Interactive Read-Aloud as a Foundational Practice

By Wendy Sheets

Clip read aloud  Literacy Collaborative trainers, coaches, and the teachers with whom they work understand how foundational the Interactive Read-Aloud is. We know because we’ve experienced the power in building conversation around a text to construct meaning, and we’re awed by the thinking that our students display day in and day out as we provide opportunities through this all-important context.

I spent some time recently in a 5th grade classroom with students who had never experienced an Interactive Read-Aloud. After modeling the practice and engaging students on six different occasions, I interviewed the teacher to get her impressions. One of the comments she made was, “I think as a typical classroom teacher, we feel the pressure of having to deliver so much, but this is a perfect tie-in to let them learn. I don’t have to give the answer. I don’t have to deliver it all. They do the delivering. They teach each other. They build those ideas and even prompt questions in me. I think that’s something we have to do more of. We don’t make enough time in the day to do that. I think this Interactive Read-Aloud is very valuable.”

That teacher was developing an understanding of the way the Interactive Read Aloud provides opportunities for students to engage in strategic activity in thinking beyond and about the text (predicting, making connections, synthesizing, inferring, analyzing, and critiquing). The opening moves and intentional stops I made were designed to elicit that type of thinking. When I plan those brief pauses for interaction during the reading of a text, I’m not simply considering the questions I might wish to ask. Instead, I’m contemplating the strategic thinking I want my students to do, and I design my language to push for that sort of thinking. I often hear teachers say they know what type of thinking they want their students to do, but they aren’t sure what language to use to facilitate that thinking. I recommend the Prompting Guide for Comprehension: Thinking, Talking, and Writing, Part 2 (Fountas & Pinnell, 2012) for specific support in demonstrating, prompting for, or reinforcing reading behaviors related to comprehension. As you facilitate and shape the conversation your students have around text, you lift the thinking of your students. Think about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (1986). As the “more expert other,” you are able to support your students and deepen their thinking in that context. This work is generative as well – students will be more likely to engage in the same effective thinking when reading independently!

In addition to creating a literate culture and developing a shared language for constructing meaning around text, the Interactive Read-Aloud provides a model of fluency, exposure to more sophisticated vocabulary and ideas, and it builds a broad repertoire of genres and structures for further reference. It is not something “extra” we do; it is foundational in building language and literacy. Every IRA also has the potential for use as a mentor text during either a reading or a writing minilesson. Once a text has been enjoyed through a shared experience, revisiting a portion for the purpose of noticing the way a character changes over time, or examining the writer’s craft, for instance, by looking at the way powerful language elicits emotion, provides meaningful examples during minilessons. We want our students to learn from many wonderful writers!

The value of the Interactive Read-Aloud for all grade levels has big payoffs for language and literacy learning and for other instructional contexts. And while many teachers and students admit it is one of their favorite parts of the literacy block, it is also foundational to an effective language and literacy program (Fountas and Pinnell, 2006).


Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G.S. (2006) Teaching For Comprehension and Fluency: Thinking, Talking and Writing About Reading, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G.S. (2012). Prompting Guide for Comprehension: Thinking, Talking, and Writing Part 2. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Vygotsky, L.S.  (1986). Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


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