The Interactive Read-Aloud
- Grades: 1–2
- Unit Plan:
The heart of this unit is the read-aloud books. Most books about immigration are written beyond the reading level of 2nd graders, so reading aloud is vital. During the read-aloud I stop frequently to discuss the book, ask questions, and encourage good listening.
- Maintain focus during the read-aloud
- Listen attentively
- Respond to questions from their classmates and me
- Ask questions and participate in discussion
Set Up and Prepare
- It’s important to read the books ahead of time. I set aside time weekly to read through books. Find what works for you.
- Look for new words that are crucial to students’ understanding of the story. Write them on sentence strips and prepare to pre-teach the words before you read.
- Set the mood. I turn out the ceiling lights and turn on a small lamp. This is the signal that read-aloud is about to begin.
- Be prepared to give a short introduction to the book. Don’t give away the story, but do interest students in the book before you read it. Think of it as selling the book.
Teaching through Read-Alouds
Whenever I read aloud to children I have certain reading goals:
- To model fluent, expressive, slow reading
- To teach new vocabulary
- To make sure they understand the content
- To think beyond the story
- To make connections to their own lives
While reading, I stop frequently to clarify what’s happening in the story and ask questions like:
- What will happen next?
- What are you thinking right now?
- This reminds me of … What does it remind you of?
- What picture do you see in your mind right now?
- What does this make you wonder about?
- How is this story like other stories we have read?
See it in action:
Below are the kinds of questions I would ask when reading the introductory book, Coming to America by Betsy Maestro. One of the skills I’m teaching is divergent thinking. I am not looking for one answer; rather, I’m asking children what they think and encouraging multiple answers. I’m prepared to wait for students to think and ask them if they agree or disagree with one another. This kind of questioning takes time with younger children. I intersperse it with reading because the books that are written on this topic are, for the most part, books they cannot read themselves.
- What were some of the reasons people left their homes and came to America?
- Were there people who came here who didn’t really want to come here at all? Who do you think those people were? (children who had to come with their parents, children who had to come alone to meet their parents, older people, slaves, etc.)
- How would you have felt? Suppose you had to leave your home suddenly for another country, like Australia? How would you feel?
- What did people bring with them? What did they leave behind? What would you bring with you?
- What does the Statue of Liberty stand for? Why is she holding a torch? Why was the statue so important to immigrants?
- What happened to immigrants on Ellis Island?
- Were immigrants ever sent back? What do you think that felt like? How would you feel?
- Where did people settle when they first came to America?
- What was easy about their new life in America? What was hard?
- Are immigrants still coming to America? Why?
Responses to Literature
As we are reading this rich literature, I like to do other activities to help students connect to what we are learning. As I teach, the class returns to the topic repeatedly over a four week period. Even after the unit is over children continue to talk about it and bring up relevant stories and facts that relate to this topic. At the end of the year it becomes one of their lasting memories of second grade.
Here are some activity ideas:
- Sponge painting of the Statue of Liberty made to scale. The students make the sponge painting with adult assistance. Then they draw people on construction paper and cut them out. You might not be able to see this in the photo but the people were glued to the bottom of the picture, grouped around the statue. This shows children the size of the Statue of Liberty.
- Mural of Words from Other Languages. I adapted this idea from Instructor Magazine Nov-Dec 2004. I use the words from the magazine and make a mural that we put up and keep up for the rest of the year. I use mural paper and colored markers, and laminate it to make it last.
- Drawings of How Immigrants Got Here. I use these drawings as a kind of evaluation of what children have learned. First we discuss means of transportation and then children make rough sketches or plans on copy paper. I always ask students to make a plan first. Then they draw and color detailed pictures of how immigrants traveled to America. I also ask them to write 2-3 sentences on a 3x5" card explaining their picture. The reason I use 3x5" cards is that they are small and less threatening for beginning writers.
- If possible, ask your parents to take their children to the Statue of Liberty on a field trip. Or find a guest who has seen the Statue to come and share their trip with your class. Three of my students visited with their families. These students returned with more information and great stories and mementos that they shared with their classmates.
Projects like those above take several days each, maybe up to a week to complete.
Supporting All Learners
Repeated Reading: One way to support students is to read a book more than once. I do this both because some books are complicated and because students enjoy hearing them again. I find more students participate in the discussion the second time. I also display the books and encourage students to look at them during independent reading.
Puppet Plays and Readers Theater: There are many ways to extend a book. Those students who understand story structure can help you adapt a story for a puppet play or readers theater performance. Planning doesn’t have to be elaborate -- these activities are easier than they sound.
I encourage parents to read aloud to their children nightly and talk with parents about the importance of expressive reading. In addition I ask students to read every evening for 15-20 minutes.
One way you can tell lessons are successful is if you hear words from the stories enter the students’ language. Are they talking about the topic meaningfully and using the new words you have taught them? If yes, then you are being effective. Another way to judge is to observe if the stories get into the students’ play. When they say, “Let’s play immigrants,” then you know you are successful.
Did the student:
- maintain focus while I read?
- ask questions?
- respond to my questions?
- show evidence of higher level thinking (predicting, drawing conclusions, etc.)?
- relate the book to other books and to his life?