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Read-Alouds in the Classroom Environment


     As a child, I remember the excitement I felt each week when my class went to the library.  Not only were we allowed to check out fabulous books that we could take home to read, but the librarian actually read stories to us.  I was mesmerized every time she opened a new book and began to take us to other places, times, lands, adventures.  I could visualize what she reading in my head and hung on every word.  Because of those wonderful library encounters, I became hooked on books.

                                                                                                                                                                --Amme Davis

*It is our goal to introduce you to the topic of read-alouds and provide background, research, and ideas on the use of read-alouds in the classroom.*


     Read-alouds certainly made an important impact on my early literacy experiences.  Recently, there has been increasing research on the effectiveness of read-alouds in the classroom.  Barclay (2009) tells us that “high quality literature can capture young children’s attention and provide a basis for fostering comprehension of text, teaching rich words, and building fluency, phonological, and phonemic awareness.”  If teachers see the value of read-alouds in the classroom and use them effectively, children will have literary experiences that are meaningful, rich, and motivational.  Bandre, Colabucci, Parsons, and Son (2007) confirm this by stating “reading books to children provides them with a fluent model for oral reading, helps them develop print concepts, increases their vocabulary, and motivates them to read independently. 


Effective Read Aloud Strategies


      Reading different types of literature helps children learn to enjoy literature and reading. The right book can capture a young group of students attention and promote a lifelong love of reading. As teachers we understand the importance of reading aloud to children to encourage this enjoyment of reading.While we understand the value of this, reading aloud can also promote oral vocabulary development and listening comprehension. However, simply reading aloud is not enough. In order to be effective, teachers must be aware that the way a book is shared is critical. "Effective interactive read-alouds include a systematic approach that incorporates teachers' modeling of higher level thinking, asking thoughoutful questions calling for analytic talk, prompting children to recall a story in some way within a reasonable time frame, reading a single book repeatedly, and reading books related by topic" (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007).


     In Nanci Atwell’s book In the Middle she explains how she thought for a long time that read alouds were something done by teachers in the elementary grades as a means only to entertain young children.  Based on her student’s responses she learned this was far from the truth.  Everyone is fascinated by a good read-aloud. Hearing literature brings it to life and fills the classroom with an author’s language. The teacher’s voice becomes a bridge for kids, taking them into territories they might never have explored because they don’t yet have schemas for a genre, subject, author, or period. Read-alouds point kids toward new options in their choices of books and authors. They show kids how they might approach problems in their own writing. And they provide a communal reading experience in which we enter and love a book together (Atwell, 1998). Atwell (1998) believes that when reading aloud to children, it should not be the first time you have read that book. The meaning brought to a text causes your voice to grow from the familiarity with an author’s world. You shouldn’t be discovering that world aloud with your kids, but guiding them as they discover it by enacting the story with your voice.


  Celebrity Read Aloud Tour


Text Selection

    The book selected to read aloud is important. As McGee and Schickedanz stated (2007) fewer preschool and kindergarten teachers seem to be attempting to read what they consider to be sophisticated stories and nonfiction books in favor of predictiable books. Predictable books often follow a simple story and do not include opportunities to discuss character motivation, feelings and discussion of vocabulary. "Sophisticated picture books include, for example, stories in which readers must infer characters' motivations and thoughts and connect them to actions (i.e., causes and effects)"(McGee & Schichedanz, 2007). Reading these types of books allows teachers to engage children in analytic talk. It is through this type of talk that childrens vocabulary and comprehension is enhanced.


     Debbie Miller, within her book, Reading with Meaning, suggests using songbooks as an introduction to read alouds (2002).  The singsong books are fun, engaging, easy to learn and can be shared within the classroom community and at home.  After the students have been introduced to read alouds through songbooks, Miller suggest using a variety of books from a different "genre, author format and style" that can connect to the students' interest (Miller, 2002).  Once short stories have been introduced, the read alouds can include sections from a chapter book.


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Read-Alouds and Vocabulary Development


     Storybook reading is the most powerful source of new vocabulary (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991). Children are introduced to words in context through high-quality children’s literature, which is often missing in current pre-packaged reading programs.  It seems only logical that words should be taught in relation to the books and stories in which they are encountered.  Thus, read-alouds have become an important part of early reading instruction.  Biemiller (2001) tells us that “reading aloud and facilitating text-based discussions about words provide contexts and opportunities for children to learn new words before they have the reading skills necessary to acquire vocabulary independently”.  It is my goal to focus on studies exhibiting effective use of read-alouds in the classroom.





