Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.13.20More Thoughts–and Another Video–About Online Read Aloud

Last week Beth Verrilli shared a thought-provoking post about the power of Read Alouds in an online setting. Beth noted how the two videos we shared both helped students to understand how to read a given text independently and also connected them to reading and to the classroom community.

I found myself thinking about that when I watched Emily Badillo modeling a read aloud from The Giver as part of a project to develop materials for our Reading curriculum. It struck me that a good online read aloud has the power of an audiobook, but also does something more–it’s like a book come to life but annotated and targeted specifically to a class of students.

Here’s a clip of Emily reading and some highlights, small moments when Emily subtly embeds targeted support and enrichment without eroding the pleasure of the reading.

Notice that:

At :27 Emily very subtly emphasizes the word ‘ritual.’ She’s just told them to pay attention to the family’s rituals and this helps cue kids in… but just a little. She doesn’t over do it and take away students’ opportunity to notice the word. She just inflects it slightly to make it more likely they’ll decide themselves to be doubly alert.

At :39 Emily makes a very brief observation that the word Sevens–for a group of seven-year-old children–is capitalized…. and has been throughout the book. She doesn’t pause here to drive the point home. She is merely helping students to perceive something without telling them how to interpret it. She is prioritizing without crowding out their ability to interpret.

She’s pre-taught the word “defiant” because it’s critical to the book and as she comes upon it at :57 she notes that it’s there and circles it… modeling for them how to respond to vocabulary and making sure they attend to and learn from its use, but again in a subtle manner.

At 1:30 she lingers on a sentence where Jonas and Lilly use the word ‘animals’ but don’t understand what the word refers to. Later we will come to understand that animals no longer exits but again Emily wants to the book to take its time to unfold. She wants to give students some space to discover for themselves. She reads the sentence again. Remarks that it is odd and that she will come back to it but doesn’t say why. She proceeds again with her vibrant reading. There’s a theme here. She communicates over “this is important” but not always”this is important because”; she wants the story to flow and come to life. She wants students to still get to put the pieces together themselves.

at 2:31 she drops in a vocabulary definition “a spouse is a husband or wife” and then goes back and rereads the critical and revealing sentence containing it. Great catch that the word ‘spouse’ could be a barrier to understanding. She offers a tiny “hmm” but resists the urge to say “Here’s why I re-read that.” The mystery is theirs to wrestle with for the time being.

Later they will pause and discuss, but for now she lets some breadcrumbs tumble down and accumulate before students try to analyze. The book comes to life, and when they do pause to analyze the discussion will be more interesting.

Anyway, I loved the balance. Emily’s read aloud still has all the benefits of an audiobook–the story richly told by a reader with impeccable expression–but she’s annotating for them, adding bits of knowledge and emphasis to make the book more accessible and help students attend to critical moments while preserving their autonomy.

To learn more about the curriculum Emily is using, visit

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