How do I teach whole group reading lessons online?

Recently, a teacher asked me, so now that my classes are fully online, how do we teach whole group reading lessons? I thought this was a great, blog-worthy question so I’ve provided my answer and a sample lesson (both in synchronous and asynchronous formats) below.

Step 1: Evaluate Texts and Mode of Reading in Each Unit (read aloud vs. read independently)

First, I would examine the texts you have selected for your unit and decide a) if you would read aloud the text, b)  have students read the text independently (both with supports you will provide), or c) a combo of both: perhaps you read aloud a part of the text, then have students read part on their own. This step includes evaluating the complexity of the text (can students read it independently with supports?) as well as considering access (do you have the book in a digital format that students can read? Is it on epic or reading A-Z? Or, if you want students to read excerpts, which I recommend, can you snap photos of a few of the pages?)

I would make sure that you have a nice combo of opportunities for students to both listen to you read aloud as well as read some texts independently. This might mean adjusting the texts you have selected for your unit to ensure that there are enough texts students can read independently (thinking both about access and complexity).

What does this look like?

For example, let’s say you were teaching a third grade unit on ecosystems and mapping. Here are the texts you settled on using and the choices for read aloud vs. independent reading vs. combo of both for each text.

Hook/Engage with TopicSimpler Background BuildingVisual or multimodal textsChallenging TextsDecodable Texts
Texts that demonstrate why it is important to learn about different ecosystems and geographic locationsTexts that show students different aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems or geo- graphical features of North and South AmericaVideos or multi-modal texts that build background knowledge about different ecosystemsTexts that show students the relationship between different components in an ecosystems and how the geographic features impact those systemsTexts about ecosystems that students can read at their level to develop basic reading skills during guided reading
Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman (READ ALOUD)          Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner (READ ALOUD)

  I see a Kookaburra! Discovering Animal Habitats Around the World (COMBO)  

There’s a Map on my Lap: All About Maps (Cat in the Hat) (COMBO)  
Brainpop Jr. Ocean Habitat Video

Brainpop Jr. Grassland Habitat video
Social Studies book:  pgs. 6-16 North America  pgs. 18-24 South America

Students could each research a different animals and habitats (aquatic or terrestrial) from either North or South America from various internet resources
Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner (READ ALOUD)
What do you find in a backyard?   2.2

What do you find in a coral reef?  2.2

What do you find in a pond?  2.2

Desert Giant The World of the Saguaro Cactus  3.2

Exploring Ecosystems  3.2  


Step 2: Developing Before, During, After Reading Supports

Next, I would develop supports- before, during, after scaffolds- just as you would with in person instruction. I would organize these in handout- or in one place in seesaw (or something similar). I’d put ALL the supports for one text in ONE place (one doc, etc.)

As you develop your supports, think about incorporating a lot of write to learn opportunities so that you can collect and view students thinking about and related to the texts. This is an opportunity for you to respond and interact with students through writing, even if it’s not directly or in the moment.

What does this look like?

For example, let’s explore before, during, after scaffolds for Carl and the Meaning of Life.

Before reading: Students respond to a prompt in a journal entry: Think about how different organisms, such as bugs, animals, trees, plants live in the same place. Who eats what? Who lives where?

During reading: Use a DR/TA or stop and jot down ideas at designated stop points.

After reading: Respond to the pre-reading prompt again and add ideas, be specific about things that happened in the story that show how animals, plants, and insects are connected to each other.

Step 3: Planning Delivery of Instruction

Instruction Around Read Alouds:

Then, I would figure out if you are going to incorporate the read aloud portions during synchronous instruction (meaning, all your students are online live with you) or if you are going to record your read aloud so that students can watch on their own.

If synchronous (e.g., reading aloud on a zoom call): I would then plan your lesson not too differently than you would in person instruction, with considerations for how students can interact using the chat feature, small groups, or sharing out.

As you plan, consider how you will engage students in the before reading activity (could this be something kids do BEFORE they join the zoom class? If so, send that work ahead of time and make sure students know what to do before coming). This could be a journal entry about a topic related to the text, for example. Then, read aloud the text and think about your stopping places or during reading supports, just as you would in person! Consider how you will engage students (use the chat feature? Ask students to share out? Students stop and jot on their handouts?) while reading.

What does this look like?

Here’s an example handout you can use with Carl and Meaning of Life  in a synchronous setting where you are reading aloud live to your students.

Your “lesson plan” might look like this:

  1. Ask students to share ideas from their journals via chat or talking
  2. Introduce the book and walk through the first three pages and look at pics. Ask students to predict what the book will be about.
  3. Read aloud the book and stop and the three designed places in the “during reading” section and respond to the prompts and have students revise their predictions. You can stop more often too!
  4. After reading, ask students to first respond to the post journal, then share ideas. Students could go into small groups and share/discuss and bring back one idea to the big group if you have that capacity.

Asynchronous Instruction (your students are watching this on their own, not live with you): I would plan your lesson in a way that you could encourage students to interact with the text. You can create instructions in your handout for students to do before, during, and after reading. Record your read aloud, or find a read aloud of the book you want to read already available. If you record your own read aloud, you could walk students through the different activities before, during, and after reading. Lastly, consider other ways that you can interact with students, or have them interact with each other. Could they post a response in a message board after reading and then respond to each other? When they turn in their handout, can you leave some comments for them about their ideas?

What does this look like?

Here’s an example handout you can use with Carl and Meaning of Life in an asynchronous setting, where you have provided supports and a read aloud for your students to watch.

Note: What would change for reading independently or a lesson that had both a read aloud and then some time for students to read independently?

If you have students read independently, you can use a similar model to the handout described above, providing supports for students. Make sure to find ways to interact with students, either in a zoom setting after reading where students can share/talk, or in a chat board where students can post responses.

For combo lessons (that include part read aloud and part reading on their own), if you meet with students live first, you can read aloud part of the text, then set students free to finish the text on their own. Or, you can reverse that! Students can read a little bit before joining the session, then you can finish the text by reading aloud and then have a discussion after reading. You can also record the partial read aloud and students could watch, then do their reading independently. It’s key to find ways for students to feel supported while reading and also interact with you and each other.


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