August 4, 2015

Back to School Read Alouds

To hear me talk about this post on YouTube, click here.

Summer is wearing thin, and as much as we aren't QUITE ready, our brains are subconsciously not letting us forget that the 2015-2016 school year is upon us.  I don't know about you, but I have already officially had my first of what I'm sure with be many "school nightmare" dreams where I forget my lesson plan, can't control a student, etc., etc., etc.  One of the first things I like to decide at the beginning of a school year is what interactive read aloud I would like to read first with my students.  Below are four of my favorite fiction novels that I've used in the past for read alouds, what types of Reading Workshop minilessons would fit nicely with the book, and what types of themes come up in the book to build classroom community through the read aloud experience.

Seedfolks is a favorite of mine read aloud of mine because it's composed of thirteen quick chapters, each chapter being from a new character.  All the characters relate to one another because they live in a run-down apartment complex where a community garden is started.

Reading Minilessons:  Point of View, Character Analysis, Setting Analysis, Complex Plot (tracking character relationships), Prediction

Themes:  Everyone is connected, make where you are beautiful, one small step can create a huge effect

The Tiger Rising has all the makings of the perfect book for a read aloud: beautiful language, complex characters and character relationships, and a unique plot.  It has been a go-to read aloud for me, and my students have always devoured the text each time we've read it.

Reading Minilessons: Character Analysis, Figurative Language, Author's Craft, Prediction, Inference, Analysis of Ending

Writing Minilessons:  This book goes great with Writing Workshop as a mentor text as well.  Show Don't Tell (taking small moments and making them big), using figurative language in writing, subtly characterizing a character through the characters thoughts, actions, and what he/she says in dialogue

Themes: Each person carries their own struggles, Cages and fences are sometimes built with the human mind, to overcome sadness you must deal with the pain

A Long Walk to Water keeps students actively making connections between characters and circumstances across time, examine what we're thankful for by living in the United States, and teaches them how authors can incorporate real details in a fiction story.  Linda Sue Park does just that in this book based on the real life of the main character, Salva.  She couples this with a fictionalized character in present day Sudan, Nya, who walks half a day to and back from a watering hole to get just a little bit of water for her family.

Reading Minilessons: Point of View, analyzing point of view, using accurate details from real life in a work of fiction, Prediction, Making Connections (character to character, text to world)

Themes: Never give up, Give back, Everything comes full circle

Out of My Mind forces students to take a deep look at how they treat others and how that might make others feel. For middle school students, this perspective is needed.  I saw this book build community and an understanding between my 8th grade students immediately while it was being read and after.  The main character, Melody has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk, talk, or communicate.  However, she is a total smarty with a photographic memory, but nobody knows it.

Reading Minilessons: Point of View, Character Development, Inference, Making Connections

Themes: Don't make assumptions about people you don't know, give everyone a chance, words can leave scars

On my YouTube channel, I also talked about these books.  If you'd like to see me discussing these books, feel free to jump over there and watch with this link.

Happy back-to-school planning to all of the amazing teachers out there!


  1. Great suggestions! I've read a few of them and agree with your assessment. I'm headed out for The Tiger Rising. I like your writing mini-lesson idea! Thanks.

    1. No problem! Thanks so much for reading my post and enjoy A Long Walk to Water!

  2. Do you complete genre studies with your IRA?

    1. Not every single time, but if the IRA lends itself nicely to RW and WW minilessons focused around that genre, then yes. I try to sequence my read alouds so that they make sense with what I'm planning into the workshops so that it's my "go to" mentor text at the time.

  3. I LOVE A Long Walk to Water! It's a great book to incorporate point of view, as well as having students recognize that part of the book is from a non-fiction perspective, regarding Salva. I'm planning to use Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and one of the reasons is b/c of the different points of view the story is written in. Thanks for sharing!

    Lit with Lyns

    1. I love Wonder as well! Both books are so good for analyzing point of view with students and also to get students thinking creatively with how they take on the POV of their writing pieces!

  4. Hi, I just stumble upon your site and I love it! I am wondering how you divide up your time/your classes based on interactive read alouds and other reading activities such as independent reading and literature circles?

    1. Hi Amanda! I just did a blog post on this topic. Check it out here: Thank you so much for reading my blog, and I hope you'll stop back again! :)

  5. Hi Kasey, I'm loving your information on setting up workshops and interactive read alouds! When you read aloud to the kids, do they usually have a copy of the book in front of them with which to read along?

    1. Hi,

      This is a great question! My answer to it is no unless I would have them look at a specific passage after the read aloud to respond to a writing about reading prompt or something like that. The reason for this is because every instructional context within Reading Workshop holds a different purpose:

      -Interactive Read Aloud: comprehension, interaction with peers, verbal listening, enjoyment of literature without having to work to solve text
      -Guided Reading: to get students to read leveled texts in small groups of peers at their reading ability level so that I can work closely with each student on what he or she needs to improve as a reader
      -Literature Study: to get students to read grade level texts and discuss them in small groups of a mix of peers
      -Independent Reading: to read an independent book of their choice that is selected based on their interests and motivations as a reader

      So as you can see, for the four reasons students would read in Reading Workshop, ever context holds a different purpose. The beauty of balanced literacy is that when the teacher can clearly communicate to students the purpose of each context, all four can work together to deeply support every reader in your classroom.

  6. I think I've bookmarked a hundred of your posts! Thank you for all the information! And THANK YOU for taking the time to answer questions--it's a great help!

    Q: Do you complete each book you read for an IRA, or do you occasionally use excerpts from a book without picking it back up again?

    Q: Do you always match your IRA to the genre you are teaching? If not, how do you cover that genre?

    Q: I teach Social Studies, along with Reading/Writing. Would you integrate SS content books into your RW/WW, and how often? (I know you may not teach SS, but I'm curious what you would do if you did teach it.)

    Again, thank you! :)

    1. Hi Whitney,

      These are all such great questions about interactive read aloud! Thank you so much for following my blog! I love interacting with teachers who follow it!

      Q1: I do usually complete each book I start reading for IRA. With that being said though, if you have a great purpose for why you would read only an excerpt, this is fine! I also read short stories, poems, nonfiction pieces for IRA, so using shorter pieces in between the longer novels is a great way to switch it up.

      Q2: I don't always match my IRA to the genre I am teaching. If I'm teaching persuasive essay in writing, for example, I have mentor texts that I'm using during the modeling portion of the minilesson for that purpose. I also try to read a variety of genres to my students across the year and sequence them in a way that makes sense with the minilessons I'm teaching. However, if there's a book we've read earlier in the year that would work great for the modeling portion of the minilesson, I don't hesitate to refer back to a previously read book if the timing of my IRA and minilessons don't perfectly match up. In an idea world, they would, so the more you can match up your IRA to coincide with the units you're teaching, the better.

      Q3: I don't teach Social Studies, but this year I will be teaching 8th grade, and the 8th grade Civics teachers do a big unit on the Civil Rights Movement. In LA, we complement this by doing a round of nonfiction literature circles with five different NF texts on topics related to the Civil Rights Movement. We also do several picture book read alouds during this time on the Civil Rights Movement. I have found that there are amazing picture books appropriate for middle school students on social studies based topics, so that would definitely be a resource I would tap into.

      Again, these were amazing questions, and thank you for asking them! I hope your school year is off to a great start!



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