Thursday, January 24, 2013

Interactive Read-Alouds in Intermediate Grades

Hello Friends!

I am super excited to be sharing my thinking in my first blog post here on All Things Upper Elementary!  I have enjoyed reading my friends’ posts this past week.  I just love having this blog as a resource…it’s like the professional development we all wish we had more of at our schools!

So, today I am going to share some of my thinking around interactive read-alouds (IRA).  Interactive read-alouds are when teachers read a text to the class (usually a picture book but it can also include chapter books over several days) and share thinking out loud.  The IRA books are then often used as mentor texts when teaching a specific reading or writing skill in either workshop.

Teachers will often give a brief explanation of the text before reading so that students can begin thinking about the topics and themes addressed in the IRA.  This also gives students time to activate any prior knowledge they may have involving content in the text.  As teachers read, they will share some insights in specific areas of the text.  For example, teachers might think-aloud about a part of the text that they have a strong connection with or where they learned something important.  Often times teachers choose to point out areas of the text that fit with the reading/writing lessons for that day. 

To make the read-aloud interactive, teachers will ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about their own thinking at certain points as they are reading the text.  Students may also share their thinking with the whole class.  Picture books with rich content are mostly used during interactive read-alouds, but chapter books could be used over the course of several days as well.

Once the book is read, it can be referenced as a mentor text in either reading or writing workshops, during guided reading, and in either a reading or writing conference.

I believe that reading to children, even the big kids in intermediate grades, is critical in helping students develop into stronger readers.  Every class of fifth and sixth graders I have taught has enjoyed read-alouds and has been upset when there is not time for a read-aloud each day. 

There are numerous reasons for reading to students in the intermediate grades.  Here is a list of just a few:

·         IRA’s build a strong sense of community.  Every student in the room knows and understands what the class is talking about when a text is referenced.

·         They expose students to deep thinking in rich text.  During an IRA, teachers are able to model deep thinking as they share their own thoughts with the class.

·         They take away the decoding difficulty for struggling readers.  With IRA’s, students can focus all their attention on comprehension because they do not need to attend to the decoding of words.

·         IRA’s can connect to content area topics.  For example, Pink and Say by Patricia Pollaco can be read and analyzed during reading workshop, writing workshop, and a social studies unit on the Civil War.

·         The class can have conversations about why the author wrote the book.  What was the author trying to say to the readers?  What is the big idea or reason for reading this book?  How will it change us as readers?  These are all great questions to ask students as they think about the author’s message.

·         IRA’s are a great way to expose students to a variety of genres.

·         They are wonderful to use as mentor text in writing

·         Teachers reference parts of IRA’s when teaching a specific reading strategy in reading workshop mini lessons.

·         They give students the ability to analyze great writing.

·         They encourage students’ thinking…bringing their background knowledge to the understanding of the text.

·         They can be used for numerous learning opportunities throughout the school year.
Check out this video of me introducing the text, Ira Sleeps Over during the beginning of an interactive read-aloud.  This is just one example of how teachers can get their students involved in thinking about readingJ

The last thing I want to say about interactive read-alouds is that teachers should be keeping a running list of books that have been read in class.  With an anchor chart of texts read together, teachers can reference them all year long.  Here are two pictures of the books my fifth graders and I have read so far this year.  We are on our way to filling up our third chart!


I hope you have learned some new ideas around interactive read-alouds.  Give them a try with your big kids if you haven’t already.  You will be surprised by the rich conversations and learning that they will provide!
Stop by and visit me for more fun literacy ideas:



  1. I love how you addressed how read-alouds can and should be done in the upper grades! You gave so many great tips, too! We are implementing Close Reads this year, and IRA goes right along with them :)

    1. Oh close reads is something I just started thinking about last week! I think it is a hot topic in the teacher world right now. Read-alouds seem totally perfect for close reads. Thanks for the feedback!

    2. Jen, please give us a resource for close reading!!!! I love your literacy resources! I wish my school was more aligned to LC like the ones in my hometown, then I could buy and use your units...Sigh!

    3. Jennifer, close reading has so been on my mind since I was in Boston last week! I want to create some practical work for teachers with it but I am so buried deep in these guided reading units that I can barely do anything else. Hopefully Level N will be posted by the end of the weekend:) Maybe I'll take a break and put something together soon? Thanks for the compliment too...I needed it tonight!


  2. Jen, what a great post! I love using read alouds with sixth grade students. I start the first week of school with First Day Jitters and use it to teach irony. My students love when someone reads to them. You're never too old for that! Even I enjoy listening to storytellers as an adult.

    I love that you included the video. It was great to see the IRA in practice. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! I love hearing that other sixth grade teachers use read-alouds in class. I couldn't agree more that you are never too old to be read to. I make my husband read to me when I can't sleep and I'm a lot older than a sixth grader:) LOL

  3. I love this! I keep post it notes in my read alouds at certain places with questions preplanned. What an awesome post!

    Teaching to Inspire in 5th

  4. Thanks Jennifer! I know the post-its totally help me stay on track because sometimes my kids can get me going on a whole different topic!!

  5. Jen!
    LOVE this. I too am a 6th grade teacher and I read aloud every day. I echo the comments already made that upper grade kids are not too old for that. I try to make it as "educational" as possible, but sometimes I just want them to enjoy a story without having to respond, write, process, or all the other skills we push. Sometimes they just need "story time". :)

    Thanks so much for sharing. I appreciate it.

    An Educator's Life

    1. That is a great point! I know when I read a book I usually don't make myself respond in writing:) I completely agree that we need to teach students how to just enjoy reading!!

  6. Is there ANYONE better at the personal narrative picture book than Patricia Polacco? She is my FAVORITE. A few years ago, before we adopted Journeys I used to love using her books for our personal narrative unit. I'd start the year with Thank You Mr. Faulker on the first day of school and actually got a round of applause one year. :D Then once the kids were hooked they really got into the thinking and interactive aspects of analyzing the stories and her craft. Journeys has fun stories that work for IRAs, but somehow it doesn't feel the same with anthologies.

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