Repeated interactive read-alouds (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007)


     This is a research-based approach to comprehension and vocabulary in preschool and kindergarten.  The practice involves multiple readings of the same text, focusing on specific components using sophisticated picture books.

  1. First reading:
  • Focuses on book introduction
  • vocabulary support techniques
  • analytical comments
  • questions
  • after-reading “why” question.
  1. Second reading:
  • Purpose is to enrich children’s comprehension of the story
  • provide further opportunities for children to engage in analytic talk.
  1. Third reading:
  • Children must remember information across some time
  • vocabulary is reinforced
  • a guided reconstruction of the story with the teacher’s reading of some of the story text occurs.


Components of repeated interactive read-aloud 



First read-aloud

Second read-aloud

Third read-aloud:

Guided reconstruction

Book introduction

Give a few sentences introducing the main character and central problem.  Use illustrations on the book cover, back, and title page as needed.

Remind children that they know the characters and some things the character does.  Ask questions about the characters and problem.

Invite children to identify the problem and describe the solution.  Have children recall the title of the book.

Book reading

Insert vocabulary enhancements for 5-10 vocabulary words by pointing to illustrations, gesturing dramatically, or inserting a few definitions.  Make comments that reveal what the main character is thinking or feeling.  Ask a few follow-up analytical questions based on your comments.

Insert vocabulary enhancements for the same vocabulary, including more verbal definitions.  Make comments that reveal what other characters are thinking or feeling.  Ask more analytical follow-up questions.

Before reading a double page, show the illustration and ask, “What is happening here?”  Follow up children’s comments by extending comments or asking for clarification.  Read some of the pages of text.  When appropriate, before turning to the next page, ask, “Who remembers what will happen next?”  Call attention to some vocabulary in different contexts.

After-reading discussion

Ask a “why” question that calls for explanation.  Use follow-up questions to prompt answers.  Demonstrate how to answer the question by saying, “I’m thinking…”

Ask another “why” question or ask, “What would have happened if…?” Use follow-up questions to prompt children’s thinking.

Ask another “why” question or ask, “What would have happened if…?”




 Text Talk (Beck & McKeown, 2001)

      Text Talk is an approach to read-alouds directed toward enhancing young children’s ability to construct meaning.  “The texts chosen as effective for developing language and comprehension ability need to be conceptually challenging enough to require grappling with ideas and taking an active stance toward constructing meaning.”  Read-alouds provide experiences with decontextualized language.  “The key to experiences with decontextualized language that make them valuable for future literacy seems to lie in not merely listening to book language, but in talking about the ideas.”

      Text Talk interactions are based on open-ended questions posed during the story that facilitate connections and understanding.  Text Talk attends to children’s language development in two ways:

1.      The kind of questions asked elicit greater language production.

2.      It takes advantage of some of the sophisticated vocabulary found in young children’s trade books by explicitly teaching and encouraging use of several words from a story after the story has been read.



Text Talk Approach

Selection of texts

Stories that exhibit an event structure and some complexities of events to provide grist for children to build meaning.

Initial questions

Interspersed open questions require children to describe and explain text ideas, rather than recall and retrieve words from text.

Follow-up questions

Questions scaffold students’ thinking by using their initial responses to form questions that encourage elaboration and development of initial ideas.


In general, pictures are presented after children have heard and responded to a section of text.

Background knowledge

Invitations for background knowledge are issued judiciously to support meaning building rather than encouraging students to tap into tangential experiences.


Some sophisticated words are selected for direct attention after reading and discussion of the story is complete.



Types of engagement during read alouds and what they look like (Sipe 2002) :


The first type of expressive engagement is dramatizing the story spontaneously and in nonverbal and verbal ways. Early childhood educators have known for several years that young children's reactions to stories are often physical. Sipe uses an example of a group of children using hand gestures and making noises during a reading of Maurice Sendak's where the Wild Things Are. As the teacher is reading, the students bare their teeth and curl their fingers to resemble claws. This is most frequently seen in early childhood or prekindergarten classrooms, where play activity is encouraged.

 Talking back:

The second type of expressive engagement is talking back to the story or characters. For example, when a character is in danger or is unaware of impending doom, the children will shout to them as a warning. During this talking back to the story, children are addressing characters and thus these interactions begin to blur the distinction between the story world and the children's world. For a brief period, the two worlds become connected, and the story belongs to the child. This excitement and concern over the books characters serve as evidence of the student's level of interactions with the text.


