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Get to sentence-level production during read aloud

Read aloud is not story time.” I say this all of the time when I coach because I remember sitting through story time as an English learner, and grasping zilch of what was being read to me. What does a successful read aloud look like in a dual language classroom? With meticulous planning and a little reading, a thoughtful read aloud session will create an environment where students can turn and talk to their partners, and talk in complete (if simple) sentences.  

The intentional read aloud is based on basic tenants from the interactive read aloud. The teacher reads a little, and asks questions so that students discuss the text. Students are not simply listening to the teacher read. They are paying attention, and preparing to engage in conversation. The intentional read aloud goes a little further. It limits the questions asked by the teacher to foster student conversation. This may sound counterintuitive, but bear with me, and you’ll understand how this will really pay off in class.  

Focus on One Skill

A standard can have lots of different skills. Let’s take a look at this fourth grade Reading Literature standard. Notice how it has three specific skills.

Although there’s only one verb, describe is applied in three different ways. It’s much easier for a language learner to focus on just one of those applications instead of all three at the same time. 

Identify Questions Related to the Skill

To find questions, you can think of questions that could apply to any text. Today, I’m going to base myself on the read aloud Jouer aux fantômes, which is part of our French collection Invisible No More: Children in Poverty. This particular book is great for studying a character in depth.   

When I read “Describe a character in depth drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions)” I know I need to think of questions that will spur conversation around all three types of details.

Jouer aux fantômes is a story about a young boy and his mother who become homeless after she loses her job. His mother works as a cleaner, and the last place she cleans each day is a real estate office. After cleaning the office, she leaves with a set of keys to an empty apartment for them to stay in for the night. The title Jouer aux fantômes means to “play ghosts.” They sleep in these empty places without making a sound so as not to arouse suspicion.  

In fourth grade, students are expected to pay attention to main and secondary characters. Even though the child is the main character in this story, I’m going to focus on the mother. By focusing on describing her, I can choose a few questions to ask students. It’s always best to ask no more than four questions; less is more. I prefer to ask just two in the upper grades, that leaves me with more time for discussion. 

My two questions: 
  • Why do you think (character) said [...]? What does that tell us about them?
  • What problem does (character) have in the story? Is it an internal or external problem? Why?
  • Think of Possible Answers 

    Thinking ahead of possible answers will help you prepare students to use those words when they share out. Otherwise, my experience has been that without intentionally thinking about what they might respond, students begin exchanging in English instead of your immersion language.  

    The first question I chose prompts students to talk about how the mother tries to protect her child by telling him to keep a secret about where they live and that he shouldn’t worry. Students may want to say things like: 

    • She’s trying to protect him. 
    • She’s protective.
    • She doesn’t want him to worry.

    The second question will likely have students talk about how the mother is not able to pay her bills. They can debate about whether it’s an internal or external problem. It can be an internal problem because she’s worried and feels pressure to make things work. It can be an external problem because people are asking her to pay, pressuring her.  

    Now that I know the types of answers I might get from students, I need to give them options on how they could say all of this. Giving them options means providing them with the right and the wrong answers, as well as the affirmative and the negative formation of sentences. Once I identify a few possibilities, I write those down in a manila folder, which I show students when I ask them questions. 

    Notice how even though there are only two questions, there are many words, phrases and answer stems to help students generate their own sentences. This helps students, even ones with low linguistic proficiency, think critically while getting to sentence-level production. Even though this is fourth grade, I still illustrate many of the words, though none of the cognates. I also display the words out of order so that students have to think for themselves about which words they wish to use. 

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