Read-aloud time is my favourite time of day in my classroom, and my students love it too. In fact, on the very rare occasion where we have a day without an interactive read-aloud, I am almost guaranteed to hear grumbling.

Pick books that are younger than your students and reflect their lives

Yeah, I said it. I’m not saying that old books can’t be good books, I’m just saying that there are lots of new books that are fabulous too! Bringing new books into the classroom is SO important.

  1. It shows your kids that you didn’t stop reading in elementary school.
  2. They can offer up relevant social commentary if you choose them well.
  3. Your teaching is less likely to get stale than if you recycle content every year.
  4. They may be less likely to include problematic content (I’m looking at you, Stone Fox and my beloved Secret Garden).
  5. They are more likely to include diverse casts of characters or feature authentic authorship when the protagonist belongs to a non-dominant/minoritized community.

Every child should be read multiple books with characters that look like them, believe like them, and love like them. Every child. It took me nineteen years to find a book with a character that was half-Japanese like me (Eric Walter’s War of the Eagles and Caged Eagles), and it felt like coming home. I read voraciously as a child; every summer in middle and high school I tried to read at least a hundred novels and I almost always met that goal. It is ridiculous that it took me that long to find a book that represented me. Don’t let your students have that experience.

Also, don’t assume that a book with an Indian protagonist is going to make all your students feel represented. No group is monolithic, so one ‘diverse book’ for a particular group will not do the trick.

I’ve shared the simple way that I keep track of diversity in my classroom library here.


I have heard teachers say that they like to read books along with their students so they can be surprised too. Sorry, but it’s not your job to be surprised; it’s your job to be prepared! Interactive read-alouds aren’t just a fun, filler activity; they’re instructional time. Reading the book beforehand gives you an opportunity to anticipate what kinds of discussions you will need or want to have with your students (the discussion part is what makes an interactive read-aloud interactive). It also allows you time to think of cross-curricular lessons that might relate to topics in the book.

Make time for what matters (a.k.a. interactive read-alouds!)

Read-aloud time is precious! People often schedule it as an end-of-day activity or as something to do when there is extra time. What kind of message does this send about reading? A side-effect of this is that read-alouds often get bumped and kids lose interest because the story isn’t as fresh in their minds. Instead, consider putting read-aloud time deliberately into your schedule and protecting it. If possible, try to wrap up novels before longer breaks like Winter Break so students (and you) don’t forget what was happening in the story. This was something I started doing after the first time I read OCDaniel. I made the mistake of pausing for winter break and some of my students bought their own copies so they could finish the book while we were out of school! Now, before starting a new book, I always have the kids pledge not to read it on their own until we finish it together (of course, sometimes a few of them have already read it and sometimes kids just can’t help reading ahead 😊)

Model and practice reading strategies

Interactive read-alouds need to be more than just… reading aloud. While you’re reading, pause to muse aloud and model reading strategies like questioning and predicting. Solicit student responses and name the strategies they are using when possible (ex. “Does anyone have a prediction about what might happen next?” “Let’s make an inference; what did her dad mean when he said that?”). Do this as a whole class and as partner-talk. When students know they actually have to think about and discuss the story, they are more likely to be engaged.

Bring the characters to life: Visual representations, conversational mentions, and lesson examples

This first idea is one I learned from the teacher I did my practicum under, and I just love it! She drew pictures of the main characters on chart paper and the class looked for descriptions to add as they read. I usually only do one for the protagonist, and I write the name and draw a blank head before we begin the book. I ask students to listen carefully for describing details as we read so we can fill in the characters’ faces and add describing words and phrases when we’re done. This little poster tends to get quite messy, especially when characters change over time and things get crossed out, but I think they’re a fun way to bring the characters into our classroom!

Another thing I like to do is talk about the protagonists as if they’re real people. For example, if a student writes a super-descriptive story, I might say – “wow, you’re a writer just like Mia!” (from Front Desk). Or I might say – “When it comes to sports, I feel a lot like Daniel Leigh (from OCDaniel). I also like to use our read aloud novels as anchor texts during our story-writing units. While learning about plot, we will use a well-loved novel as our example. When we learn about characterization, we’ll analyse excerpts from books we’ve read to see how the authors used characterization techniques. Bringing these books back into the conversation is also a reminder of experiences that we’ve shared, and shared experiences are an important part of building community.

Tie-in Activities

Look for experiences in the book that you can recreate with your students. These are some of the examples we have done over the years:

No actual work…

Yes, I made that font extra-big on purpose!

Despite the activities we do that are related to our interactive read-alouds, I don’t actually assign any work directly related to those novels anymore. I honestly think that this is what made the big difference in my classroom and turned these interactive read-aloud times into something everyone actively looked forward to. While students are expected to think hard, they know they won’t have to work hard. It feels like a break to them, and I’m good with that. As an adult, I read books for fun. If you made me draw a picture of what I visualize, write a paragraph about what I predict, and highlight all the inferences I’m making, I probably wouldn’t want to read the darn book! Now, that being said, I do make my students do that kind of thing for book clubs (I’ll write a separate post about how we run those later). But our interactive read-alouds? No. Those are all about sitting together and enjoying good book in a way that lets everyone access and experience a good text together.

How do you breathe life into your interactive read-alouds? I would love to hear your ideas below!

Breathing life into your upper elementary read alouds