Incorporating Virtual Read Alouds for Grades K-12: Tips and Tricks from a Virtual Educator

Read alouds are a time when students of all ages can get immersed in different worlds, make new friends, and go on amazing adventures. As teachers, we constantly read aloud in our brick and mortar classrooms, and this can still be a possibility in virtual classrooms.

I’m a strong believer in the power of read alouds for students in grades P-12. About two years ago I shared how I conducted read alouds in the virtual world via Zoom (click here). Since then I have experimented with a few different ways of incorporating read alouds for one-on-one and classes with students in grades K-12. I share my screen via Zoom and use e-books with students, or I read aloud from a paper based novel depending on the lesson.

Read Alouds for Grades K-5

When: I dedicated my morning meeting time to a read a book of the day. Typically this time is about 15 minutes, which is just enough time to read and touch on some reading comprehension questions. However, this can also be done as a mini-lesson. Read alouds can also take place during snack time and while transitioning subjects in the virtual world.

What: For early elementary read alouds, or beginner readers, I get picture books from Kindle Unlimited since I have a subscription, but some other options include Vooks and Epic!. Since I’m also a book reviewer, I love to use books I’ve reviewed with my students as well (check out one of my favorite authors below). This activity can also be done with nonfiction texts if you’re looking to include more in the curriculum.

What is the title of the book? Rescue. What is the picture? Three dogs. What do you think this story will be about? Dogs helping people.

How: I structure my read aloud with pre-reading, during reading and after reading sections. These can be super quick, or extended a few minutes depending on the text. Pre-reading– We always start by discussing the cover a book. Where is the author’s name? What is the title of the story? What is the picture? What do we think this book will be about based on the picture? I pose these types of questions and have students verbally respond, since typing would take them too long. During reading– Every few pages I stop and ask questions about the character, plot, text to self connections, setting, etc. Some are purely comprehension based and others are geared more towards making inferences. Who is the main character? What is the problem? My questions can usually be answered by using the pictures and the text, so all of my readers are able to participate, regardless of their reading ability.

What is Phoebe’s problem? She can’t find her favorite tennis ball. How does she feel about this? She’s surprised.

After reading– Similar to pre and during reading, I pose questions to my students about theme, rating the book, explaining their thoughts on the book, etc. Students can verbally answer this or use a white board/piece of paper to rate the book. If you’re looking for a more extended after reading activity, have students draw a picture and write a sentence or two related to the book. For instance, if the book is about pets, have students draw a picture of their pet (or their dream pet) and write a sentence with the pet’s name.

Read Alouds Grades for Grades 6-12

When: I would include a read aloud during language arts time, or at the start of a language arts class. If I’m reading aloud at the beginning of every class period, I dedicate 10 minutes for me reading and 5 minutes for students to respond to the reading. If I’m doing a live lesson for my virtual students, my read alouds last between 45 minutes to an hour about once a week.

What: For daily read alouds, I prefer to use a novel with students. Over the years I’ve used the following texts: City of Ember, The Face on the Milk Carton series, Among the Hidden, Divergent (censoring certain parts), The Hunger Games, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

How: My focus is to have students enjoy the story, so I do pre and after reading activities. My pre-reading consists of either me giving a recap from the previous days’ reading or having a student do it, and a brief “heads up” about the day’s chapter(s). I will also tell students what the after reading question is before I start reading to give them ideas to focus on during the read aloud. After reading activities can look a little different depending on how long my lesson is. One option is to have students respond to the reading question. This question can be answered in Padlet, Poll Everywhere, Google form, etc. In the past, I’ve used Padlet and I usually use one or two student examples or have a student pick their favorite response, one they disagree with, etc. to review the question. For an extended read aloud (45 minute to 1 hour) check out how I utilize chat to generate discussions here .

New Tricks

Since March, I’ve tweaked some of my instructional practices to provide additional support for reading comprehension.

*Discussions include more quote analysis to help with making inferences, drawing conclusions and other higher order thinking skills. Students are also encouraged to use to keep an eye/ear out for quotes that catch their attention.

*Audiobooks have been life savers. As an online teacher I teach English and English-based electives for grades 6-12, which includes A LOT of novels. I can’t read them all to my students, so by providing audio versions (thank you YouTube) my students can get the support they need. Also, during small groups or one-on-one sessions, I will use an audio version depending on the text. No one can read Harry Potter more perfectly than Jim Dale.

