How do you keep your students engaged in a read aloud?
The read aloud looks a lot different in a secondary classroom. It's not like the days when I was teaching six and seven year olds who ran to the carpet squealing with delight because it was read aloud time. Many secondary students enjoy read alouds for a different reason... it's a good time to take a nap. So how do you keep kids who have been up all night engaged in a Fortnite Battle Royale to then engage in a text that you are reading to them?
1. Be a Good Reader
Fortunately I got a lot of practice reading aloud before I became a secondary teacher, both as a second grade teacher and as a children's librarian before that. And I love reading aloud, but I realize that not everyone has had this much preparation to be a good oral reader. If you aren't as confident in your read aloud skills, sign up for Audible. Audible is an audio book store that is connected to Amazon. I use it all of the time and it's fantastic. You can log in and play the audio book for your class and not have to worry about stumbling over words.
However, if you put on an audio book and start filing papers, grading papers, checking your emails on your phone, etc. your students will see that as a signal that this text isn't important and they may not pay attention to it either.
2. Choose a good book.
One of the reasons that I do more read alouds than I would like to is because I can't just go out and buy 30-60 copies of that great new book that everyone is talking about. But also, I believe that read alouds are a wonderful thing! Students need to hear good reading from current texts. Through a shared text they can have important conversations about themes, perspectives, and real world conflicts that they are making connections to. If you choose a great text that your students can identify with in some way, they will have rich discussions about the connections that they are making.
How do you choose such a text? First of all, know your students. What are they interested in? What life experiences do they bring to the discussion? Solicit their input on what texts you will read. And read lots of books and blogs about books. Join groups on social media sites and ask other teachers for their recommendations. Follow hashtags like #BuildYourStack , #BookADay, #ProjectLIT, and #thebookchat Some good places to start:
3. Give your students something to look at.
As I was reading Peter Brown's "The Wild Robot" I used the Snapchat App to make notes about my thinking as I was reading the book. Tara Martin calls these visual text annotations BookSnaps.
At the time, I didnt know what I was going to do with these snaps-I was just collecting some notes about what I wanted to highlight from this text when I read it in my class. They actually turned out to be great for these visual reading guides (pictured below). This was a novel that I read to the class with only two copies of the book. A concern that I have when doing a read aloud is that some of my students are not engaged, and not comprehending the text because just listening without anything to look at isn't enough for them. So I added my booksnaps to Google slides and created a slide show to accompany the reading.
This not only helped my students, but it helped me too. I teach multiple sections of ELA and that means I read the same chapters of the text multiple times per day. When doing repeated readings I sometimes forget to stop and talk about something in the text because I feel like I've done it already. These reading guides helped to keep me from skipping over things I wanted to stop and talk about, and they helped me to not lose my voice.
When kids miss class, they borrow an extra copy of the book to catch up on the reading that they missed, but there really wasn't a way for these students to catch up on the discussion of the text that they missed. The reading guides helped with that problem too.
I played the audio book of the text so that I could be focused on when to change they slides in the slide show and pause the reading. The comprehension and engagement were much inproved over the previous read aloud that we had done without the visual guide.
4. Give them something to do.
Sitting still and listening to someone read can make anyone sleepy. It's practically trained into kids from childhood through the bedtime routine of reading a story. An easy way to increase engagement with text during a read aloud is to give your students a piece of paper.
This simple notion can lead to some great results. Some students choose to make comic strip style recreations of multiple events from the text, while others chose to spend their time creating an image of a single, key moment in that week's reading. All I did was give them a sheet of blank paper on Monday. They kept the same paper for the week and either added more to it or continued working on the same image each day, until I collected their pages on Friday. This also helped eliminate my doubts as to whether or not they were paying attention--sometimes with a read aloud it is hard to tell. By looking at their sketches I could see that they were understanding which moments were important and they really enjoyed seeing other people's drawings when I displayed them on the bulletin board. This last part is key because I noticed that the sketches improved each week and I'm nearly certain that the reason for this is that they saw how someone else was sketching the text and incorporated those techniques into their sketches the following week.
I'd love to hear from you.
Please share your recommendations for great read alouds, for finding read alouds, blogs to follow, or strategies that you use to increase engagement during read alouds in the comments below.
I am an English teacher, Curriculum Designer, and Instructional Coach that is passionate about literature.
In each post I will offer a review of a young adult novel and suggestions for text pairings. These posts will often include links to digital resources for teaching the content referenced in the post, as well as digital lessons (I use Google Docs) which you can download for free. Subscribe to my blog so that you can get an email notification when a new book is highlighted.