Teaching Tutorial: Making Read Aloud Intentional
How to use a nonfiction real aloud to support content area instruction
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Let's take the time to look closely at the role of read aloud in a subject matter unit of study. Assume for this example that you are planning a study of bats in your science curriculum. You might begin by gathering the students on the carpet with a whiteboard or large chart nearby. And it would go something like this:
"Each of you has heard of bats, right? But do you know much about them? Let's just take a minute to think about bats. Close your eyes if that helps you think, but focus on bats. I want you to search your mind and try to find all the bits of information you have tucked away in there. Hold on, I just need you to think right now about what a bat looks like. So get focused and try to picture a bat in your mind. Take a close look and try to remember all the details you can. Got it? Let's think for a moment."
Pause here for about 45 seconds.
"Now turn to the person next to you and talk for 40 seconds about what you saw in your mind."
I actually time this.
"Tell all the details you can and remember to listen to your partner as well. "Eyes up here, please. Talkers off. Thinkers on. Now, tell me something you heard someone else say that you think we should put on our list."
As children respond, I record what they say in blue and cluster it all together.
Note that you will likely find some responses that are factual and some that are not. List them all and make it clear that you will list anything that is believed to be true. The purpose of this list is to generate a baseline of our thinking.
"Wow, we have quite a list here."
The list may include things such as bats are black, bats have wings, they have small ears, their skin is like leather, bats have tiny beady eyes, they have fangs, and so on.
"Now I need you to think again. Talkers off. Thinkers on. Ready? This time I want to you think, no talking yet, just think about where bats live. Try to picture all the places you might find bats if you went on a bat hunt. Where are those places? What does it look like there? Do the bats have houses, or nests, or crawl into tiny holes, or something else? Think about that for a few more seconds. When we open our eyes, I'll ask you to turn and share your thinking with the person next to you. Remember to listen and share because I'll ask you to tell me something your partner said to you. Ready? Talk with your partner for forty seconds."
This time, when you draw their focus back to you, move to a different section of the chart and write in a different color, green for example. This way you create clusters of information that can be grouped under headings they are likely to find in an index.
"Let's get your thinking listed here. I'm writing in green this time and I'll put your ideas in this corner. That way we can keep our ideas about what bats look like and our ideas about where bats live separate."
When the list is complete, you will likely have ideas such as bats live in caves, they live in dark places, they live under bridges, they live in trees, they live in the attic, etc. Again, remember that you are getting a baseline of their perceptions. This is not about getting factual information.
"Let's get focused again. Talkers off. Thinkers on. This time, I need you to think about what bats eat. I want you to close your eyes and think about a bat going to dinner. Where does the bat go? Do all the bats go together, or do they each go alone? What sort of food do they eat? Do they search for food? Where do they find it? Does the bat collect the food and bring it back to share? Or does the bat eat the food right where it is found? OK, just think for a bit."
While they are thinking, I am getting a red marker so I can continue to cluster information by heading and color to help them organize their thoughts and develop understandings during the upcoming read aloud.
"Eyes open. Turn to your partner and share your thoughts. Remember to be a good listener as well so you can report something interesting you heard. Ready? You have forty seconds. Remember, you need to share your thinking and listen to the thinking of your partner."
I continue to stress the need to listen at this time, as most children are eager to share their own ideas. I am trying to lead them toward understanding that they can learn from listening to others. As they share their thoughts, I record them in another section of the chart using the red marker.
I continue with this, keeping the focus on habitat, mating, and reproduction, diet and nutrition, physical characteristics, and movement from place to place, but I like to end this one with myths and misunderstandings about bats. So let's skip down to that.
"Take a look at our thinking. Wow, you all have filled two chart sheets with your thoughts about bats! Well, I have one more thing I want you to think about before we begin to investigate. Blink twice if you are ready to think. Remember, talkers off, thinkers on. This time I want to think about all the myths and misunderstandings people tell about bats. Think for a minute about all the things you have ever heard about bats. Think about some of the things you have heard people say because they are afraid of bats. Think about some of the things you have heard people say because they have never even seen a bat. Just think about that. What are the things you've heard that you think are not really true?"
Pause for a moment to let them think while you get the black marker ready.
"Eyes open. Turn to your partner. Remember you have forty seconds to share your thoughts and also listen to your partner's ideas."
