Student engagement during read aloud time can be a struggle, especially if you have twenty five plus kiddos crowed at the carpet. Read how I revolutionized my approach to interactive read loud lessons by implementing new strategies that increased student engagement and my interaction with students during these lesson.
I love read aloud time! So do my students. Throughout my years of teaching, I’ve always had my 3rd graders gather to the carpet for this activity. I mean, who doesn’t? But, I’ve often wondered how effective my instruction was during this time. Were all my students getting it? Were they all really actively engaged? Was there a way I could increase student engagement during my read aloud time?
After selecting the perfect read aloud book for my instructional focus and preparing my turn-and-talk questions to intentionally address the standard focus, I was ready to present the read aloud lesson. In my mind’s eye, I anticipated the wonder and amazement of my students as they listened to the story and engaged with each other.
Of course, after asking a specific question, I would get up from my reading chair to listen in on my kiddo’s turn-and-talk conversations. This would give me an opportunity to hear what students had to say and highlight good thinking. I could also address any misconceptions as we came back together to discuss and continue with the read-aloud. But let’s face it, it didn’t always go as planned.
A Need for Change
For whatever reason, no matter what pairing strategy I used, there always seemed to be a glitch. It was also very hard for me to step through a sea of students sitting ‘crisscross applesauce’ on the carpet. And to crouch down low enough to hear conversations without interrupting other pairs or stepping on my kiddos… practically impossible. Even as I read from my chair, there was the occasional distractions from the back. You know the type of distractions: kids complaining they can’t see the pictures, somebody’s head is in the way, or somebody is in the very back busy picking up the littlest things from the fine carpet hairs. Need I say more?
Since I lacked teacher proximity, redirecting students or moving them during the read aloud seemed to interrupt the flow of the lesson. I always felt a little hopeless inside because it wasn’t how I planned it all to go. Can I get an AMEN to any read aloud experiences close this?
It wasn’t until I observed a fourth-grade teacher doing a paired reading activity while students were at their desks that I realized I could restructure the way I do my read aloud lessons. What? Students sitting at their desks during read aloud time? I know! It seemed to go against everything that had been engrained in me as an elementary teacher from day one, and read alouds at the carpet were no exceptions.
Regardless, after giving it some thought, I figured why not try it. What do I have to lose? It was the BEST decision I had ever made! I was able to incorporate some of the fourth-grade teacher’s management strategies to increase student engagement by 100% as well as my interaction with my students! And it’s all due to implementing simple strategies to manage how read aloud time looks in my classroom now.
Teacher Proximity and Accessibility
So what does it look like? My students are seated in groups of four with Kagan tags on their desk. If you do not know about or use Kagan seating arrangements or peer interaction strategies, I highly recommend it. My students know at all times who’s a 1, 2, 3, and 4, as well as who’s an A or a B. This makes pairing for turn-and-talks a breeze, and I can switch it up between shoulder partners and face partners. I can also move easily about the room between table groups and listen in on conversations, ask questions, and keep proximity to those who might stray from being on task or needed a little help.
Ways to Present the Read Aloud
When I read aloud to my students at their desks, there are one of three ways I can do it:
- Display the book on the smartboard using my colored projector, while I have a copy in my hand that I read from and move around the room. (Of course, this requires moving back to the projector to turn the page.)
- Display the book as I read from it and move around the room to give students a closer look at the illustrations.
- Display the book as I read from it, but my students also have their own copy (if it’s from our core reading program anthologies). This is more like a shared reading.
Any of these strategies for sharing are effective because I’m in constant motion between my table groups while I read, and they think, jot, and share.
Preparing for Mandatory Engagement
To plan for my read aloud, I identify my instructional focus and select a story that lends itself well to that focus. However, I have found well-written stories can be repurposed for multiple standards. After picking a particular focus standard for my read aloud, I prep my story by carefully planning 3 to 4 questions that get to the core of my focus and prompt deeper thinking. I write these key questions on Post-its and place them in the appropriate places within the book.
I also create jotting booklets for my students (as seen in the picture above) so they have the questions in front of them. This is important because this is where mandatory student engagement comes into play. When I come to the place where I ask a question, students think and jot their responses before sharing. It’s a simple prep and my students get much more out of the story than just turning and talking. Students are required to listen and participate. This strategy also eliminates hogs and logs (a Kagan reference). Hogs are those who are always participating, while logs are those who lack confidence or avoid participation.
