How to Do an Interactive Read Aloud at Home

Reading stories to wiggly children is something that takes practice.  When I was younger, I would read to my niece, and she would simply get up and wander out of the room, mid-story.  The first time I tried to do a read-aloud as a student teacher, I had children crawling around like bears, sticking tape to each other, and chattering in the background.  There is an art to it, which many times we aren’t told about until we’ve already halfway given up reading to our children, or dread story time entirely.

Enter the Interactive Read Aloud.

What is an Interactive Read Aloud?

An interactive read aloud is exactly what it sounds like: a story that is read aloud, which takes frequent opportunities to stop, ask questions, and provide children with a chance to interact and engage with the book.  It’s not just a technique that works with whole classrooms full of children, either.  It works with a single child or a family as well.  It’s just a way to keep wiggly little ones involved in story-telling.

Once I figured out how to do an interactive read aloud, it helped story times go MUCH more smoothly.  First, it was my students.  Now, it is my own children.  But as a rule, it helps the little ones listening to sit with me for longer, look for specific elements in the story or its pictures, and answer questions about the text.  I started getting my youngest into the habit of doing this type of reading when we first started looking at books together (and she was less than a week old…so she couldn’t escape yet!).  Now, she’s started to walk, but she usually will sit through a whole children’s book when it’s done with lots of exciting voices and action!

How to Make Your Stories Interesting

The first piece of an interactive read aloud is making the stories exciting.  If you have a tough time improvising voices or reading with excitement and inflection the first time, it may be worth it to read through the book once or twice so that you’re familiar with it before you start.  My mom put me through theater classes when I was a teenager, and I’ve been lucky enough to retain a lot of the dramatic reading skills.

Some ways to help your stories come alive for your kiddos is to use voices for your characters, read with a lot of inflection, and pointing to important words or parts of the illustrations as you read!  For example, as I’m reading Jan Peck’s Way Far Away on a Wild Safari (one of my all time favorite kid’s books), and I get to the page, “Hello, Elephant! Hose nose Elephant!” I will read that in a silly voice and tap on the elephant’s spraying nose to draw attention to what she means by “Hose Nose.”

How to Make Your Stories InteractiveAsking questions during a read aloud can give your child plenty of reading skills!

The MOST important thing in an interactive read aloud is to be interactive with your child!  There are many different types of questions that you can ask while you’re reading.  Do not simply focus on reading the text and just assume that your child is following along.  That won’t happen for awhile yet.  Instead, ask leading questions to help your child follow the story and predict what is going to happen next.

Think about the oh-so-popular children’s show, Dora The Explorer.  One of the things that makes that show unique and loved by millions is the fact that she engages directly with the children watching.  Dora will ask questions during her songs and the scenes of her show: “Do you see Swiper the Fox?”  “Cinderella lost her….What did she lose?” Those questions can definitely grate on my nerves as I’m watching, but children love to shout out the answers and help Dora solve her mysteries.

Here are a few different types of questions that you can ask your kiddos as you’re reading:

  • Illustration Questions: Ask your children questions about the pictures as you are reading.  “Can you point to who this story is about?”  “Where is the Mouse’s picture?  Who did he draw?” “How many letters are in the tree now?  Let’s count!”  Pointing out important things in the pictures is a great way to help your child realize that the illustrations hold a lot of important information, too!
  • Review Questions:  These are questions that help your child follow the plot of a story by reviewing where the character has already been.  “What did Cinderella’s step-sisters do to her dress?”  “Who is the bird looking for?  Was that his mother?”  “Who was it that ate all of the baby bear’s porridge?” These questions are best for stories that have a plot that you can follow along, rather than the ones that are silly rhymes.  They help keep your little one involved in how the story is progressing.
  • Predicting Questions:  As you read your story, ask the children what they think is going to happen next.  “Do you think the prince will find her shoe?”  “What will happen when you give the mouse some crayons?”  “Can all of those letters fit up in the coconut tree?”  By asking these questions, you can help your children learn to make inferences based on the information they have, and predict what will happen next.

Give it a try!

Now that you’ve got some ideas about how to go about doing an interactive read aloud, pick out one of your child’s favorite books and give it a shot!  Remember to keep things interesting, ask lots of questions (but remember to keep the story going as well), and have fun together.  Let me know how it goes!

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