Top 11 Tips for Successful Virtual Read Alouds
Making your virtual read aloud enjoyable and engaging for your students means drawing on a lot of skills you would use in a regular classroom setting, but there are some strategies that will up your distance learning game. Don't miss these tips for making your virtual read alouds the highlight of your students' day!
Preview the text.
Take some time to read the book beforehand so that you can identify themes you want to highlight, tricky vocabulary, and ways you can connect the book to students’ personal experiences.
Test out the technology.
You don't want to be fumbling to figure out how to open an ebook while a bunch of people are waiting for you. Take the time to practice using the technology in advance in a low-stakes setting so you can be prepared when you’re in the spotlight. Make sure you can log into the ebook platform, find the text, adjust the size of the book on your screen, scroll from page to page, and of course manage the ins and outs of your videoconferencing platform. Practice using the highlighting and note-taking tools on the ebook platform; write a couple prompts and place them throughout the text as a reminder to yourself for later.
Do a test run with kids you know.
Find a few kids who would be willing to participate in a practice version of a virtual read aloud. Try enlisting your own kids, a friend’s kids or some nieces and nephews. Rehearsing a virtual read aloud will give you a chance to figure out what challenges to anticipate as well as explore what works and what doesn’t.
Make it part of your literacy routine.
Without the in-person classroom experience, it can be challenging to create an environment that’s conducive to connection, learning and focus. You might feel like you’re missing the anchors on which you used to rely to make your teaching effective. Many students are probably feeling unmoored as well. Creating consistent routines can help anchor students throughout the day. Dedicate 10 or 15 minutes to a read aloud at the beginning of every literacy session, and it may become something your students look forward to and count on.
Be intentional about when you're going to pause for questions and prompts.
Since you'll be talking to students virtually, you’ll likely deal with background noises at students’ homes, students who are distracted, and unexpected interruptions. In order to make the read aloud flow, carefully select your stopping points in advance. Use the ebook platform’s note-taking, highlighting and free draw tools to remind yourself where to pause to let kids respond to your prompts and questions.
Move beyond the literal.
It’s easy to get stuck in the habit of pausing to ask students literal questions about the text. While that’s necessary sometimes to ensure their comprehension, it can also limit kids’ focus to the basic plot, rather than promoting higher order thinking. Keep the who-what-when-where-why questions to a minimum and think about how you can encourage students to take a new perspective, imagine a hypothetical situation, infer, predict, make personal connections, and consider the author's intentions. (Varlas, 2018).
Let it be joyful.
While read alouds can be important for sparking deep conversations and higher level thinking, don’t overdo it with too many prompts, questions, or tasks for students. There are times when it’s more important to let students savor a good story without too many interruptions. (Varlas, 2018).
Don't be shy.
You are the model for fluent reading, and your voice is the key to making the experience grab students and pull them in. Your pace, volume, expression, and tone will make the story come alive. Don’t hold back!
Read alouds aren’t just for little kids.
When you read aloud to students, you carry the burden of decoding and fluency, relieving struggling readers of the hard work and freeing up their mental energy for comprehension. Not having to decode allows kids to access texts that spark rich and dynamic conversations, even if the text itself is beyond their own independent reading level. Middle schoolers and even high schoolers can benefit greatly from having a teacher read a relevant and engaging text in a way that sounds fluent and expressive. (Varlas, 2018).
Know when to let go of your plan.
You’ll know your students, and you’ll be able to sense right away when something just isn’t working. If the group’s energy is flagging, the focus is off, the book isn’t resonating, or students want to take the conversation in a new direction -- know when it’s time to change your plans. It might mean letting go of the prompts and questions you prepared, or maybe even cutting the read aloud short. Be flexible.
There are no rules.
I’m a rule follower, so this last one is especially liberating. There’s no right way to do a read aloud. It’s yours, and you can shape the experience based on your students, your educational goals and your style. If you are genuine and make it your own, your kids will be drawn to you like magnets, and they will remember read alouds as a highlight of their time with you.
Caitlin Kiley is a former third grade bilingual teacher in Wisconsin and currently lives in Mexico.
References:Varlas, L. (2018). Why Every Class Needs Read Alouds. ACSD Education Update, 60 (1).