Monday, July 25, 2011


Reading aloud to students is one of the most important aspects of literacy in the classroom.  For teachers like myself, it's also one of the most enjoyable moments.  Even older children enjoy the stories that are read to them by their teachers.  What this usually looks like in the lower elementary classrooms is, a classroom of students, sitting on the carpet, gazing up at the teacher who is reading from a rocking chair, and hanging on to her every word.  (Let's be honest, others are playing around and distracted.)  In upper elementary classrooms the students may be sitting at desks, doodling on a pieces of paper, and attentively listening, as the teacher reads from a special place in the classroom.  What about those kids who are not tuned into the story....or distracted and daydreaming?  I'm so glad you asked.  The Interactive Read-Aloud invigorates the traditional read-alouds taking place in many classrooms.  Additionally, it stimulates the learning environment by engaging students in the read-aloud activity.

What makes the reading interactive?  Instead of being passive listeners during the Read-Aloud, the students are active participants in the learning and discovery.  In addition to listening to the story, the students are discussing elements, recording their thoughts in a Read-Aloud Notebook, and sharing their ideas with classmates.  Here's how to get started.  All you need is the Read-Aloud book, spiral notebooks for each student, composition books work well too, and a the Ways to Respond In Your Notebook chart, which is described below. Next, make a Book Preview packet.  Copy of the book jacket, including the summary/gist of the story, copy the first page of the story, and the author's biography.  If the book has a chapter page, copy that as well, or create a document listing the chapters from the book.  This is especially important if the chapter titles have names, rather than just numbers.  Make a preview packet for each student which includes the previous pages mentioned, and you're ready to get started.

Begin by introducing the Read-Aloud book to your students.  Issue each student a book preview packet, and a notebook.  Preview the book with the sudents using the preview packet.  Next, create a list of questions, about the book, suggested by the students.  Record each question on your interactive whiteboard, or on chart paper and save the chart or document.  Every day before beginning the reading, review the questions to see if any have been answered.  Additionally, record new questions that students have.  You can decide how often to add more questions based on your students' input.  Some days they may have lots of questions to add, and other days only a few.

Next, start reading the book.  I like to read one or two chapters a day, depending on our schedule and the length of the chapters.  Allow more time on the day the book is introduced, since the preview and questions will take up a big chunk of your time.  You can also preview the book the day before strating the first chapter.  As you are reading aloud the book to your students, they are recording their thinking in their notebooks.  To support them with this, your students can refer to the Ways To Respond in Your Notebook chart.  The chart will give them ideas for how to respond in their notebooks.  I created a chart on poster board and hung it in my classroom as an anchor chart.  You could also create a chart on you interactive whiteboard and save it for use during each read-aloud session.  Here is a list of some of the items I included on my chart:

Ways To Respond In Your Notebook
  • Make a prediction
  • Ask a question
  • Draw a picture of your favorite part-include a caption or summary
  • Summarize the chapter(s)
  • Describe a character
  • Record a quote from the story and explain what you think it means
  • Describe a part you liked/ tell why
  • Describe a part you didn't like/tell why
  • Describe something you didn't understand
  • Make a list of interesting words
  • Explore the title-explain why you think the writer chose this title
The great thing about the Interactive Read-Aloud is the students are active participants in the task.  After the Read-Aloud, students use their notebook pieces to engage in discussions about the book.  These discussions can also occur periodically during the reading. 

What about assessments?  The assements are built into the learning activities during the Interactive Read-Aloud.  The students' Read-Aloud Notebooks and participation in the discussions, can both be used to assess students' understanding of the story.  I like to collect notebooks once a week for this purpose.  Additionally, when the story is finished, I have my students construct a written reflection as an additional assessment.  Students select one of their best notebook entries to compelete a written reflection of their understanding of the story.  I copy the notebook page and staple it to their reflection.  Later, when I'm reading their reflections, I can compare them to the entry in their notebook.  I also remind students, throughout the book reading, to write good notebook entries.  They will be referring to their notebook entries, when writing their reflection piece, once the Read-aloud book is finished. 

Below is a list of some of the titles I've used for my Interactive Read-Alouds.  As you revive your Read-Aloud time, you will be amazed at how much more your students learn and discover about the stories, as they become active participants in this interactive process. 

