Using Read-Alouds to Boost Inquiry
Reading texts aloud to your students—no matter what their age or independent reading level—is a great way to intensify inquiry-centered learning. It’s also highly enjoyable!
Abundant research1 has shown that reading aloud to students builds their vocabularies, provides a model of fluent reading, and meets the needs of auditory learners. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell’s2 work has documented how interactive read-alouds enable students to experience higher-level texts and build “shared literary knowledge.” But it’s also clear that read-alouds contribute to social and emotional learning.
While listening as a text is read aloud, students have the opportunity to practice self-awareness and self-management. Learning how to listen actively, avoid distracting others, and follow along as they hear the text requires students to focus and to demonstrate respect for others—two skills that are crucial to inquiry-based learning. And as they listen, students also learn to associate reading with the positive emotions of being part of a community and doing something enjoyable.
Particularly for older elementary, middle school, and high school students who have had negative experiences with reading, listening to texts can change their perceptions of their ability to understand ideas and respond to them with peers. As Lisa Hollihan Allen, a middle school literary interventionist, wrote in the Wisconsin English Journal, “Reading aloud provides positive experiences. Sharing a compelling, enjoyable, important, or funny book with their classmates can be powerful. They start to trust that reading can be a good thing and that maybe this teacher knows what she’s doing.”3
Five Tips for Using Read-Alouds for Inquiry-Based Learning
- To focus inquiry, choose short texts. Especially when you are combining listening to a text with responding to it, readings of limited length allow for both activities within a class period. Students will also find it easier to hold the entirety of a shorter text in mind when asking questions or exploring reactions.
- Pause for questions. After every few pages, ask students to share what they are wondering about, and post questions for everyone to see. Then, at the end of the reading, help students process which questions have been answered by further reading and which questions remain.
- Consider incorporating nonverbal signals. Having students use simple hand gestures to indicate surprise, agreement, or disagreement can help them stay focused and start to track their reactions.
- Reinforce enjoyment through sharing. In addition to questions, have students share their favorite part of a text or their strongest reaction. Make it clear that the purpose is not to grade or judge responses, but to listen to varied perspectives as part of a learning community.
- Emphasize that one reading is only the beginning! Emphasize to students that confusion about some parts of a reading is natural, and that rereading is an opportunity to deepen understanding. After hearing a text read aloud, have students reread or re-listen to it with their questions in mind.
Junior Great Books Provides Multiple Opportunities
Junior Great Books has many wonderful texts for grades K–8, in both fiction and nonfiction, that you can read aloud to students and fully explore through inquiry-based activities. Classroom materials for all levels include recordings of every text that students can listen to anytime to increase their understanding and boost their levels of participation in discussion.
Please download any of the sample lesson plans on this page to read and enjoy a Junior Great Books selection appropriate for your grade level. Then select your state or location from the dropdown menu to start a conversation with your Great Books educational consultant today!
- Okello, Dr. Betsy. “The Power of Read Alouds.” University of Notre Dame Center for Literacy Education. January 28, 2021.
- Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Team. “What Is Interactive Read-Aloud?” Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Blog. January 25, 2019.
- Allen, Lisa Hollihan. “Reading Aloud to Older Students: Benefits and Tips.” Wisconsin English Journal. April 26, 2018.
Senior Professional Learning Consultant and Editor.
Nancy Carr has over 20 years of experience as both a professional development coach and a curriculum developer, working in schools throughout the country and with a wide range of student populations. Her work focuses on the intersection of curriculum materials and classroom practice, and she has helped develop many of the Foundation’s current K–12 materials. Nancy holds a PhD in English from the University of Virginia.