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How do you engage students during a virtual read aloud?

december 15, 2020

Long before the pandemic, teachers have been applying tricks of the trade to lead classroom read alouds that draw students in and keep them engaged. But now that many teachers are conducting read alouds in a virtual environment, the challenges are new and different.

To keep students present, focused, and engaged during a virtual read aloud, educators may have to look at this type of instruction with a fresh perspective.

Make the text accessible

Whenever possible, make sure students have a physical or digital copy of the text that is being read aloud. When students are just listening and staring at a screen, it won’t take long before they are bored, distracted, or both. When the text is visible, students can follow along, and they reap the benefits of seeing and hearing text in action.

Be “edutaining”

During classroom read alouds, look for ways to be physically engaging. When teachers get out of their seats and stand up while reading, the stage is set for a more “edutaining” experience. Leaning into the webcam, talking with your hands, including sound effects and background music can also make a read aloud more interesting.

Focus on the best parts

Consider not reading every sentence of the entire text. Sometimes it is more appropriate to skim and slim the reading for the most intriguing parts. Dedicate the read-aloud time to the parts students actually want to listen to.

Consider pre-recording some read alouds

Although most teachers would expect a read aloud to be executed during a live meeting, consider the benefits of a pre-recorded one.

If the expectation is for students to just absorb the content, students could view a video independently. Consequently, save the live read alouds for when you have planned discussion topics, real-time chat questions, and other peer interaction activities.

For the read alouds where participation is not expected—pre-record it and drop the video in a platform like edpuzzle. This allows teachers to break up their own video into smaller clips with comprehension questions inserted throughout. With this feature, students are not able to just play through the video without interacting. They have to be attentive to answer the pop-up questions in order to continue viewing.

Set a reading purpose

Another technique to ramp up the engagement level—whether you are reading live or students are watching a recording—is to establish a reading purpose. This includes revealing something specific for them to be thinking about.

For example, students could be listening for specific author moves, character perspectives, or even types of evidence. If the subject of the text is debatable, students could be challenged to listen for different perspectives or points of view.

While I read aloud, I want you to listen for the descriptive and figurative language the author uses. Every word he writes is intentional. Every description he includes is on purpose. While listening, identify 3 excerpts/sentences that each create a strong mental picture for you. During our next live meeting, we will then discuss what tone or mood those mental pictures added to the message.

Whenever the teacher reveals a specific purpose before reading, it makes for a focused listening experience during reading.

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