottom of the stairs before she stomps up them. Ask, “Ask “What does the illustration show? What does it tell us?””
- “Tears are running down her cheeks means Jessie is crying a lot and that means she must be very upset. How else do we know Jessie is very upset?”” Refer to illustrations throughout the text to find examples.
- The second session ends with another question, often one that goes beyond the text. For example, ask students a ‘what if’ question.
- “I wonder what would have happened if Jessie did not go to sleep after her big sister got into the cot with her? What would her big sister have done next?””
Encourage students to problem solve and elaborate on their initial responses.
This session begins by checking back in with students about the problem of the story.
- "We all remember the problem in the story, don’t we? Who would like to tell us why the big sister is exhausted and frustrated?"
The third interactive read aloud diverges from the previous sessions as the teacher and the students orally reconstruct the text. Reconstruction differs from retelling in that in addition to the retelling, explanations are given for what caused events and inferences are expressed about how the characters are feeling about those events. This is done by the teacher reading part of the text to students but also strategically picking double page spreads for students to reconstruct. For example:
- The teacher pauses at the double page spread where the big sister is looking out the bedroom window. She first asks her students “What’s happening here?” and prompts her students to look at the illustrations and retell what they see. Follow up questions are also asked such as “How do you think the big sister is feeling now that Jessie has gone from the bedroom and is in the car with Dad?” “What does the big sister do next?”
The length of the book and student responses will guide how many oral reconstructions are undertaken. The goal of the student discussion is to prompt students to think analytically, support their contentions and justify their opinions.
Revisiting the vocabulary that has been highlighted and reinforced in each read aloud also occurs in the reconstruction. However, in the third read, vocabulary definitions are further extended to include examples outside the text. For example:
- The teacher focuses on the double page spread where the big sister is coming down the stairs and Mum is reading a newspaper. As the students are reconstructing the text about the big sister feeling angry and stomping up the stairs to her room, the teacher asks an elaborating question. “Do you know any animals that might stomp like the big sister?” A student might respond, A student might respond: “I think the big sister’s stomping reminds me of elephants stampeding or when horses stomp their feet waiting to be fed”.
Lastly, the teacher concludes with another why question to check comprehension. For example: “Why do you think Jessie stopped crying when her big sister got into the cot with her?” By carefully planning and questioning, the teacher provides prompts for students to present their own commentary, make inferences, justify their opinions and ask more questions.
Beck, Isabel. L., and McKeown, Margaret.G. (2001). Text talk: Capturing the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher. 55(1), 10-20.
McGee, Lea M., and Schickedanz, Judith A. (2007). Repeated interactive read-alouds in preschool and kindergarten. The Reading Teacher. 60(8), 742-751.