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Interactive, Mentor & Read Aloud? OH MY! Choosing Your Next Read Aloud


I swung my knee-socked legs back and forth as I slumped in my seat. My head rested on my desk top. I might've been rocking my new Dorothy Hamill haircut, but Mrs. White's not-so-rousing rendition of Little House in the Big Woods was kicking my butt. I stifled a yawn and tried to use my newly acquired American Sign Language skills to message my best friend, Nicki. I couldn't get her attention, so I decided to use the bathroom pass instead. The after lunch read aloud always had this effect on me...Snoozeville.

Back in the day, and I know I'm dating myself, terms like interactive read aloud and mentor text didn't exist. The place of any read aloud was after lunch and recess. As a teacher's kid, I had the inside scoop on this practice. My mom used to say it was to "calm the troops." It did just that, probably better than any valium or tranquilizer a doctor could prescribe. 

Every teacher knows the power of a good book. But how do you wade through the terms used to describe them? They seem to be interchangeable, but are they really? And how do you choose the right book for the job? Sometimes, it can feel like you're Dorothy as she navigates the witch's forest..."LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY!"

Read alouds hold an undisputed place in the reader's workshop. Years and years of research points to their effectiveness and power. One thing I've learned over the years is to model a balanced reading diet for my students. Your read aloud is the perfect time for this. Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you read a nonfiction book aloud to your kiddos? Have you recently read a poetry book aloud to them, outside of National Poetry Month? It's important to talk to your students about their reading diets. Are they reading around the genre wheel? Are you reading around the genre wheel in your classroom read alouds? 


So what in tarnation is an interactive read aloud? It wasn't my fourth grade experience, I can assure you. Interactive read alouds are the basis of my reader's workshop. When I read aloud to my students, I frequently stop and ask them about their thinking. I might share my own thinking via a think aloud. I do this to make my comprehension processes transparent for them. My students may be sketching or webbing in their reader's notebooks while I read. We turn and talk A TON. I teach them discourse sentence stems. We use them every day. 

The interactive read aloud is usually separate from my mini-lesson. However, it feeds "the beast." When it's time for my mini-lesson, I will return to the excerpts from the interactive read aloud to teach reading strategies and skills. 


What are mentor texts? My read alouds become mentor texts when I use passages from them to teach reading or writing skills in my mini-lessons or guided reading/ strategy groups. For example, when I'm teaching about internal characterization, I will pull  excerpts from Tuck Everlasting where Natalie Babbitt reveals Jesse, Miles, and Tuck's differing perspectives on immortality. The text becomes our teacher, and we examine how the author presents different perspectives. 

When I'm teaching about cause and effect text structures, I pull excerpts from the nonfiction book we read to help students understand the structures, cue words, and organization of that text type. Any text can become a mentor text. If you keep your interactive read alouds close to you throughout the year, you can return to them again and again when you teach reading skills and strategies. The best part of this approach is that your kids will know those books inside and out, so you'll need to prep them less when teaching your lessons. 

What's everyone doing for a read aloud? I need a new read aloud!
This leads me to my soapbox. Forgive me while I step onto it. Read alouds are potentially powerful. Interactive read alouds can rock your teacher world. Mentor texts can have earth-shattering impact. Seriously. That means that we need to be thoughtful about our choices. Don't throw away your instructional opportunities by following the Disney train to another book that has a movie. I get why we do this as teachers. I really do. And it's okay to do this, IF the book you're choosing fits your instructional purposes. Be clear about your purpose. If your purpose is to simply entertain, then jump on the bandwagon and choose the latest and greatest published book. But if your purpose is to elevate your students' reading lives, then be thoughtful about what you choose to share with them. Ask for suggestions, but ask with purpose:
What's everyone doing for a read aloud? Anyone reading something that would be great for teaching characterization?
(End of sermon.)

To help you through the witch's wood, I've created a starting point for you. If you teach grades 4, 5, or 6, this freebie is for you. It's my featured freebie this month. It's a five page list of picture books and novels for teaching synthesizing, inferencing, theme, characterization, and plot structure and conflict. You can snag it below by clicking on the picture. 

If you're interested in reading more about reader's workshop, you should give THIS a read!

This month, I've teamed up with some fabulous teacher bloggers. You won't want to miss out on their ideas and resources. Visit them below!



1 comment

  1. You definitely know how to get someone interested in reading. I'm sure your kids love being in your class. Thanks so much for sharing such an informative post.

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