Remember to keep this tightly focused and quick. I try to stay within the 40 seconds so they will get to the point and stay energized about the topic. It seems to lend a sense of urgency to the whole brainstorming session.
"So let's get your thinking listed on our chart. Ready? Let me hear some of the things you heard from your partner."
I continue with listing out what they say, this time in black so each cluster of ideas is in a separate section and in a different color.
"We have one more task before we begin the read aloud and start our investigation into the life of bats. Let's take a look at our chart. Each section is in a different color, and each section is our thinking around one idea about bats. Let's look at the green section, where we were thinking about where bats live. Can you think of a word we might find in our science book or in other nonfiction books that means where an animal lives?"
Students will generate a list of words like homes, houses, shelter. If they do not get there, I will introduce the word habitat.
"So let's make a heading for the green section on this chart and call it Habitat."
Repeat this for each section on the chart, using headings that are likely to be found in the index, table of contents, or glossary of resources you plan to use.
"Now we have our thinking up here and ready for our study. Tomorrow we will begin with a read aloud called Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies, with illustrations by Sarah Fox-Davies."
The next day, gather your students so they can see the charts and the details in the text and the art of the book you will feature.
"Yesterday we spent a lot of time just getting our thinking about bats organized on these charts. Take a look; we have thoughts on habitats and physical characteristics, diet and nutrition, mating and reproduction, movement, habits, myths and misunderstandings, and more. We did a lot of thinking didn't we? Let's quickly read through our perceptions and thoughts before we begin the read aloud."
Allow time for this quick review.
"Today we are going to read Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies, with illustrations by Sarah Fox-Davies. You may remember that we read this book last week and I told you then we would be studying bats. Remember, I asked you to notice two words-nocturnal and echolocation? As I read the book again-today, I would like you to listen carefully and think about what we listed on our charts. When you hear something in the text that supports our thinking and proves that it is true, just give me a quiet thumbs-up. I'll stop as soon as I find a good place, and we can talk about what you noticed. Also listen for information that causes you to question some of our thinking. If you hear anything that makes you think our ideas might be incorrect, just let me know with a quiet thumbs-down. Again, I'll stop as soon as I find a good spot, and we will revisit and revise the chart. When we finish, we will see if we are able to fine-tune our thinking on the charts. Then we can ask better questions, and tomorrow I'll have another book that has even more information about bats."
This second reading of a picture book gives them some familiar territory as we begin reading aloud to instruct-to stretch their thinking and have them revise some of their misunderstanding and misperceptions. As you read along, there will be several places where you can pause to verify and validate the thinking they have listed on the chart. Take the time to signify that validation. I like to simply place a small plus sign to the left of the item on the list. When there is conflict between the information we are gaining from a read aloud and the ideas we have on the chart, I prefer to signal that with a question mark. The reason for this is it calls our attention to the need for us to check our thinking as we delve into the read alouds that will follow this one.
"Let's take a look at the way our thinking was stretched by this book."
Review the chart, drawing attention to the validations and revisions.
"Now that we know more about bats, I'm thinking we could ask some good questions to focus our investigation. Let's go back to our categories here on the chart. Shall we begin with Habitat? We found out that bats do prefer dark places like the attic of a house or a cave. Does that leave you with any questions?"
List the questions that arise from revisiting the thinking that was validated or revised and continue a similar process with each of the sections.
"Tomorrow we will read another book about bats. It is called Bats by Gail Gibbons. It is more of an all-about information book. When we read it, I am sure we will find answers to some of our questions from today. I think we will also find some new information to add to our charts."
I will continue this for two or three days, each day reading a book that is more complex, more detailed, more specific than the one before. This process allows each book to scaffold for the ones to follow and enables the students to accumulate information in layers. Each layer of information creates a base for the next, giving the students enough background to make sense of the next layer.
Here are a few books you might find useful in this particular example:
- Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies
- Bats by Gail Gibbons
- Bats by Nancy J. Shaw
- Bats by Margaret Dornfeld
As you read each book, you will have opportunities to model the use of an index to look for specific information, to address a question, or to return to a page to find a detail to resolve some confusion or disagreement, such as when two students remember the detail differently. You will also be able to immerse your students in demonstrations of the use of a table of contents, the glossary, headings in text, and bold print in a nonfiction book as opposed to bold print in a fiction book. Many opportunities will present themselves.