*Incorporating more connections for my students has also helped their reading comprehensions. For instance, in Divergent when Tris starts wearing eye liner and black clothing, I share a text to media connection I have with the movie Mulan. Both scenes show the girls stuck between two different identities of themselves and both help students understand the theme of identity.

To check out Rescue click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading,  writing and home-based learning support tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

My 3 Favorite Virtual Reading Activities

Teaching reading and writing online is definitely a change from in person lessons. We know that kids need to be engaged in the learning process, and we need to be introducing them to different activities to help keep their focus.

As a virtual teacher, I’ve experimented with a few different ways to engage my students when it comes to literacy. I want my students to have fun and appreciate the joy that reading can bring. I use Zoom with my students, and will record my sessions to pass along to those who couldn’t make the session, or who want to re-watch it. Here are three my three favorite virtual literacy activities I’ve used with my students.

Virtual author visits– I was fortunate to have an author, Brenda Felber, reach out to me a year and a half ago about doing a virtual author visit. She found me on social media and we arranged to have her Zoom with my students.  She shared her research and writing process and more (click here to read about her visit). Brenda writes mystery chapter books (click here to check out my review of her novel)

I also had another author visit with Christine Reynebau a few weeks after Brenda. Christine writes and publishes picture books (Celebrate, PB&J, Guts, Rescue, and Lost) and did a read aloud during her visit along with a discussion of how she made her dreams of being a children’s book author come true.

I typically network with a lot of indie authors for my book reviews, and it’s truly incredible when I can introduce my students to quality texts.

Read alouds- if you’ve been a follower for a while, you know this is my jam. Read alouds are my thing. I LOVE being able to make great stories come to life for my students and be able to discuss the works together. I’ve been able to create a community of readers through an online platform which makes my heart so happy.

When I first started doing virtual read alouds, I used texts that were part of the curriculum. For sixth grade I read The Hunger Games, seventh grade was A Wrinkle in Time and eighth grade was The Giver. My students loved being able to throw their ideas into the chat box and discuss with their peers while I facilitated. At the time, my kiddos preferred the chat box because they didn’t feel comfortable being on camera.

The last read aloud I did with grades 6-12 was Divergent, and it was pure magic! My regular group would join me once a week and we had the best time. They even created hashtags that would pop up during our discussions. For more specific information on virtual read alouds click here.

This summer I taught kindergarten, and I spent our morning meeting time with a read aloud. I chose a different picture book every day and we practiced pre-reading strategies, reading comprehension, and making inference skills during our time together. My kiddos loved knowing we would read something new every day, and they were engaged while practicing new skills.

For kindergarten, I used e-book versions of text and shared my screen while I read. I got my daily books from Kindle Unlimited (a truly amazing service) and introduced my readers to a lot of indie authors.

Scavenger hunts– I actually got this idea from my elementary supervisor this summer during a meeting about student engagement. She encouraged us to get the kids moving and grooving as much as possible, since they were sitting in classes with us for 45 minutes at a time.

When we were working on phonics and letters, I would tell my students to grab objects  in their house that started with a specific letter. For instance, they had to grab objects that started with the letter ‘w’ and kids came back with walnuts, a dollhouse (she pointed to the window) and a wallet. Not only did it get them up and moving, it was seriously entertaining to see what they came up with.

For older students, I would use the idea of a scavenger hunt to help with teaching symbolism. I would tell students to find an object in their room that represents (symbolizes) them. Once students returned we would all discuss the object and how it symbolized the student.

 

Literacy activities don’t always have to be an online game or writing activity. By adding in some different activities, we can keep our students engaged and also have fun.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Ultimate List of Books with Movies for Grades 4-8

One of my favorite teaching techniques is to incorporate videos to help students with reading skills. The visual component gives readers support with reading comprehension, analyzing theme and characterization, comparing/contrasting, and more.

Reading and watching film versions of books is not just a classroom activity. It can be done as a family activity at home as well. Parents and children can take turns reading a story aloud every day, every night, during snack time, etc. Once the book is finished make it a family movie night with some popcorn to enjoy viewing the story.

Below is the ultimate list of books with films for grades 4-6 that I have used with my students over the last 10 years.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This is a great text for grades 4-6 and is a classic piece of children’s literature. The film version (Mr. Toad) was created by Disney in 1949 and is in a set with The Adventures of Ichabod.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Personally, I LOVE this series. It’s great for grades 4-8 (and beyond) and the movies really bring to light the message of the story.

Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan. This text is typically used in 6th grade during mythology units, but it’s a great fantasy series for students in grades 4-8.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. I really love using this text in 6th grade to help teach students about figurative language. This quick story is jam packed with rich language, and centers around important themes. I would suggest this book for grades 4-6. The film version, I will admit, is not my favorite. It’s way more of a love story than the text shows, and it’s a little much. However, I love showing students the pond scene because it highlights the main ideas and quotes that are important in the book.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline Le’Engle. I fell in love with this book in sixth grade and still use my personal copy from middle school when I read this with my students. Due to the complex vocabulary, I would suggest reading this book with students in grades 6-8. Disney actually created two movie versions of this text, a made for TV movie and the latest with a star studded cast. I have only used the TV movie with students.

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. There are a few different versions of this text. The one I linked is one of my favorites because of the illustrations. This is also another classic piece of children’s literature and many textbooks have included the short story version in their books. I recommend this one for grades 4-6. The film is a 20 minute version from Disney feature Mickey Mouse (click here for the Youtube link).

Mulan. This text also comes in a variety of forms. It can be found as a ballad (as seen in the link) and there is a short story version that I can’t seem to find online. The film version is by Disney, so there is some fun and humor added. This is a great piece to use with students in grades 4-7, especially since it’s a cross curricular piece with social studies.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. To me, this will always be the original YA dystopian text. This work is best for grades 6-8 (there are mentions of some mature thoughts known as “stirrings”). I found the film version to be very engaging, and while it is a little different than the text, it’s been modernized to attract present day students.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Similar to The Giver, this YA dystopian book made a statement when it came out. In my opinion, it sparked the YA dystopian movement over the last 10 years. This trilogy is best for grades 6-8. The movies are pretty true to the text and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. This book has turned struggling and non-readers into readers without fail over the last 10 years. It’s the perfect middle school (grades 6-8) novel. It’s action packed, a little violent, honest, and creative. I will admit that I have never seen the film versions because I don’t want to ruin the movie I’ve created in my head with this amazing text.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I’ve spent most of my teaching career with 6th grade students who are starting middle school for the first time. This is such a perfect book for students in grades 4-6. It’s realistic, charming and heart warming. The movie does a great job making the story come to life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. If you’re looking for a novel to suck in middle school boys, this one is perfect. I recommend it for grades 7-8 because it is a little violent. The movie also has a great cast.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this book personally for some reason, students love it. This book for grades 4-6 and it’s filled with humor that will make your kids chuckle. The Disney movie, that’s not an animated film, does a great job capturing the story.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Another classic children’s story that is one of my personal faves. This fantasy story is packed with imagination and rich symbolism. It’s great for students in grades 4-6. There are a few film versions for this piece. My personal favorite is the cartoon version from 1979 (click here for the Youtube link) and Disney did create a non-animated version.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I have always been a Roald Dahl fan and this is one of my favorites because I always wanted to be like Matilda (I know, I’m a nerd). This novel is great for grades 4-6. The movie is also spectacular and is perfect for the whole family to enjoy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the character development, which makes the text humorous and enjoyable. It’s ideal for grades 4-6. The film version with Johnny Depp is a little dark, so I prefer to use the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory version.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. In all honesty, I love the clay animation look of this film version to help distinguish the different phases of the plot. It’s super fun and engaging for young readers in grades 4-6.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. This is my personal fave Roald Dahl novel. My first grade teacher read it aloud and I’ve re-read it countless times since then. The film version is equally as captivating as the text and is great fore grades 4-6.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This American classic  is a very popular in 8th grade English. The text complexity, language and themes are more mature, so I recommend this for 8th grade and up. The film version is also a classic and is shot without color.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. For fans of vampires and romance this series is perfect. This is one of those guilty pleasure books that even adults still enjoy. I recommend this for grades 6-8. The film versions closely mirror the books.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. I was first introduced to the movie version of this text when we visited my aunt down the shore growing up. It wasn’t until I saw the book sitting in a classroom that I realized the movie was based on a book. This is a mysterious and action filled story for grades 4-6.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book is perfect for kids who love dogs! It’s all about the bond between a boy and his dog and is ideal for grades 4-6. The movie version is equally adorable and can be shared with the whole family.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashares. This book is perfect for teen girls, so I recommend it for students in 8th grade and above. It dives into the lives of four friends and the personal experiences they have while wearing a par of thrift store jeans. The film also has a star-studded cast and is highly enjoyable for teens.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. An absolute classic piece of children’s literature and cinema. The story and the film are great for all members of the family, especially those who love music and theater.