So, I have my read aloud with questions in place, and students have their think, jot, share booklets with one question per page (which is actually the size of half a portrait page). Prepping the booklet is easy. Students keep these booklets closed and in the corner of their desks until prompted by me to open to the question at hand. Pencils are also “parked” in the designated space on their desk or table so they are not playing with any materials while I read.
When it’s time to pause and ask a question, I direct students to open their booklets to the correct page and just think; pencils are still parked, nothing is in hand. I even do the emoji thinking pose with my finger to my head while prompting them to think. Having the question in front of them is particularly helpful to students who are visual learners and need to see the question and my auditory learners who need to read it to themselves to hear it and process it.
I ask students to give me a signal when they think they have an answer they’re ready to jot. The signal is a simple thumbs up on their desks. I make it clear our thumbs up aren’t in the air. For those who may be still be thinking or struggling with a response, thumbs in the air can be intimidating, distracting, or cause them to shut down if most of the class is waving them. This is also why I do ‘thinking’ before picking up a pencil. Nothing is more intimidating to a student than sitting there struggling to think of something to write while everyone is writing.
If I see a few students struggling, I ask the question in a different way or prompt them to think about something specific in the story to help them with the question. I can do this by talking out loud to the whole class, or I can bend down to a struggling student and whisper to them to offer that extra support.
Once they indicate they are ‘all in’ with their thumbs up, I direct them to pick up their pencils and jot. Students then park their pencils after writing to show me they are ready to share. I then prompt students to share their thoughts with their partner, using my Kagan desk tags to let them know who they are sharing with and which person goes first according to these tags. As they share, I walk around the room and listen in on students’ conversations. This is a great way to take note of great thinking or to listen in for any misconceptions or misunderstandings.
After ample time sharing, I bring students back together as a whole and ask specific students to share their thoughts with the class or I highlight some good thinking I overheard. I also can address the misconceptions without calling attention to any students who might have had them. Students then close their booklets, place them in the corner of their desks, and then I continue with the read aloud until I repeat the process all over again with the next planned question.
Note: I do plan some modeled thinking as well, where I think aloud noticing something in the text that has to do with our focus standard. This way, students can see what good readers do while reading and how we process the information we read.
Assessing Students’ Engagement
Now my read aloud time has EVERY student thinking on their own, jotting down their ideas, and sharing those ideas during turn-and talks. As a teacher, I feel I am more effective than sitting in a chair at the carpet spraying and praying.
After my read aloud lesson, I collect the booklets and use them as a sort of formative assessment to plan any reteaching, interventions, or next steps. This is why it is very important students do NOT pick up pencils after sharing. Students ONLY write during ‘jot’ time. This is hard for students because they tend to want to correct what they wrote. I assure them that their responses aren’t graded, and the booklet is just a place for them to record their thinking.
After implementing these read alouds strategies, I was amazed at the caliber of students’ thinking as the year went on. Students became more articulate, I was able to give immediate feedback, and I was also able to assist my students that struggled by giving them a little more support during the ‘think’ and ‘jot’ time.
There were also times when I posted a question and modeled what a good response needed to include. For example, my students struggled with comparing and contrasting. I pointed out to students that when we say one thing that is different about one character, we follow through and say something about the other character. i.e. When reading Tops and Bottoms, my question was, “In what ways is Bear different than Hare?” Most students wrote Bear was lazy without saying anything about Hare. These are the teachable moments that the think, jot, share method presents. They also struggled to articulate how Bear changed in the story. Most wrote, “Bear started working in his garden.” I modeled for them how to first point out what Bear was like at the beginning and then mention how his behavior is different at the end of the story.
I highly recommend the think, jot, share read aloud method to any reading teacher. Though I teach 3rd grade, I know it would be beneficial to 2nd graders up through middle school aged students. You’re in control of the questioning and the rigor of the lesson, and students have a responsibility to actively listen AND respond.
If you would like to try it out for yourself, you can sign up for access to my Free Resource Library and download the exclusive sampler that focusses on character analysis using Stellaluna,. This will help take the guesswork out of preparing your questions, and the teacher pages are so detailed, they walk you through these student engagement read aloud strategies step by step.