Frontloading Literacy Instruction with Read Aloud

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Do we expect our students to go forth and read increasingly complex texts with little or no guidance? Of course, not!

Learning to read and comprehend is like driving a car, right?

How can we expect students to independently use what we have not modeled, shared and guided them through?

Before I got my driver’s license, I went through the process of learning to drive. My parents didn’t just throw me in the driver’s seat, watch me back out of the driveway and say go forth and learn to drive! That would be crazy dangerous! First, I spent much time as a passenger watching licensed drivers drive all my life. I asked questions and had conversations with them about different driving situations. Then, I was able to drive down the driveway to check the mail—with dad in the passenger’s seat, of course. I’ll never forget when my mom stopped on the back-country road between my grandma’s house and ours and let me slide into the driver’s seat to take us home. Soon after, Driver’s Ed class came and I simulated different driving conditions before being put in a car with my Driver’s Ed teacher. My fellow driving students and I drove all over with him that summer. Finally, my 16th birthday and driver’s license time. Oh, what a feeling! I had my driver’s license and could drive independently! Although, I didn’t know everything about driving; my parents made it clear that I was still learning.

Now what’s this have to do with frontloading literacy instruction?


Driving a car was a learning process just like reading! There was modeling for me, sharing experiences and guided experiences before ever expecting me to independently drive out of the driveway!

So, let’s talk about Read Aloud! Have you ever wondered why Read Aloud doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

When Read Aloud is mentioned as an integral part of literacy instruction, many educators tune out and look away with thoughts of “I already do read aloud in my classroom. What can I do that will teach my students to read better and comprehend better?” Do you feel the same way? Let me answer these common questions: It all starts with Read Aloud!

If I want my students to

think beyond the text and

have deep book conversations

with a partner,

in small group instruction,

in conferences and

in whole group discussions,

I have to model that behavior for my students.

  • If I’m a primary teacher, I model appropriate primary book conversations.

  • If I’m an Intermediate teacher, I build on the primary talk and model appropriate intermediate grade level conversations.

  • If I’m a middle school teacher, I build on the elementary level book talk and model middle grade appropriate book conversations.

  • If I’m a high school teacher, I build on what the previous grade levels started and model appropriate high school book conversations.

My point…ALL students can have book conversations and think beyond the text. However, the complexity of those conversations increases depending on the grade level and reading strategies, elements and techniques that are being studied. So, where does a teacher model grade level appropriate book talk to guide students to think beyond the text?

It all starts with Read Aloud!

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of read aloud as an integral part of daily classroom instruction. Many people think that read aloud is a time to just pick up a book and go. It’s not! Read aloud is an intentional daily practice within the classroom. With intentional book choices and thoughtful planning, Read Aloud can frontload the skills and strategies your students will need to help them become successful and thoughtful lifelong readers.

  • All children—all ages—can appreciate read aloud!

  • When choosing books for read aloud, teachers must know their classroom

  • what authors are the students reading

  • what genres are popular in the classroom

  • what social issues are students facing

  • what are the newest & most popular titles

  • what topics do students have lots of questions about

Within Read Aloud, the teacher is doing the work of decoding and modeling fluency. However, students are doing the work of thinking and making meaning of the text. Teachers provide a scaffold for students to make meaning by thinking aloud about what is happening along the way. Teachers also engage students in intentional conversations with well thought out response prompts about the text. These conversations can be external and internal. These authentic opportunities for students to jot their thoughts and/or talk about the book provide low risk practice at book talk beyond the text. Students are able to work on how they process and develop their thoughts about reading.

When frontloading literacy instruction with Read Aloud, teachers must know the book that will be used. A variety of opportunities need to be planned for students to engage in natural conversation with themselves. Every Read Aloud should have planned opportunities for the teacher to model thinking with a Think Aloud, students talking using the Turn and Talk model and students writing using the Stop and Jot strategy and/or the Stop and Sketch strategy.

Now, has your thinking changed about the importance of Read Aloud?

Are you inspired to try something different during Read Aloud?

Has your thinking changed about how Read Aloud is integral to literacy instruction in all grade levels?

Ponder this while browsing the graphic…

My parents and Driver’s Ed teacher modeled driving, shared the driving experience with me and guided me through different driving situations before expecting me to independently do that work.

How can we expect students to independently use what we have not modeled, shared and guided them through in our literacy instruction? Isn’t Read Aloud the first step in setting students up for successful reading experiences?

Until next time...

Check out this post about Intentional Read Alouds


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