In this third category of expressive engagement, children propose changes in plots, characters, or settings. Sipe uses the example of children engaged in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They used phrases such as “I would have done…” or “I wouldn’t…” These children took on the role of authors and made their own personalities and desires drive the book forward.

Inserting oneself (or friends) in the story:

This is a fourth type of response that shows expressive engagement. Here the children assume the roles of the stories characters and being to act out what is presented. Similar to "talking back," this type of response represents a curious blur of the lines between the primary world of reality and the secondary world of the story, a coming together of text and life.

Taking over:

The last type of expressive engagement is taking over the text and manipulating it for one's own purposes.  Here we find many types of responses, all student- created. Here children are not attempting to understand the story, but to engage in commentary about it. This is where students get the chance to disagree with one another and the story, but must be respectful of each other. This may take place as more of an agree to disagree format.


 ReadWriteThink, International Reading Association, NCTE

Click here for a lesson plan for Engaging Students in Read-alouds and what they look like by readwritethink.org  



The Read-Aloud Project (Santoro, Chard, Howard, & Baker, 2008)

This project focuses on enhancing daily classroom read-alouds for more powerful instruction.  The three primary areas of focus were:

·        Text structure

·        Text-focused discussions

·        Vocabulary


The authors sought to:

  • Challenge students to develop more complex comprehension strategies than would be necessary for the relatively simple narrative and information texts typically used in first grade
  • Use both narrative and information text with lessons to explicitly make text-to-text connections
  • Deepen student comprehension and facilitate dialogic interactions both between students and among students
  • Use independent student retellings of texts as the primary outcome


Books were selected based on science and social studies curriculum units.  The criterion included topics, target audience, diversity and multicultural connections, text coherence, and text-to-text author and illustrator connections.


The comprehension strategy focus was as follows: 

Before reading

During reading

After reading

  • Identifying the purpose for reading
  • Previewing
  • Predicting
  • Defining critical vocabulary
  • Using a consistent framework to discuss the text (e.g., story elements, K-W-L with focus questions)
  • Using question-asking strategies
  • Making connections (text-to-text, text-to-text, text-to-world)
  • Making inferences
  • Self-monitoring
  • Vocabulary
  • Retelling
  • Introducing, reviewing, and extending vocabulary


    The project showed the opportunities presented by read-alouds to build comprehension and enhance vocabulary through the use of oral language activities, listening comprehension, and text-based discussion. It is evidenced by these studies that carefully planning is key in using reading read-alouds in the classroom if the desire is to effect reading comprehension and vocabulary development.   



Read-Aloud and Print Referencing (Zucker, Ward, & Justice, 2009)


Highlighting different forms, functions, and features of print (Zucker 2009). Different techniques that can be used during read-alouds can include:


  • How many words are on this page?
  • There are words in the ___, what do you think they say?


  • Show me where I would start reading on this page
  • Point to a letter that’s in your name


  • The illustrator wrote the word BUS on this yellow school bus
  • These words are exactly the same

Nonverbal techniques

  • Track print from left to right while reading
  • Point to print


It is important to reference the print during read-alouds because studies have found that students do not give their attention to the print or text. They will pay attention to it if it is pointed out during read-alouds. 

  •  Children spend less than 6% of their time looking at print.
  • If the print is pointed out then students fixate on print 20,000 times more often than children who are read to and print is not pointed out to them.

One main goal of print referencing is to engage readers in conversations about print that foster metalinguistic awareness, to consider language whether spoken, written, or as an object of attention. This happens during read-alouds.


Below are the different domains and functions in print that teachers should try and identify during read-alouds. 




Print Function

The function of print is to carry meaning; some special typefaces convey meaning. Sometimes print appears in illustrations

“these words are blue because he’s cold”

Environmental Print

Words present in the environment are portrayed in illustrations such as signs labels, recipes, etc.

“let’s read the road signs’

Concept of Reading

The function of reading is to convey information or tell a story.

“If you want to find information, keep reading.”

“who can tell me a few things we do when we read?”


