Interactive Read Alouds for Language Learners

If you have kids, you have probably been advised to start reading aloud to them as early as possible and to continue doing so as often and interactively as possible while they are growing. Why? Because research has demonstrated time and again that reading with a child is one of the best ways to improve their language development and literacy opportunities (Kalb & van Ours, 2014). While this advice seems to be most often directed to parents, encouraging them to read for at least 20 minutes a day with their children, it turns out reading is good for language and vocabulary development at any age, which leads us to the importance of interactive read alouds for language learners.

Interactive read alouds not only enhance the language and vocabulary development of students who are learning the language, but also provide a way to meaningfully practice using their growing linguistic skills in constructing meaning through both texts and collaboration (Giroir, Grimaldo, Vaughn, & Roberts, 2015). This means interactive read alouds in the classroom can actually springboard the linguistic development of the whole class, which is particularly beneficial for students who are still acquiring the language. These linguistic benefits can be further enhanced by not finishing the book in one sitting, making this an excellent activity to practice regularly as there never seems to be quite enough time in a day.

So how do we go about implementing interactive read alouds in our classrooms?

First, we need to have some idea who our students are and what their listening level is. Because it will be interactive and read aloud by the teacher, the book can be above the reading level of the students, but should still be interesting to them and within or close to their listening level if possible. The more we know about our students, their preferences, their languages, and their cultures, the easier it will be to find books that will be both interesting and relevant to them.

Then, we need to find a book. Your local library is a good place to start, as the librarians there are likely to be familiar with some titles that are great to read aloud and can point you to excellent resources. There is also a list of read aloud books released yearly by Read Aloud America. Even with these resources, finding the right books can be challenging. Browsing these lists with your students in mind should help narrow the selection though, and remember that your own interest in the book is also important, as students will naturally be more interested in any book you are excited to read.

After you have picked the book, familiarizing yourself with it is the next step. Read it several times looking for repeated words, phrases, and ideas. Note these as well as words that are likely to be unknown. Find some good stopping points in longer texts and note the most important vocabulary in those sections. Then visualize how you want students to interact with the text while it is being read. What do you want them to do when they hear a particular word? Do you want them to draw what they visualize while you read? Is there something else you'd like them to do?

Finally, introduce the text to your class. Go over how you want them to listen while you are reading and introduce the 3-5 key vocabulary words they will need to know to understand the story. Preview the story with them and let them make predictions about it, then read with appropriate speed, expression, and prosody for their listening level. When you finish reading, circle back to their predictions and have them compare them to what happened. Give them opportunities to discuss and make meaning from the text, helping them highlight and explore key details and meanings and encouraging them to ask questions and look for answers within the text. Re-reading the text or portions of it with an emphasis on vocabulary and the way language is being used can feed into activities asking students to use language similarly, further increasing their chances of learning the vocabulary and linguistic structures introduced earlier.


Giroir, S., Grimaldo, L. R., Vaughn, S., & Roberts, G. (2015). Interactive read-alouds for English learners in the elementary grades. The reading teacher, 68(8), 639-648.

Kalb, G. & van Ours, J. C. (2014). Reading to young children: A head-start in life? Economics of education review, 40, 1–24.

Read Aloud America. (2022). 2022 reading list. Read Aloud America, Inc.

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