**Many of these books can be shared with younger readers as well as the age groups listed. If you’re worried about content, feel free to check out Common Sense Media .

For more information about online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12 click here.

 

 

My 10 Favorite YA Novels

The other day I shared a post about what makes YA so special (click here to read it), and it made me start thinking about all of the YA books that I love. So, I decided to share my personal list of favorite YA novels, in no particular order.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I literally can’t even type that title without smiling. I have loved this novel since it first came out, and have used it as a read aloud with my students every year. It’s honestly a book that has turned many of my non-readers into readers. I love it because the plot is fast paced with lots of twists, the characters are incredibly relatable, and there is just a hint of mystery that keeps readers on their toes. It’s not the typical mushy gushy teen love story, but shows the importance of teamwork in a relationship.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These books just make my heart so happy. I have read this series more times than I can count, and I am now addicted to the audio books. This to me will always be a staple in YA literature culture because it sparked a movement in our society that showed the power of a book. I love it because it’s beyond imaginative and creative in terms of plot, the characterization is incredible as we see them grow up, and the timeless theme of good vs. evil is captivating.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. When I was in middle school I saw the TV movie of this novel and instantly fell in love with the story. For the next 15 years ish I read the series and followed Janie’s story. When the final story was released a few years ago, I knew I wanted to somehow introduce my students to this incredible mystery. I dedicated an entire school year read aloud to my honors sixth grade students every day for 10 minutes. We literally cried on the last day we finished the series because we were all so emotionally invested in the characters. I absolutely LOVE how intricate and complex the plot is, especially as readers discover more about certain characters. This is a fabulous option for students who love realistic mysteries.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I feel like I’m home whenever I re-read this series. The characters are some of my best friends, especially because they can always make me laugh with their wit and sarcasm. As a reader, I love that I can be a total English nerd and analyze this text for religious symbolism and a whole slew of inferences. This is definitely a series I would read with a pen and highlighter in hand. I tried to watch Shadowhunters when it was a TV series, and I couldn’t make it through the first episode because I didn’t want to destroy my personal version in my head. The use of fantasy in this series sucks readers into a world they will never want to leave. I’m also a fan of the maturity of this series, which gives it a really great YA feel.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I truly don’t have enough words to describe my love for this novel. I remember reading it in 6th grade, and I still have my original copy. While the plot and characters are fabulous, I LOVE the underlying messages in this text. The battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, government control, and so, so much more. I love the feeling of empowerment this book gives readers to fight for what’s right. The symbolism is so decadent and rich, which makes it an amazing novel to use with middle school readers. Truthfully, I get excited whenever I do my Wrinkle unit.

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn. I remember seeing this book at my local library as a teen and devouring it. Teens are always fascinated about being a celebrity and living that kind of lifestyle. Since I grew up in the 2000s, hello bubble gum pop era, this book got my attention. I love how the plot took readers on a realistic journey as Wonder went from working at Dairy Queen to being a pop sensation. It felt very 2000s, and was a fun, quick read.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I mentioned this text in my previous post, What’s So Special About YA?, so it obviously had to make my list. One of my favorite aspects about YA novels is there really are no boundaries when it comes to plot. This one touches on a very sensitive subject of abuse, but I think that’s why I like it so much. While it doesn’t sugar coat anything, the writing isn’t too in your face and instead shows readers Caitlin’s experience. I love the use of POV in this one, because we gain an insight into what victims of abuse go through.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. Full disclosure, I’m addicted to reality TV, specifically the Real Housewives franchise. When I first started reading this series I could taste the reality TV feel right away. It’s very Bachelor in a sense. However, the reality feel doesn’t stay for very long before it morphs into a love story with some major problems. I loved the fun tone of this series and of course the idea of a prince and princess. I honestly made my classes have a reading day the day the final book came out just so I could read it (which they totally didn’t mind).