  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
  • The Beloved Dearly by Doug Cooney
  • Journey by Patricia Maclachlan
  • Shredderman by Wendelin VanDraanen
  • The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill
  • Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Some students love to write, some tolerate it, and others just hate it.  You know the scenario....the student sits and stares at a blank piece of paper for what seems like forever.  How do we get our most relunctant writers writing?  Even better, how do we get them excited about writing.  Every teacher has at one time or another had one or two students who didn't enjoy writing.  Okay, I'll say it, some students hate writing.  However, it really isn't that they hate it, they just don't feel they're good at it.  It makes perfect sense.  I mean, what person would enjoy something that they're not very good at.  Think about it.  Bad cooks don't enjoy cooking.  Nobody enjoys eating their cooking. Terrible singers don't enjoy singing.  Wait a minute.  I'm a bad singer, and I LOVE singing.  It's my family that doesn't like hearing it.  Well, that was a bad example, but you get the point.  If students were better writers they would enjoy writing.  Furthermore, in order for students to become better writers, they need to write more often.  It's a vicious cycle. 

Until last year I taught third grade.  By the time kids reach third grade, teachers usually have two or three relunctant writers in their classrooms.  Currently, I'm teaching first grade.  First grade writers are a totally different entity.  Most students are emergent readers and writers entering first grade.  Therefore, they're just learning how to read and write.  I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to be the one responsible for their displeasure for writing.  How can we get primary students off to a good start with writing?  What tools, strategies and best practices, can we utilize to engage students in the writing opportunities that exist in the classroom?  How can use technology to support them in their writing?  Here is another way:

I came across a website called ReadWriteThink.  They have something called a Comic Generator.  Students can create their own comics on the computer or interactive whiteboard.  The Comic Generator allows students to choose from different layouts, characters, and settings.  The best part of all, the student has to WRITE the captions and dialogue.  After the comic is completed it can be printed or edited.  If you have an interactive whiteboard, your students could present their comics to their classmates.  I created a comic of my own as an example.  Take a look and see if you can get the gist of my comic.

Did you get it?  I'm dreaming about the first day of school and hoping I remember everything.  I'm upset because I have to go to school, even though I look and feel terrible.  Finally, I discover that it's Saturday.  Okay, so it's not very good, but I bet my first graders will do a lot better.  More importantly, they'll have so much fun creating, that they'll forget they're WRITING!
The website for the Comic Generater is

Thursday, July 21, 2011


1.  Laminate Anchor Charts~Create anchor charts with the students.  Record their ideas.  Afterwards, neatly rewrite charts and fancy them up as desired.  Laminate the final chart and hang in the classroom.  Next year, create anchor charts with your new students, but instead of rewriting the chart for display puposes, pull out the laminated chart from the previous year (it will have similar information) and hang it.

2.  Check for Understanding Strategy~The Sisters suggest using checkmarks cut from wood, with the strategy written on them.  Instead, use precut rectangular pieces of foam.  Use a permanent marker to record "Check for Understanding" on one side and "Who?" and "What?" on the reverse side.  These foam pieces can be purchased from craft stores.  They are extremely durable and inexpensive.

3.  Listen to Reading~Use classroom computers as a Listen to Reading station.  There are many great websites where students can listen to stories on-line.  Some of my favorites are and

4.  Creat a Reading Bag~A bag or tote with pockets works best.  The tote would include the following items: 
  • Dry Erase Board
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Pensieve
  • Leveled Books
  • Sticky Notes
  • Pencils
  • Word Cards/Letter Cards

5.  Repertoire of Mentor Texts~Locate a number of menor texts in advance.  Use these during your minilessons or focus lessons.  Short texts are best because you can finsih the entire text within the time frame of your focus lesson and the students are able to focus on the strategy being taught.

6.  Book Baskets~Be creative when looking for appropriate book boxes or book baskets.  Many teachers use book boxes which can be a little costly.  A good substitue is a book basket.  Baskets can be purchased at the Dollar Store and they come in a variety of colors.

7.  Strategy Board~Instead of writing the student's name on a sticky note and placing the note next to the strategy the student is working on, use a photo of the student instead.  At the beginning of the school year take head shots of each child.  Place the child's picture on the strategy board next to the strategy he/she is working on.

8.  Keep Track of Read-Alouds~Keep a record of all books that are read aloud to your students.  Keep this list posted somewhere in the classroom.  Update the list daily/weekly (this could be a classroom job.)  Record the book title, author, and genre.  Poster board works well, but I prefer a scroll.  Make one by stapling papers together and rolling up and unrolling as you add books to your list.  At the end of the school year you can revisit some of the favorites from the list.

9.  Utilize Technology~If you have a Smart Board, you can use some of the smart tools to create an electronic version of the Daily 5 check-in.  Students move their icons/pictures/symbols to indicate their Daily 5 choice.

10.  Be Resourceful~There are a lot of great resources available that will complement what you're doing with the Daily 5.  Two of my favorite teacher resources are Growing Readers-Units of Study in the Primary Classroom by Kathy Collins, and Words Their Way-Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (Pearson-Merrrill/Prentice Hall).  Read what others have to say on the subject and make it your own.