Engaging students in virtual class read-alouds certainly comes with its own unique challenges, but having a few attention-grabbing strategies up your sleeve can help.

Here are the tricks other teachers like you have found work best when captivating their students during read-aloud time—even when they’re reading through a screen. 

1. Start By Looking at a Book’s Storyline

For Younger Students 

One of the most critical components for virtual read-alouds is starting with a story that students want to engage with. For Kristen Poindexter, a kindergarten teacher in Indiana, this means choosing books with predictable patterns and repetition, such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and the There Was an Old Lady series.

Poindexter says these books are great for beginning readers because they enable students to discover phonemic concepts, identify beginning and ending sounds, and learn how to point to words while correctly holding a book—boosting both their engagement and confidence.

For Older Students 

Katie Reilly, a fourth-grade teacher in Illinois, likes to pick titles featuring characters her students can learn from as well as storylines that keep her readers on the edge of their seats. Two of her favorites for virtual read-alouds are The Witches, the much-loved fantasy novel about a young boy’s encounter with witches, and Fenway and Hattie, an excitable story about an energetic Jack Russell terrier and his human best friend. 

“Students fell in love with Fenway's voice and could easily relate to the challenges Hattie was facing,” Reilly says. “Many of them decided to continue on with the series as independent reading when we finished the book, which is important as a middle-grade reader.” 

2. Plan Read-Aloud Activities 

For Younger Students 

For growing readers such as Poindexter’s kindergarteners, encouraging students to retell the story is a great way to keep them interested, even when the book is finished. 

With favorite classics like The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Poindexter sends students retelling materials (think character and settings coloring pages) to help jog their memories. 

“While sharing these stories, I make sure to read with all the expression I can,” she adds. “And once we read through the text once or twice, I invite different students to read parts.”

For Older Students

Ignite students’ interest in upcoming virtual read-alouds by previewing discussions ahead of time. For Reilly, this means recording discussion questions and tasking her middle-grade students with watching them as part of their daily work.

“The discussion questions are shared with students in our digital platform as well as verbally before I begin reading, so students know what key points I want them to listen for,” says Reilly. “The next day, we meet in small group breakout rooms to discuss the previous day's chapter, and then we come back together as a whole group to discuss and clarify any unanswered questions.”

3. Set the Scene With Backgrounds and Books

Setting the scene for virtual read-alouds while encouraging students to do the same can help develop a strong affinity for the story. When Stacey Riedmiller, a fifth-grade teacher in Ohio, reads to her students online, she likes to set the mood with a custom background or video. 

“If I’m holding a physical copy of the book in my hands as I read, I love to put up a cozy fireplace or some type of video that fits the setting of the book to get students in the zone for the story,” says Riedmiller.

Books like Holes, The Jumbies,One Crazy Summer, and The One and Only Ivan have all been hits with her students. 

The One and Only Ivan is a crowd favorite,” she says. “The short chapter sections help the text remain accessible for all readers and students to fall in love with the characters. They are often inspired to take action at the end!”

Similarly, ensuring every student has a physical copy of the book can help sustain their interest. 

“When I can get the actual books in their hands, that is when I see the most transfer and understanding from them,” says Riedmiller. 

You can start a campaign to put books in all of your students’ hands. There are no fees and you have the ability to spend every penny the moment you receive it.  

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