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A Shared Experience
The Key to Effective Read Alouds


By Cathy Puett Miller

Which camp are you in?

Some teachers in todays classroom find their reading instruction heavily scripted -- every minute accounted for. For those teachers, read alouds are squeezed out by stressful, non-stop instruction. Any teacher caught reading aloud is accused of wasting time. Other teachers dabble in read alouds because they still have some control over what goes on in their classroom, but when read-aloud time comes, they simply open a book and read for a few minutes (while struggling with classroom management). They expect students to gain from the experience.

I'd like to suggest instead, that teachers create a read-aloud environment thats a combination of enticing entertainment, skillful modeling of comprehension and thinking strategies, and just plan fun. I call that a shared reading experience, the basis of this series of articles. How do you do it? Read on


Really Matters

If every adult caring for a child, read aloud a minimum of three stories a day to the children in their lives, we could probably wipe out illiteracy within one generation…
~ From Mem Fox’s Reading Magic


The most effective users of read alouds understand that its important to start thinking and planning before you begin. Effective read alouds are part of instructional time, but they appear to students to be just the opposite -- not more class work, but a positive, interactive, intriguing event.

Think about where your students are academically:

  • Are they weak in comprehension?
  • Do they have trouble with decoding, or still read aloud with a halting delivery?
  • Do they struggle with writing?
  • Is their reservoir of background knowledge shallow?
  • Do they struggle to sit still and listen because they arent engaged? (Do you know their average attention span in minutes?)

The answers to those questions will help you decide what read alouds should look like in your classroom.


Once you have answered those questions, and have identified an initial focus, I recommend an interactive approach. Such an approach moves a read-aloud session from a passive, boring event to an engaging, proactive one. It shows students how a mature reader thinks, wonders and ponders when he or she reads. It connects those squiggles on the page to an audience. Look for specific windows of opportunity within the text to open discussion, make a comment, think aloud or muse. Make a few notes in your lesson plan book; put an old-fashioned library card pocket in the back of the book and insert a few notes about key places to stop for interaction. Add to that list every time you read the book to a class so you have a ready-made cheat-sheet of ideas.

Research has repeatedly shown that read-alouds are most effective when students are actively involved. Such actions as asking and answering questions and making predictions mimic the mental processes mature readers constantly go through to understand what they read. Those types of read alouds result in gains in vocabulary, comprehension strategies, story schema, and concept development. Dont forget to look for those teachable moments that arise without prompting, in the form of an important question from a student or a new connection to your life, your students lives, or previous readings.


I have said it before but its worth repeating: Have a strong instructional purpose in mind, but present an interactive, informal face to students so everyone becomes involved at some level.

Dont assume that students arent engaged if they dont say anything The true test of what they gained will be evident in follow-up conversations and careful assessment.

Connect what you introduced (or reinforced) in the read aloud to content taught in other parts of your day. Create the mental picture in your head of a thread that runs from read alouds to social studies instruction to language arts instruction to transition time and back again.

Watch for individual signals and disengaged students and target those for follow-up later. Realize that regular practice of those guidelines over time (and not the amount of time) builds mastery. One spectacular read-aloud event by itself will not do much, but if delivered consistently, they will build student skills over time.

When students identify the read aloud segment as the single most meaningful part of their day, youll know youve hit your target.

In part 2 of this series, youll read about examples from real schools, and learn more effective techniques for powering up your read alouds.
About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller is dedicated to promoting literacy with educators, families, children and family-friendly organizations. Having practiced as an independent literacy consultant for eleven years, this year she launched a new company, TLA, Inc., dedicated to providing educator in-service training, parent workshops, and keynote presentations for special events (PreK through 12th Grade). She continues to conduct independent reading research, and designs and implements reading initiatives in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy, parent involvement, and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's t Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections, Education World, and the Reading Tub.. She also reviews children's books at Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.