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I know, I know. Similar to Harry Potter, Twilight sparked something in our society which turned it into an incredible phenomenon. Werewolves, vampires and a love story don’t sound that exciting until you read the series. During the peak of its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for readers to pick a team, which readers still take extremely seriously. I will forever be Team Jacob, and I apologize if I offend anyone. (Never go back to a man that left you). It’s an incredibly easy read that speaks to the heart of teenage girls because they all want that deep love.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is probably the most underrated YA book I’ve ever come across. For the life of me I don’t understand how it was never more popular. This was my very first unit plan during my practicum experience and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the realness of this novel. Steven’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer. We follow Steven as he deals with an incredibly challenging home life and dealing with middle school all at the same time. The dialogue and characterization are spot on for an 8th grade boy, which makes the story that much better.

 

Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom

For over a year and a half I have been an virtual English teacher with EdOptions Academy. There is definitely some transition from being in a brick and mortar school to working with kids digitally, but the rewards are still the same.

One of my favorite activities to do with my students when I taught in a brick and mortar was my daily read aloud. I would choose a high interest text for my students, read it aloud to them every day and then have a quick class discussion about the reading. I was ecstatic when EdOptions Academy started using Zoom to conduct live weekly lessons because I would be allowed to continue my read alouds in the virtual setting.

For the last six months I have held weekly read alouds for my students in secondary English. It was slow going in the beginning, but I now have students waiting for me in our weekly meetings.

Below are some ways that I have created a successful virtual read aloud for students in grades 6-12.

Picking the right book. EdOptions Academy has a set curriculum, so I wanted to choose a novel based on assignments students are required to complete. For fall semester I did three separate read alouds (The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Giver). While I loved reading these novels with my students, it was a lot to manage with 250 students. For spring semester, I am reading Divergent because it has similar themes to the texts from last semester and it’s an AMAZING book.

Student participation. Zoom allows students to participate via video chat or instant message using a chat box. I never gave students direct instructions on how to share their ideas during our sessions because I didn’t know what they would be comfortable using. My goal is always to have students be comfortable during our time together. Students started utilizing the chat box while I was reading to ask questions or express their thoughts. I monitor the chat box periodically while I read each chapter, and go through it at the end of each chunk to address any questions or ideas students have.

This is has been the most powerful aspect of my read aloud. Students are able to socialize with other students in the chat box while discussing the text. I notice that students make a TON of text-to-text connections (my favorite are the Harry Potter connections) and really love to discuss characterization. Students even came up with a hashtag ,#pusheric, when discussing the youngest Dauntless leader and it was one of my favorite discussions I’ve ever had. Having the freedom to type their ideas at any point during our hour together encourages students to participate when they feel comfortable and not worry about getting in trouble for interrupting.

Talk about being readers. Just as in a brick and mortar environment, it’s important to discuss reading habits in and out of the classroom. During my read alouds, I often find myself saying things such as, “As readers, we can infer…”. Using language like this helps create a stronger community feeling that we are all readers, regardless if we struggle or not. We also spend time talking about other texts the students are currently reading. Some are reading the Divergent series and others are enjoying Percy Jackson. By engaging in conversations like this with my students on a consistent basis we are not only bonding in the virtual classroom, but sharing books and characters we love.

Recorded sessions. I am required to record all of my live lessons with my students, which has turned out to be an incredible concept. Since my read aloud changes every week depending on meetings and office hours, some of my students are unable to attend the live session. I send the recorded link to my students each week so they can watch it at their convenience and still feel included. I also keep a Word document of all my recording links so I can share them with other teachers, parents, and schools. Students have told me they have “watched” me in the car traveling to tournaments and at night with their families. I love that parents get just as excited for the next chapter as my students.

All are welcome. During the fall semester, I was talking to another English teacher who was on a different team. She expressed her concern for a student because he was struggling in her class. I told the teacher the student should come to my read aloud to help practice reading skills in addition to the amazing work that she was already doing with him. The student participated in my read alouds and made significant progress in his English class. His success story is one of my favorites because it shows the power of collaboration in the virtual environment. I will never turn a student away from a read aloud because he or she is not “mine”. Any student is welcome to attend my read alouds and engage in amazing conversations with us.

The virtual learning environment is still a very new concept, but it is possible to create a community of readers from the comforts of home or on the road. My students now wait for me to start our meetings and I have a steady core group of readers. My read aloud is easily the highlight of my week and I love that I get to share it with my students from all over the US.