Page Order

“I read this page first, then this page next”

Title of Book

“This is the title, it tells us the name of the book”

Top/Bottom of Page

“This is the top where the writing starts”

Print Direction

“When I read, I go this way (pointing)”

“These words are printed at an angle so they’ll look like they’re splashing into the water”

Author’s Role

“The person who wrote this, said this in their book”


Names of Letters

“I see a word that has the letter S

Concept of Letter

“This word has two of these letters”

Upper and Lower Case Letters

“Uppercase S is the same shape as lowercase S

Concept of Word in Print

“Let’s count the words on this page”

Short vs. Long Words

“Mississippi is a long word”

Word Identification

“This is a picture of bear, and it is written next to it”

Letters vs. Words

“This is the letter A and it is the first letter of my name”




Ho  How to integrate print referencing in the classroom:


  • Focus on the areas that tie into the lesson or the curriculum.
  • Teachers must decide how much time to devote to print referencing so it doesn’t take away from the objective of the lesson.
  • For example, a teacher may have a lesson on rainbows and a way to introduce the lesson is with a read-aloud. The domain of Title and Print Direction might be the two functions selected, it can be pointed out during the reading of the book. It can also be connected to other books so the students know there is a consistency when reading a book.


ApAppropriate texts for print referencing:


  • Discuss every aspect of the words, colors, illustrations, shape of the book, so the children know that there is meaning behind the decisions that are made to create the aesthetics of the book.
  • High print salience text

o        Words that are shaped like the word, i.e. silly can be shaped in a silly manner, the word shy can be faint, thin, and hide behind something.

o        Books with word balloons indicating speech

o        Letters are printed in isolation


Benefits of Read Alouds

     Read-alouds can provide an opportunity for the teacher to expose their students to different genres (Miller, 2002).  Not only can the genre be introduced and discussed before reading, but a student may find a specific genre more interesting through the read alouds.  During read alouds, the teacher can also model specific behaviors they wish their students will emulate while reading.  These techniques can consist of fluency, which includes rate, expression, accuracy and think alouds (Miller, 2002).  Read alouds also allow a sense of community to be built within the classroom.  The students are discussing the books as a whole and listening to others communicate their experiences with the book.  Another important benefit is that read alouds allow the teacher to "share with kids [their] love of reading and learning" (Miller, 2002).  During, this time the teacher can share their favorite books and why they enjoy reading.



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Keep this in mind when selecting books:


  • Read your personal favorites. Your enthusiasm for the stories will be apparent to them.
  • Keep a list of books that you would like to read to your students. Share with your fellow teachers.
  • Try to find books that connect to your children's lives.
  • Choose books for read alouds that your students might not normally choose. By reading these books, you expose them to new words and a variety of text.
  • Be choosy! If your knowledge of children's literature is limited, rely on award winners, particularly the Caldecott and Newberry winners.
  • Try to read as many non-fiction text as you read fictional text.


Some of my personal favorite read alouds (Diana)


  • The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt                                                                                           
  • Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni                                 
  • The Empty Pot by Demi                                                                           
  • The Day Jimmy's Boa ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble                    
  • Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell                                           
  • The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel 
  • The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Martina The Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Agra Deedy (April)                                             


  • What Lives in a Shell? by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
  • Ladybugs and other Insects: Scholastics First Discoveries by Scholastic
  • Going Lobstering by Jerry Pallotta
  • Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft
  • How Many Teeth by Paul Showers





Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning. Boynton/Cook Publishers. Portsmouth, NH.

Barclay, K. (2009). Click, clack, moo: Designing effective reading instruction for children in preschool and early primary grades. Childhood Education, 85(3), 167-     172.


Bandre, P. E., Colabucci, L., Parsons, L. T., & Son, E. H. (2007). Read-alouds worth remembering. Language Arts, 84(3), 293.


Beck, I. L. & McKeown, M. G. (2001). Text talk: Capturing the benefits of read-aloud experiences for young children. The Reading Teacher, 55(1), 10-20.


Biemiller, A. (2001). Teaching vocabulary: Early, direct, and sequential. American Educator, 25, 24-28.


Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1991). Tracking the unique effects of print exposure in children: Associations with vocabulary, general knowledge, and spelling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 264-274.


McGee, L. M. & Schickedanz, J.A. Repeated interactive read-alouds in preschool and kindergarten. The Reading Teacher, 60(8), 742-751.


Miller, D. (2002). Reading with Meaning. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.


Santoro, L. E., Chard, D. J., Howars, L., & Baker, S. K. (2008). Making the very most of classroom read-alouds to promote comprehension and vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 61(5), 396-408.  


Sipe, L.R.(2002). Talking back and Taking over: Young children's expressive engagement during story book read-alouds. The Reading Teacher, 55(5), 476-483.


Zucker, T. A., Ward, A. E., & Justice, L. M. (2009). Print referencing during read-alouds: A technique for increasing emergent readers' print knowledge. The Reading Teacher, 63, 62-72.





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