Revisiting Read Aloud: Strategies that Encourage Student Engagement with Text

Morrison, Vanessa and Lisa Wieodarczyk.  2009. Revisiting Read-Aloud, Instructional Strategies That Encourage Students’ Engagement with Texts. International Reading Association.  The Reading Teacher.  Volume 63, Number 2.

In this article, reading is described as a “transactional process”.  “The reader must transact with the text to make meaning.  The listener must understand; make connections to; and socially interact with the text.  Learning is a social activity, it is important for us to allow social collaboration as part of our instructional practice” (p. 111).  In this case, the reader and the learner are one in the same person.  We, as teachers, have to remember, in our planning, to include enough time for students to discuss what has been read.  Discuss, in their own way.  “Discuss” is one of those important words in our school (as I assume many others).  Younger learners will have to have practice in using discussion as an effective tool for reading comprehension.  I have thought about using reading partners in scenarios of discussion.  One idea I had came from something I had read several months ago.  For my class, I could use a “Story Jar” that contained pictures of various parts from the text we just read. Readingpartners would draw one of these pictures from the “Story Jar” and use the picture to discuss:  a) where in the story this picture could be found; b) why the picture is important to the story; and c) who was a part of this picture.  After they have had ample time (probably multiple sessions), the reading partners can then present their pictures and explanations to the class as a whole.  It would be like having certain pieces that fit together to make a larger puzzle.  It wouldn’t necessarily have to be anything elaborate, but just enough to know that the students have an understanding of all elements of that story.  Some teachers may consider having students discuss as a non-learning activity.  However, research sources have proven that children actually learn more from each other than they do from us.  “Numerous studies claim that peer interactive learning is conducive and perhaps essential to cognitive development.  Students learn more through peer collaborative learning processes compared with learning in isolation or teacher-dominated instruction” (p. 111).  I, myself, have found that share partners are an effective means of helping students to understand a particular concept.  Just merely repeating a fact can help attach it to memory.  Teachers will just need to set guidelines and monitor the discussion sessions.

With reading, motivation equals engagement.  “During read-aloud, the reader incorporates variations in pitch; tone; pace; volume; pauses; eye contact; questions; and comments to produce a fluent and enjoyable delivery” (p. 111).  For those children who have had limited experiences with reading and being read to, the teacher needs to plan especially for those moments.  A teacher can gauge interest from student posture; attention; and eye contact.  One of my four students who have had little experience with reading, will sit still with his eyes fixated on me when we read one of the adventures of our favorite characters, Jack and Annie, from the Magic Tree House series.  I know I have him then!  I love that feeling!  I think it helps too, when you make the students part of the reading.  For instance, I have taught my students to “sigh” and “gasp” during our Jack and Annie stories.  Jack “sighs” a lot because Annie is always acting before she thinks.  And, they often “gasp” because something amazing always happens.  It’s so funny for me to hear them as I read those words!  That way, I know they are listening and are trying to make connections with the feelings of the characters.  And, it takes time to build motivation.  At first, young children are not prepared to sit through a long chapter or story.  They have to start with smaller portions; begin to like the characters; understand the plots; and wish that they could do the things that the characters get to do.  When they reach that point, they are motivated to find out more!

Reading aloud to children has so many benefits.  “Reading aloud is the single most important activity to build knowledge for successful reading” (p. 111).  The definition contained within this article was more appealing to me than in the previous one I read.  “Reading aloud to children builds and supports their listening and speaking abilities and enhances their overall language development.  Students develop a rich language base and came to understand the power of words by listening to stories; reading stories; and responding to stories through engagement activities” (p. 111).  To understand the power of words ~ I love that!  Sometimes we forget how powerful words can really be.  “Reading is powerful.  It creates compassion, moves us to action, transports us to different places, and even transforms us” (Moss and Young, p. 1).

In order for students to find the “power of words”, “it is necessary to teach them highly effective literacy strategies to use before, during, and after listening to a text” (p. 112).  One of these four strategies mentioned in the article is the use of “Alphaboxes”.  Alphaboxes can be used with almost any grade level and works well with content area reading.  Alphaboxes can be used to predict situations before reading and then be compared to actual events after reading.  Alphaboxes actually go “beyond simple recall to use information learned from text” (p. 112).  I used Alphaboxes last year during a project for RE 5130.  Dr. Green had asked us to do a “Literacy through Photography” project, where pictures were turned into writing.  For my project, I assigned each child a writing partner.  My assistant and I taught the children how to take pictures and then use those pictures to write about their friend.  The Alphaboxes were used to write words to describe that friend.  Using the Alphaboxes actually went better than I expected.  I have not found the chance to use them yet this year, but would if I have the need.

Another strategy to comprehend what is being read is to use prior knowledge or schema.  “Readingis an active process, whereby readers construct new ideas and concepts based on their prior knowledge.  Learning takes place when students make connections to what they are reading” (p. 113).   There are three types of connections that can be made:  1) text to self; 2) text to text; and 3) text to world.  Students learn them in that order and will make stronger connections when the teacher takes time to model each one.  For example, “students are making text to self connections when they are reminded of something that happened to them the way that it happened in the story” (p. 114).  The teacher must use that point in the story to allow time for students to think about those moments.  If one student has had a similar moment, he/she will be anxious to find out how the character reacted and compare each situation.  Teacher may use two books to make text to text connections.  These books may be read multiple times for those connections to be found.  Students can learn more about the text to world connection in making a chart about events from the book and those that have happened recently in their neighborhood, school, or community (p. 114).  I found Figure 2 to be helpful in defining each type.  In text to self, children are allowed to express their feelings about the character and the story.  They use what they know about these situations to better understand the story.  In text to text, students, with guidance from the teacher, find similarities between stories containing similar subjects.  In text to world, students use the story to generally define how it affects others living around them.

The last strategy mentioned in the “discussion web”.  “The discussion web is an excellent activity to promote engagement with text because it allows for the examination of various points of view within a social setting.  This strategy allows for students to work collaboratively in small groups and promotes the opportunity for all voices to be heard.  It enriches thinking; listening; talking; reading; writing; viewing; and visually representing abilities of the students” (p. 115).  I liked the idea of the discussion web best and actually should have saved my “Story Jar” idea for this section.  I think that the “Story Jar” could provide a time for discussion where each partner gets a chance to share his/her ideas; debate or defend any ideas; find a consensus; and share with the entire class.  I like this strategy a lot.

This article was a little more intricate than the first in that it took the time to:  provide a great definition for reading aloud; examined the benefits; provided a rationale; and provided three detailed strategies for using read aloud as an effective tool for teaching reading and for motivating our students to read.


Moss, Barbara and Terrell Young.  2010.  Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading. Newark,DE:  International Reading Association.





About robinmclark

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