Harris School Solutions

Ideas for Reading Aloud in Multiple Learning Environments

“Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” 

Jim Trelease, author of Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook


Reading aloud to children is a treasured time-honored practice, widely promoted by researchers and teachers. It improves literacy and language abilities, develops social-emotional skills, strengthens the learning community, and expands content knowledge. Many students, even those in high school, say that listening to their teacher read aloud is their favorite academic activity.

With all those benefits, you want to continue doing it even though reading aloud to remote learners takes some extra technology and planning. We asked some teachers for ideas about managing reading aloud in various situations.

Showing the Book

Most teachers suggest using a document camera to show the book to remote learners. Teachers like having a hands-free way to show the text, taking pictures of the book’s pages, and then embedding the photos into a Google Slides presentation. Teachers with both face-to-face and remote learners project the book on an interactive whiteboard or another screen for everyone to see.

Live Readings for Synchronous Teaching

Many teachers instructing in-person and remote-learners simultaneously read aloud in real-time rather than making a recording. They do not want to use valuable prep time making a recording.

Remote learners join via their video conferencing platform, such as Zoom. To do live readings to both groups, set up your technology so remote students see projected images and can interact with you and their classmates. You may be able to do it without extra audiovisual equipment, but a Bluetooth microphone and camera give you more configurations. Having another adult present helps coordinate the technology and student interaction.

Recordings for Synchronous and Asynchronous Access

Many teachers pre-record themselves reading aloud instead of reading the book in real-time. To lessen the amount of work of creating recordings, teams often assign members to read and record different books or chapters. This method also benefits students because they get to hear a variety of voices and styles.

Teachers with limited synchronous contact time often decide reading aloud works as an asynchronous activity. A lot of teachers pre-record themselves reading aloud even for synchronous learning. When possible, they make the recording without wearing masks, making it easier for students to listen. Teachers say using a recording gives them a much-needed opportunity to rest their voices during the school day. Using a recording enables teachers to focus on students better too. When using the recording synchronously, pause the recording as needed for class discussion.

Recording software, such as Screencastify, is useful for recording and creating a link to it. Some document cameras come with this ability too. Then you upload the link onto your LMS platform for synchronous or asynchronous access.

You do not want to violate copyright laws. Typically, you would need express permission from the publishers to make and distribute an audio recording of their book. This year many publishers, including Penguin, Penguin Random House Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins, have given teachers and librarians permission through December 31, 2020. You do need to follow specific requirements, though. Begin the recording by saying, “I am reading (title of book) by (author) with permission of (publisher).” If you upload the video to youtube.com, use the unlisted sharing setting.

To record a book from other publishers, or in 2021, go to the publisher’s website for copyright information.

Choosing Books

You have a wide variety of great books to choose from for reading to your class. Part of the selection process includes finding books with premade support materials available. Efficiency is especially important these days because prep time is at a premium. The following synopses are a sampling of elementary books supported by Castle Learning’s curriculum. Secondary teachers will also find plenty of support materials.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl is the fantastical story of James Henry Trotter, who lives with his mean aunts after a rhinoceros eats his parents. Magic crystals make a peach grow as big as a house, offering James a place to escape. Inside the peach, James meets giant bug friends, and they go on an amazing adventure. Your class will laugh at the interactions of the boy, the bugs, and the outside world. They will even learn some interesting facts.

Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner comes from a legend in the Rocky Mountain area. Little Willy lives with his grandpa. They struggle financially when his grandpa gets too sick to work. Little Willy sets a goal to help by winning prize money from a dogsled race. The only problem is that his opponent, Stone Fox, has never lost. Teachers who have read this book aloud rave about the love, lessons, and action but warn that you should have a box of tissues at the end.

Teachers of young children are wise to include an easy readers section as part of their read-aloud selection. Children will feel more familiar with characters and storylines when you introduce them through a read aloud. Familiarity gives young readers confidence to try reading these books independently. Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak is a classic series of stories about the adventures of a bear. Frog and Toad by Arnold Nobel are humorous stories about the friendship of Frog and Toad.

Non-fiction books are a great way to support and expand your lessons. Choose award-winning books like Horses by Seymour Simon. Its beautiful photographs and detailed descriptions are sure to ignite new interests.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs shows how children in different parts of the world access books. Your students will gain insight into peers’ lives in other places. They will also see there are many ways to solve the same problem.

For more descriptions of great books, consult Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook. Among the books listed are James and the Giant PeachStone Fox, and Charlotte’s Weball supported by Castle Learning.

Ideas for Fun and Expanding the Learning

Students especially enjoy listening to books when readers dramatize them with costumes, voices, and gestures. Perhaps enlist a thespian guest speaker for unique recordings. By using technology, guest speakers could hail from across the globe as easily as down the hall. You might also use the free books currently available to students on Audible.com. The voice actors do a great job animating the story.

Build on the reading aloud experience with pre-reading and post-reading activities. Students could write or draw about connections from other literature or their own life. One teacher successfully used virtual conferencing for a readers-theater activity.

Castle Learning’s large bank of standards-aligned questions makes it easy to integrate a read-aloud into a lesson on language, comprehension, or other content areas. To find the appropriate questions, enter the book’s title into the keyword search tool and select the questions that fit the learning objective. You can print assignments and use them virtually. At Castle Learning, we help teachers work smarter, not harder.