Interactive Read Aloud vs Read Aloud: Which is Better?

Read Aloud or Interactive Read Aloud…Which should you do?

So many terms in the literacy world are so similar, they can be incredibly confusing.  Case in point:  read alouds and interactive read alouds.  What’s the difference?  Which should you do?

First, know that they’re BOTH very important.  Reading aloud to kids has so many benefits.  I don’t know about you, but I have vivid memories even as far back as first grade of my sweet teacher, Mrs. Greenhill, reading to us.  It was a time to settle down, to just listen, enjoy the story, create the images of the story in our head, and just be immersed in the author’s words.  Amelia Bedelia was my particular favorite!  I could go through every single grade and pick out a super memorable book my teacher read to the class.  Every one of those books brings me a smile to this day.    

This was a read aloud.  And nothing cultivates a love for reading quite like it.

My teachers may have pointed out or clarified some things, and there may have been some  discussions as a class, but I don’t remember any instance of these things.  It was just me, the teacher, and my class, experiencing the joy of a great book.  Maria Walther says it best in her book, The Ramped Up Read Aloud. She says, “First and foremost, a read aloud should be a joyful celebration for all.”

“Simply READ ALOUD–no questions, no stopping, no after-reading conversations.” 

The Ramped Up Read Aloud, 2019, Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin. 

For many of our students, this could very well be the only time they get to have this kind of rich and joyful experience.  Read alouds also offer an incredible low-stakes way to immerse our English-language learners in the language.   

Image shows young teacher holding a blue book reading aloud to a group of students.

So for sure, we definitely want–and need–to continue doing read alouds in the classroom.  

Longtime literacy expert Richard Allington, in his book Classrooms that Work:  They Can All Read and Write, recommends reading aloud every day, from a variety of texts, for every grade level.  He tells us that “four types of material should be read to children every day.”  He says that we should read poetry, informational, traditional favorite narratives, and easy books in order to provide something for every child and to balance different types of texts.   Clearly, read alouds are a classroom must!

So what’s an interactive read aloud, then?  

You still read a great book (or poem) out loud to the class.  There’s no need to enlarge the text in either case, unless you’re doing it to help kids see the illustrations.  You’re reading to the kids, not with the kids, so they don’t need to see the words.  Reading with them is shared reading.  Simply holding the book up for kids to see the pictures, if there are any, is just perfect.  

You still pick high-quality, engaging texts.  It’s still a dedicated, joyful time.  

But this time, you will have not just read it ahead, you will have planned ahead.  

In an interactive read aloud, we are strategic about vocabulary that might need highlighting, places to stop and think aloud to model reading skills or strategies, and places where your students will turn and talk, or stop and jot, or some other form of interacting.  

Image shows three little girls smiling and two boys behind them smiling with teacher holding a book in front of them.

Keeping in mind what your kids need academically and what your standards are is very important.  But we can meet soft-skill needs through interactive read aloud too.  This is where we can help kids understand that the big lessons a character learns are big lessons we, too, should hang on to.  This is where we can develop empathy for others, and learn about social justice.  I challenge you to read a book like The Invisible Boy , Thank You, Mr. Falker,  Each Kindness, or The One and Only Ivan and not cry.   The authors of these books (and so many more) stir up immense empathy for their characters, which leads to deep and meaningful discussion…and deep and lasting lessons.  I can’t think of a more powerful classroom practice.  

In an interactive read aloud, we are leading kids to develop deep understandings.  Through think alouds, we pull back the curtain of a reader’s mind to show them how readers think and what they do when they run into tricky parts or begin to put the pieces together.  We teach them how authors use words (and images) to convey meaning.  And we expose them to a rich, robust array of vocabulary.  We teach reading skills and strategies.

The caveat? 

 Be sure to not impede the flow of the text.  Pick stopping points very strategically.  You can always read it again another time with a different focus.  

Here are the questions I ask myself when planning an interactive read aloud:

  • Will this book be engaging for my students?
  • What thoughts do I have as I “spy on myself” when I read this book?  (Those are natural stopping points to do a think aloud!)
  • What’s in the author’s note or bio that might shed light on their purpose? 
  • What vocabulary should I frontload?  Pick just a few words that A) would interfere with meaning if they didn’t know it, B) are not readily inferred from the context, C) your English-language learners, or students with weaker vocabularies might not understand–think words like homophones here rather than “flowery” words
  • What background knowledge is needed for my students to access this text?
  • What do I want my students to understand after reading this text?  (Soft skills?  Academic skills?)
  • What concepts (like themes, character traits) might I need to name in order to discuss the book?
  • Where can I pause for students to engage?  Do I want a turn and talk?  A stop and jot?  A stop and draw?  Thumbs up, thumbs down?  Or maybe have kids act out, gesture, or show a facial expression?  
  • What writer’s craft moves can I point out that I can also weave into writer’s workshop?

Next, it’s time for the actual planning.

Image shows pink background with scrabble letter tiles spelling the text lesson plan.

Once I’ve considered all that, I jot notes on my post its, place them where I want them in the book, and then I read through it again, actually stopping at each note to gauge my timing.  Some books are totally fine to do over days or a couple of weeks, but in general, I want picture books to be just one session.  I need a good estimate of how long it’ll take, and then remove sticky notes that aren’t laser-aligned with my focus for this go-around.  I can always read the book again (and I will!) for even more teaching.

Interactive read aloud is a high-leverage teaching tool, but the heart of them is everything that makes any read aloud so magical:  connection, shared experience, and the sheer joy of sharing beautiful literature with kids.  Keep the heart of it front and center, and you’re sure to provide your students a rich and memorable experience!

Want some help planning an interactive read aloud?  Contact me to set up a coaching call, so we can think it through together!  The first conversation is always free!  And,  join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!

Was this post helpful?  Subscribe here to be the first to see new posts to make an impact on your teaching, and hit the Pinterest button below to save this post!

Related posts:  Balanced Literacy Instruction [What it Actually Means], The Secret to Setting Up Your Library for Maximum Student Impact Lesson Planning Tips That Help You Do More, Better [In Less Time] , Getting to Know Your Readers and Writers to Save Time Later

Add A Comment