Scholastic Professional

Access is Key for Helping Students Learn How to Have Conversations About Books

 //  May 8, 2019

Access is Key for Helping Students Learn How to Have Conversations About Books

Nikki Woodruff is a contributing author to Responsive Literacy: A Comprehensive Framework.

Last fall, I was working in a first grade classroom to teach a lesson with the responsive literacy framework in preparation for a summer series from The Ohio State University Literacy Collaborative® titled Virtual Comprehensive Literacy Framework for the K–2 Classroom where teachers and administrators will learn about reading and writing concepts from Responsive Literacy (Scharer, 2018). During my lesson, I focused on the very important practice of teaching readers how to make meaning and have conversations about text through the interactive read-aloud.

The power of utilizing data

I started with data. The word “data” can carry a negative connotation in our elementary schools. It seems we collect so much data on students as required by our states and districts that it can be overwhelming to think about analyzing and using the data in meaningful ways. 

Data collected must be authentic to inform practice because data helps teachers make intentional teaching moves. In this classroom, I started by reading aloud and assessing the students utilizing Marie Clay’s Hearing and Recording Sounds and Words (2016) and the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (2016). I noticed several trends:

  • As a whole, the children I was working with could hear and record many sounds as evidenced by the dictated sentence I asked them to write.
  • The readers in this class knew a lot about words and the way they worked. This evidence was obtained in reading and writing.
  • Discussion surrounding text was a challenge for these first graders. I noticed this when reading aloud to the students as well as when I asked them to read and discuss the text with each other. 

After the assessment was complete, I quickly got to work addressing the strengths and needs in the classroom in order to make intentional teaching decisions. I will admit that the first interactive read-aloud was a bust. Sometimes we have lessons that don’t go as planned, and this was one of mine. 

I love the book Swimmy by Leo Leonni about a little fish who helps his friends work together to brave the dangerous waters amongst bigger fish. I thought this book was perfect as we were focusing on building community in this first grade classroom. I preplanned my opening move where I discussed how awesome this book was to generate excitement for the read-aloud. I then prepared three stopping points where we were going to engage in conversation around the text. I was sure that these kids were going to love this book as much as I did, but I was wrong. My goal was to “take an active stance, engaging in conversation together” (Scharer, 2018). That did not happen. The children barely spoke, but I learned something about these readers. I needed to find out what kinds of books they loved so that they would want to have conversations about them. 

Explicitly demonstrating and modeling for students

I now knew the best way to support my students would be to find books of interest and encourage conversations through explicit demonstration and modeling. The children in this classroom were not experienced in this kind of read-aloud, and they needed to be taught how to have conversations with each other about books.

During my short time working with the students and teaching them how to implement strategies for meaning-making, I began to see gains in their ability to think and talk about texts in deep and meaningful ways. I focused on:

  • Choosing books that I thought would be engaging for the kids by directly asking them about their interests.
  • Giving a book introduction to get them excited about the text and to get them thinking about the meaning of the text before we started reading.
  • Explicitly demonstrating and modeling my thinking related to the texts.
  • Creating discussion stems to help the readers think about the interactive read-aloud as a discussion about the text as opposed to a question and answer time with their teacher.
  • Extending some of the interactive read-alouds with opportunities to think deeply about texts through mini-lessons and interactive writing.

Obtaining data-driven results

Because I was intentional in my planning based on student inquiry and data, I saw data-driven results in my students’ ability to think within, beyond and about the text. When I picked high-interest and engaging books and guided conversations around meaning making, I was able to model and highlight thinking and talking about texts in a deep way. My readers responded to this strategy and within weeks, they were thinking about meaning-making in all instructional contexts.

My story is similar to the experiences of many educators. It’s important that we source high-interest and relevant texts for lessons so that students are engaged and excited to learn. But access is key—educators must have access to a variety of books to choose from for their lessons as well as for students to select during independent reading time. Take my time in this first grade classroom for example. The latest Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™ revealed that 60% of 6–8 year-olds with a robust classroom library are frequent readers compared to 51% of kids in the same age range without a robust classroom library, so making sure our classroom libraries have a wide variety of texts is critical for academic success. The interactive read-aloud was also a moment for me to engage with my students, encourage them to think deeply about the text, and share their interpretations with their peers. This is where the critical learning takes place, and high-interest texts are essential for students to participate in meaningful conversations, an important skill that is translated across subject areas and throughout life.



Clay, M. M. (2016). An observation survey of early literacy achievement: Third edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I & Pinnell, G. (2017). Benchmark assessment system: Third edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Scharer, P.L., editor. (2018). Responsive literacy: A comprehensive framework. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™: 7th Edition. (2019).

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock