Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interactive Read Aloud & Accountable Talk

A topic I have been interested in lately is interactive read aloud with accountable talk.  Interactive read aloud with accountable talk is an important part of balanced literacy.  The framework of an interactive read aloud offers students an opportunity to witness the teacher modeling how to get ready to read (a new text or a new chapter in a book), as well as engage with the text during and after reading.  Most importantly, students have time to practice high levels of engagement in a scaffolded environment with a shared text.  As a former 6th grade teacher, I believe that interactive read aloud is crucial for our students in middle school and elementary school.  I have not worked with high school students, but teaching kids how to talk about and interact with text at any age is important.

The interactive read aloud differs from a mini lesson during Reading Workshop and occurs at a separate time.  It does not replace the mini lesson.  Since time is (often a troubling) factor, consider looking at your weekly schedule and find two days out of the week to incorporate 15-20 minute interactive read aloud with accountable talk sessions.  In doing this, you will see great advances in your students independent reading, talking about reading, and thinking about reading.  Your conferences and partner shares will likely feel more "authentic" because students are used to talking about text and will have a language bank in how to do so.  Below displays the components of an effect interactive read aloud session:

While getting ready to read, you are teaching students that we need to stretch, like before we run or exercise.  Only, in the case of reading, we are stretching (preparing) our mind-muscles.  When preparing for a new text (picture book, poem, short story, book, etc.), we may use pre-reading strategies, such as looking at the cover (thinking "What might this text be about?"), scanning over some pictures (thinking "What might this text be about?"), read the description on the back (thinking "What might this text be about?"), and so on (always thinking what the text will be about).  For each text, you can deliberately select how it is appropriate to get ready to read, as poems differ from nonfiction texts and picture books differ from some chapter books.
When preparing to read a new chapter in a longer text, you may revisit some old stop-and-jots to think about the ideas you are "caring across the text".  You might also quickly skim over the last page or so to refresh your mind and orient yourself with the part of the book you left off.  Think about what you do as a reader... Spy on yourself as a reader ... to help illustrate these important strategies of preparing to engage.
Next, you read aloud.  The chart above explains the roles of the students and of the teacher.  It is important to demonstrate the reading behaviors you wish for your students.  You can offer some deliberate and "quick" opportunities for your students to practice these behaviors (strategies/skills) during the read aloud.  I say "quick" because in order to keep within the time we have allotted and get to the important accountable talk piece, we need to be aware of this talk time.

The final component is accountable talk.  This is a whole group conversation, and is sometimes referred to as the "Grand Conversation".  Students will likely be sitting on the floor at the meeting place in a circle, so they can maintain eye contact and see the speaker.  (Students will be seated at the meeting place throughout the entire interactive read aloud, moving into a circle formation for the grand conversation.)
The chart above would be a tool you could create with your students to help scaffold them in their conversations.  This chart could be made over time, adding to it as students participate in Grand Conversations.  However, we should refrain from just "giving" our kids language.  Help them decide how we "talk about books".  Have them notice some of the things you say as the teacher and what their partners say that "help keep the ball rolling" (or the conversation going) on one idea about the text.  Offer the question, "What if you disagree with a person's theory or idea?  How might you state your interpretation in a respectful way?  I mean, we aren't always going to agree, and that's okay."
The purpose is to have students run this portion of the interactive read aloud.  After building tools for this work, your kids will keep the conversation going and you will be able to listen and only guide when necessary.  I have seen some classrooms use a small ball to toss to one another and whoever has the ball is the one to share their thoughts. Either way, have a discussion with your students about how to pass the talking-turn over to someone new.
If you find that you have students who dominate the conversation, you may have the expectation that before the students who spoke last time, need to wait until five of our classmates share this time.
The interactive read aloud with accountable talk serves many purposes.  It will heighten our students' engagement during independent reading, support their partner shares, and help build community within the classroom.  It also helps meet the Speaking and Listening CCSS.  It is another great way to introduce mentor texts and share some of your favorite stories with students.  Any way we work to strengthen our students' ability to engage with text will only benefit their personal reading lives.
:) Sarah


  1. I write for Scholastic Teacher magazine, formerly Instructor, and I’m hoping to feature your Accountable Chart activity from your site for my next article all about read-alouds for K-1 kiddos.

    I am on a tight timeline and would appreciate your permission and response to the questions below by Friday, 8/4.

    • Full name (as you’d like to see it published):
    • Grade you teach:
    • School where you teach and city/state:
    • Would you like for me to include your blog’s name (and link to it in the online version of the article)?
    • Anything you’d like to add about the activity:

    Also, if you could include a picture of the activity and a photo credit, I would be much obliged as well as the link to activity on blog.

    Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.Thank you for you time and I hope to hear from you in the coming days.

    Milagros Montalvo

    1. Hello, Milagros- I would be honored for the Read Aloud with Accountable Talk post to be featured. Please feel free to email me at or share your email and I can send you the information you need.

      Sarah J. Lang
      K-8 Curriculum Coordinator
      Supporting 5 elementary schools and 2 middle schools
      Oconomowoc Area School District
      Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

      Please do include the link to my blog - Lang on Literacy (

      Read aloud and accountable talk are critical to a balanced literacy framework in the primary grades, as well as in upper grades. Literacy is social and this is an opportunity to not only support comprehension skills, but also communication skills.

      Also, it takes time, practice, and reflection for students to be independent with the Accountable Talk piece. So, do not give up!

      The photos on this blog are from my time as a Literacy Coach in Oconomowoc at Greenland Elementary. I used these charts to support students in their accountable talk and the planning chart I used with staff to dig into the structures of read aloud with accountable talk.