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How to Plan a Read Aloud – Part 2

How to plan a read aloud - ideas for making a lesson plan for interactive read alouds - focusing mostly on the first read

I have had a lot of people ask me, since I have over 300 interactive read aloud lesson plans in my TPT store, how to plan a read aloud. I’m not going to lie, it’s a process. Planning one interactive read aloud takes me about 2.5 hours with Netflix on or 2 hours without Netflix 😉 The best part about the process, though, is that you have a read aloud lesson plan that will last you forever. In another blog post, I talked about how to choose the best book that will get you the biggest bang for your buck. Today I’m going to show you how I plan the first reading and what things I avoid.

There are affiliate links in many of the posts on this site. This means your purchase supports myself, my business, and my family when you click through to buy – at no additional cost to you.

The First Read

Each time I am planning the first read of a read aloud book, I am thinking about 3 parts:

  • Before Reading – orientation to the text, vocabulary, purpose for listening
  • During Reading – comprehension checks
  • After Reading – discussion, comprehension questions

Start with the end in mind

These tips will help you plan your interactive read alouds with the end in mind. The first read is crucial for choosing activities, vocabulary, and questions. Lots of ideas plus a free resource to improve your #readalouds #teachingreading
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As I am planning my read aloud, I start by thinking about what I want my students to take away from the read aloud. What skill do I want them to practice?

Then I start thinking backwards: What will students NEED to be able to practice this skill? What modeling will they need? What prompts will get their thinking there? What vocabulary words will they need to know?

Once I know these things I’m read to get planning my first reading.

After Reading

The first reading, you cannot expect your students to be doing DEEP analysis of the text. It’s the first read. Sometimes on the first read, all I do is read straight through the the book to enjoy it. We need to remember as readers ourselves that we’re not ready to examine the theme, draw conclusions or do some deep inferring if the students do not first comprehend the text.

Your goal for the first read is surface level comprehension.

This means, if you’re looking at the Common Core State Standards, you are looking at literature or informational text standards 1-3 for your grade level. These deal with understanding key details, summarizing, identifying main idea and details, and describing key elements of the story.

Example Questions for the First Reading:

  • Summarize or retell the story
  • Who were the main characters in the story?
  • What problem did the characters face?
  • How did they solve the problem?
  • Describe the setting, character, etc.
  • What three facts did you learn?
  • What was the main idea of the text?

Another important step in this is deciding how I want my students to discuss the text after the first read. Also thinking about how to best engage your students who may be reluctant sharers or who may struggle comprehending the text.

Once you plan out your questions, and you know where you want your students to get to, you’re ready to plan out how you’re going to get them there.

These tips will show you how to plan your interactive read alouds with the end in mind. The first read is crucial for choosing activities, vocabulary, and questions. Lots of ideas plus a free resource to improve your #readalouds #teachingreading
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Before Reading

Orientation to the Text

This is where I plan out what students need to know before reading the text.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What skills are students practicing?
  • Is there a theme that I want/have to teach to?
  • Is something seasonal happening to connect to?
  • What am I teaching in science/social studies to connect to?

Notice a pattern there? CONNECTION!

When I am planning out my orientation to the text, I am trying to fit this story or this informational text into their previous learning. Where does this story fit with the rest of our learning?

So I might say something like:

Today we are going to read a story about a boy who goes into the rainforest to cut down a tree. Do you remember in science how we learned about the effects of deforestation?

I gave a SHORT introduction to the text, and I connected it to other learning. In this case I was referring to The Great Kapok Tree.


After I plan out how I orient my kids to the book, I then determine the MINIMUM number of vocabulary words that the students will need to know to understand the text.

I know, sometimes when you read a book, you think that there are TONS of words that the kids won’t know and will need to be taught. Some words, though, the kids will get from the illustrations. Sometimes the word will be used only once and is not critical to understanding the story.

How to choose what vocabulary words to teach:

  • No more than 2-3 words for primary, 3-5 for upper elementary
  • word is used more than once
  • word is CRITICAL to comprehension
  • students cannot comprehend the word from illustrations
  • meaning cannot be easily inferred from context

In another blog post I am going to write about ways to teach vocabulary in ways that stick. But I’ve already written A TON, so I’ll spare you all that and leave that for another blog post.

Purpose For Listening

The final part before reading is giving your students their purpose for listening. What is the task that they are going to complete after reading?

If they are going to retell the story, I might say something like: “I want you to pay attention to what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end of the story.”

Research shows that students and people in general are far more productive and successful in completing a task if they start by knowing the WHY. So give your students their why for listening. Why are they listening to this story? If it’s a chapter book, what are they listening for in this part that you’re reading?

This whole process of orientation to the text, vocabulary and purpose for reading should not be more than 10 minutes of your read aloud time. The idea is that this part is quick, just enough to help your students successfully comprehend the text and then get right down to the book.

During Reading

This is the easiest part in how to plan a read aloud. Why is that? You’ve done all of the hard work already deciding what your students are going to do after reading the book and then providing them with the vocabulary and orientation to the text to get them there.

These tips will help you plan your interactive read alouds with the end in mind. The first read is crucial for choosing activities, vocabulary, and questions. Lots of ideas plus a free resource to improve your #readalouds #teachingreading
Pin me for later!

I RARELY stop reading during a story after I’ve started reading it. WHY? Shouldn’t I stop here and there to make sure my students are understanding?

Consider this situation: Imagine you were reading your own book and you were constantly being interrupted while reading it.

Are you able to get deep into the story? Are you able to enjoy the simple act of reading an interesting story?

NO WAY! I used to stop 3-4 times while reading a story to ask comprehension questions. Each time my students would groan. SO I stopped, and I saved all of those questions for AFTER reading.

Guess what? My kids enjoyed being read to more because they actually got to enjoy the book and not constantly be bombarded with questions. They got to take part in the innate human desire for storytelling without being interrupted. I save close reading activities where we stop while reading the book for subsequent reads, but NEVER the first read.

You’ve planned the first read of your read aloud!

You’ve done it now! You now know how to plan a read aloud the first time you read a new book. If you’re still a little unsure about how to find the perfect book, go back to my first post in the series. Next time I’ll be covering how to close read in the subsequent reads of the story.

While you wait, check out my 5 step guide to making your interactive read alouds better. Sign up below!

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Hey there! I’m Josh from Picture Book Brain here to share only the best literature for you to use with your students. If you are looking for a specific book, use the search bar below to check my archives. Glad you’re here, and glad to help you!

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