Do you have fond childhood memories of sitting with a special adult and listening to them read one of your favorite stories? I vividly remember my dad reading The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling to me and how we laughed together at the funny voices he used. As an educator, you know how important those moments are for building warm connections, enjoying time together, and learning about many things. So, even if you missed out on those moments as a child, you want to create those moments for the children in your classroom. With careful planning, you can be confident that your read-alouds will be exciting, effective learning opportunities.
Intentional planning is key to an engaging and fun read-aloud. Always begin by reading the story yourself to be sure how it supports your learning objectives—what your focus will be as you share it with the children. As you plan, jotting your ideas on sticky notes and placing them in the book is a helpful way to keep all of your ideas at the ready. It is important to consider how you will:
When doing a virtual read-aloud, you also need to have the technology prepared so the children will be able to see the pictures and hear you clearly. Doing a “tech check” is always a great idea.
Set the Stage
Set Clear Expectations
Before you begin reading, help the children focus and prepare to listen. Being proactive prevents problems from developing. Remind the children of any classroom expectations that will help them get the most out of the experience.
Let’s find a place where you’re comfortable and can see. While we read this book, we’re going to wiggle and make noises. Let’s remember to keep in our personal spaces so we keep each other safe.
Just like when you’re reading a book in the classroom, set clear expectations for how to participate in a virtual read-aloud. Rules can include watching an entire recorded reading, raising hands to ask questions, looking at the pictures, muting microphones, and so on.
We are going to listen to a story. When we’re listening to a story, our eyes are on the pictures, our ears are listening, and our computers are on mute.
Create a Connection before Reading
Set the tone for your time together by smiling and using a warm, enthusiastic voice. Explain why you chose the book and what you’ll be focusing on as you read. Invite the children to make a personal connection as well.
I’m excited to read this story with you today about a lion who is trying to make friends. Tell me what you know about lions. How do you think this lion is feeling? When have you felt that way? What is a friend?
Even if your read-aloud is a recording and your students can’t engage with you live, you can still take a moment before reading to build a connection. Smile and greet the children using a warm voice. Share how you’re feeling and ask how the children are feeling.
How are you today? [pause] I’m doing well but I miss you! I’m excited to read this book with you because it reminds me of my own dog, Molly [show picture of dog]. Do you have any pets?
Maximize Student Interest and Engagement
Now, it’s time to see your planning come to life as you invite children to participate during the read-aloud. They can chant a rhyme with you or mimic the movements or sounds in the story. There might even be a way to involve hands-on participation with materials related to the story. Involving as many modalities as possible helps to boost children’s engagement so they can get the most out of your read-aloud.
Show me how you jump like a bunny! And let’s say it together: “Hopping, hopping, never stopping!”
In a virtual story time, it’s harder to have hands-on opportunities. However, you can still maximize children’s engagement as you would in person. Try using a variety of voices and inviting children to participate verbally and with movements. If the read-aloud is prerecorded so students can’t interact with it live, remember to pause during your recording, leaving time for children to respond.
The dinosaurs marched up the hill. ROAR! [pause] Can you roar? Let’s hear your loudest roar! [pause] Let’s see your biggest stomping feet!
Make Connections and Ask Questions
As you read, consult your sticky note ideas for the questions, connections, and vocabulary plans you made. You may have more ideas than you need. That’s okay—you can use them when the children ask you to read it again! Effective facilitation involves a balance of following the children’s lead as they show their interest and also keeping the focus of your plans. Most of all, enjoy the story and allow it to flow without too many interruptions.
As you read, look for opportunities to invite children to share their ideas and talk about how the story relates to their lives. Promote children’s higher-order thinking skills by pausing and inviting children to predict, compare, and discuss.
Whether your read-aloud is in person, virtual, or recorded, ask questions such as:
Your classroom is a busy place. But before moving from a read-aloud to the next part of your day, take a moment to summarize the discussion and ideas from the book. Whether you’re reading in person or in a virtual setting, provide an opportunity for the children to connect and reflect by asking questions such as:
With thoughtful planning, enthusiastic reading, and engaging opportunities to participate, your read-alouds will create special memories for the children in your classroom—and a love for learning that can last a lifetime.
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When I was a teacher, I can remember taking care to intentionally plan differentiated, or individualized, instruction. And, when I was teaching pre-K I added the same level of intentionality to which materials were available in interest areas, and how I approached transitions throughout the day.
While any level of intentionally, specifically in relation to planning, is important -- I missed a critical opportunity in being more intentional in my interactions with the children in my class.
There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.