Building on the Power of a Read Aloud
Three Strategies for Linking Literacy and Life Skills Learning
As an educator, one of my very favorite things to do with my students is reading aloud to and with them. There is something very special about gathering students around to read a great story, and even better when that story has the power to illuminate shared experiences and bring us closer together as a community. Great stories and the characters and events within them make the text come alive and create their own sort of magic. We also know the power a story has to instruct, teach a lesson, guide students and provide examples of life skills the characters may learn along the way. Books are perfect teaching tools because they address the powerful emotions that children feel, model effective coping strategies, and present complex concepts — self-awareness or responsible decision-making, for example — in developmentally appropriate ways.
Now, possibly more than ever, we know teachers need ways to integrate teaching important life skills within other content areas to maximize instructional time and help their students develop the understanding and skills that support self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These skills are also known as social-emotional competencies, often called life skills or social skills. We can harness the power of literature and use it to develop social skills like empathy, positive self-talk, problem-solving skills, and more by reading often, carefully curating books, and enjoying interactive read-alouds together. When you pair a carefully selected story with engaging activities designed to build literacy skills like inferencing, compare and contrast, and more, you maximize learning time and capitalize on the benefits of building students’love of learning.
Below you will find three easy-to-implement, meaningful strategies for building an interactive read-aloud that will integrate social and emotional concepts with literacy activities.
1. Curate a text that teaches a life skill, reflects diverse identities and experiences, and provides support for extending the learning beyond the read-aloud
Teaches a life skill: Reading can be an extraordinary tool—to help all students feel a sense of belonging, to feel less alone, and to navigate complex and challenging experiences. According to Colvin (2017), readers who get lost in a book are mentally and emotionally experiencing what is going on in the story. Through these experiences, readers are exposed to new social situations and can feel empathy for characters who may be unfamiliar to them. Readers are building social skills through their interaction with the text. To maximize this benefit, the text you choose to read as the tool to teach these powerful life lessons is critically important.
Carefully curating the text you want to use for the read-aloud may sound easy enough, and in some ways, it is. You may already have some favorite books picked out that explore important social skills or life lessons. That is a great start! There are additional considerations to make when choosing just the right book to ensure you can connect literacy and life skills learning simultaneously.
Reflects diverse identities and experiences: Another important consideration is the illustrations and characters found within the text. When students read books that reflect their identities and experiences, they are more likely to make personal connections between the book and their own lives. This is all that much more important when our focus is to teach student life skills like how to wait, perseverance, or navigating disappointment, for example. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop has taught us, books that represent a wide range of thought, ideas, perspectives, cultures, and languages can serve as windows showing children glimpses into new worlds of possible that may be different than their own or sliding glass doors allowing them to use their imaginations to step into new realities, to create a better world. Books can also serve as mirrors reflecting children’s own lives and experiences, struggles, hopes, dreams, and joys. (Bishop, 1990)
Supports extended learning beyond the read-aloud: Look for ways to extend the learning through reflection questions, talking points, and extension activities that encourage reading and writing about the text. For example, this text Waiting is Not Forever by Elizabeth Verdick, has parent and caregiver support in the back of the book. This can help you build important connections between home and school, as well as find ways to extend your own discussions within the classroom.
2. Engage students in a variety of cooperative learning and partnering strategies that provide time for important reflection and collaboration
Learning is a social activity and grouping students in effective ways sets the stage for engaging conversations and deeper learning around the topic. Processing and brainstorming collaboratively prepare students to think critically and relate ideas to their own lives. The questions we ask while reading with students, and the activities we engage them in after the read-aloud, can integrate strong social skill focus areas, and enhance reading comprehension. After a discussion, or other collaborative learning activity, students are more prepared to demonstrate their learning independently around the important life lessons within text, while also building comprehension and literacy skills. For example, after reading Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Melina Mangal, students complete a nature walk tracker, then share with other students to compare their findings and build relationships skills simultaneously.
The more students can discuss and collaborate, the deeper their connections to each other and the lessons within the text will be. Think creatively about how to pair and group students and then you are ready to build literacy and life skills at the same time.
3. Select reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities that practice literacy and comprehension skills, as well as each of the life skills found within the text
Read-alouds enable educators to model fluent reading and expression, while building literacy and comprehension skills of their learners. This shared experience provides opportunities to engage students in collaborative discussions around key concepts, and provide activities that practice reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. These and other standards-aligned literacy strategies are designed to support increased comprehension of the text and provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate understanding. It also gives you an important look into the learning that has taken place before, during, and after the read-aloud.
Once you have determined what you will ask the students to do (infer, recall, compare and contrast, or retell, for example), you will want to craft a question and/or activity that draws out that skill connected to the life skills lessons the characters are learning in the story. For example, in the post-reading activity below, students are asked to extend their learning through a discussion prompt, retelling how Casey overcomes boredom in Coasting Casey by Shannon Anderson, and then work independently to draw how Casey turns his snores into scores, showing text evidence.
When a text is carefully curated for the life lessons it can teach and paired with strong discussions and literacy activities, the true superpowers of the story take hold, allowing you to maximize your learning time and create a powerful experience with your students.
Join Carrie Eicher for a free on-demand webinar on Building Connections: Linking Literacy and Life Skills Learning.
We know books are powerful tools for teaching complex topics, especially when carefully curated to build connections for the reader. We also know teachers need easy-to-implement and meaningful literacy activities to teach important life skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. In this webinar, we will explore three 15–20-minute literacy activities that seamlessly integrate these skills, taking complex concepts and making them actionable.
In this session, participants will:
Explore three easy-to-implement, teacher-led literacy activities that support essential life skills learning.
Investigate the partnership of carefully curated text and literacy activities to teach essential topics and build meaningful connections to the text.
Discover opportunities to promote critical and creative thinking through research-based reading and writing activities.
Watch the on-demand webinar at your own pace.
Bishop R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3), ix–xi.
Colvin, S. (2017). Literature as more than a window. Voice of Youth Advocates, 39(6), 24–27.