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Glimpses Into
Read-Aloud Classrooms


By Cathy Puett Miller

Welcome back! If you are just joining this series of articles, you might want to refer back to Part 1 of the series -- A Shared Experience: The Key to Effective Read Alouds -- for important background information. In that article, we focused on the shared experience of read alouds; this week we take it deeper.


Merely inviting students to contribute verbally when you read aloud to them isn't enough. Take it to a higher level with analytical talk. What is analytical talk?

  • Making predictions or inferences that explain a character's motivation or connect events from different parts of the story.
  • More than regurgitating facts or understanding a surface meaning. More even than applying what you know to new situations. Go below the surface.
  • On the fourth of six levels of Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The Cape Brenton-Victoria School Board (Nova Scotia) provides a valuable list of Blooms Taxonomys Model Questions and Key Words (assumptions, ideas, conclusions, implications) to consider when promoting this level of discussion.

Teachers prompt students to engage in analytical talk by making comments that model such thinking and then asking thoughtful questions. (One of my favorites is What do you think the author is trying to say here?") The greatest challenge in delivering a read aloud is to balance planning the instructional insertions" (as we talked about in Part 1 of this series) while making them transparent to students. Heres another example of a teachable moment that arose when an educator from Connecticut (who wants to remain anonymous) was reading to her 8th grade class from Chris Crutchers Whale Talk. She reached the part in Chapter 1 where the main character says,

"My father always said there are no coincidences; that when two seemingly unrelated events occur, they are related and should be treated that way."

She had options here. Lets look at two: vocabulary instruction or think aloud.

The Vocabulary Focus


What Are
Tier 2 Words?

Tier 2 words are those words that are essential to academic success; words that might not appear in the everyday language of your students, but appear often in text concepts. Doug Buel, a high school teacher from Wisconsin, gives a good description of Tier 2 words at Fully Grasping 'Tier 2' Words.

Maybe this teachers students didnt know what the word coincidence meant. That is a Tier 2 word, for those of you who are familiar with Beck, McKeown, and Kucans work (2002) in that area.

The word coincidence is actually two words: co and incidence, or the related word coincide. The prefix co means together. The root incident comes from the Latin incidere which means to fall into, from in- + cadere to fall. In a short pause in the story, students help identify other words that contain those elements (co as in cooperate, coexist, co-mingle, and connect words they know like incident (as in an incident with the police, or an incident with a parent or principal).

Making such connections is important for students to retain the meanings of new words. In a couple of seconds, the teacher has introduced the meaning behind these words and has let students talk about the word in this context and in other contexts. Then she moves on, keeping that word highlighted in her brain (and perhaps on a note) so she can use it in other contexts throughout class time with students.

The Comprehension Focus

My choice might be to focus on the meaning of the quote in the context of the story. Whether students believe the statement the author has made or not will color their whole approach to, and understanding of, the rest of the story. Its a chance for prediction and thinking aloud. Ask: Do you think thats true?" And heres the key follow-up: Why?" (or Why not?").

Im not asking students what color the characters eyes are; Im asking a thinking question that doesnt have a single answer. Im asking my students to give an evaluation that might be colored by their schema and their view of this character. Im not looking for one opinion to be valued above another at this point. I just want to get everybody thinking. Later on, as the story unfolds, I will refer back to that one place in the story, over and over again (text-to-text connections) to stretch students thinking.


Try these approaches in your classroom tomorrow and then come back and read Part 3 of this series for more ideas.
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, the Reading Tub, and Babyzone. 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.