Maximizing the impact of read alouds

I was really excited to read the Beck and Keown article on text talk because I teach a course called “Think, Read, Discuss” that centers on a read aloud. I picked up a lot of ideas from this reading that I am looking forward to bringing into my classroom this fall. This post covers my takeaways from the Beck and Keown article integrated with tips from a couple other sources. Advice from my own experience is included at the bottom.


Text choice

Children’s aural comprehension is more developed than their reading comprehension. It is important to choose texts that challenge students with complex events and unfamiliar ideas. Balance should be maintained between informational and narrative texts. It can be helpful to organize texts into topical units to help students build background knowledge and learn to make intertextual connections. Examples of informational units include animals and holidays. Narrative texts can be grouped into themes such as family traditions or friendship.

Vocabulary development

To promote retention, it is best to go deep and not wide by selecting 2-4 focal words per story. Guidelines for choosing words include unfamiliarity, importance for understanding the story, and relevance in daily conversation. Begin by explaining how the word is being used in the story and offering an explicit definition. Then, allow students to practice using the word by thinking of an idea they can express with a sentence that includes the word. After students share their sentences, have classmates explain each other’s responses in their own words in order to reinforce the definition of the vocabulary word. Encourage students to use new words after the reading by displaying them on chart paper and keeping track of instances when students use the words.

Questioning strategies

Plan questions that are analytical in nature. This helps students to develop understanding of the story as a whole, rather than merely retrieving factual details. Help students construct meaning as you read by asking questions as you go, rather than waiting until the story is finished. Young students have a tendency to over-rely on pictures or background knowledge to answer questions. Help them stay focused on the story by not showing pictures until questions are answered. When children ground their responses in background knowledge, bring them back to the text for evidence to support their answers, rereading relevant sections as necessary. Repeat and rephrase student answers to help students develop vocabulary and encourage them to add on to each other’s thinking.

What I’ve learned in the classroom

  • It can be difficult for young children to maintain attention during read alouds. When possible, incorporate sound effects and hand motions to keep the story engaging.
  • Read alouds are valuable not only for teaching vocabulary and promoting comprehension, but also for developing oral language. Have students turn and talk before answering questions so everyone gets practice articulating their ideas. Require students to answer in complete sentences. Rephrase answers when appropriate to reinforce correct syntax.
  • Try to keep discussion student-centered. Promote active listening and engagement by teaching students hand signals to indicate agreement, disagreement, and a desire to add on to their classmates’ thinking. This also helps to prevent redundant answers and allows you to pinpoint students who can share a different perspective.
  • If multiple students are struggling with a question, break it down. Guide students to relevant factual knowledge from the text and use scaffolding questions to help them make inferences.


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

Edwards, L.E., Chard, D.J., Howard, 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.

Gold, J. & Gibson, A. Reading aloud to build comprehension. Reading Rockets. Retrieved from



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s