How to Hold a Virtual Read-Aloud While Schools Are Closed

Photo: Screenshot of one of teacher Katie Risolo Radovich's recorded virtual read-alouds for her first-grade students.

As educators, maintaining routine and order in the classroom is something that we do innately. However, transitioning over to distance learning threw a curveball into the mix! 

As soon as I heard my school was closing, one of my first thoughts was about my first graders' favorite time of day—our read-aloud. Students come to the carpet and sit crisscross-applesauce, and I’m either in my rocking chair or sitting crisscross-applesauce next to them. It’s a moment to relax, listen, and spend time together. I decided that my read-alouds were going to start right away despite the current circumstances!

But I immediately thought about copyright issues that could arise from recording and sharing out my read-alouds of specific books with students and parents. I did my research and discovered that many K–12 education and publishing companies (including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are being lenient and generous with copyright restrictions through June 30 because of the challenges teachers face regarding facility closures and travel restrictions. While each publisher has a slightly different policy, as long as my videos are used for educational purposes and I am not monetizing my videos, my private or unlisted read-alouds are good to go. 

So, beginning on our first day of digital learning, I have continued to put out a video each weekday to students and their families! I've done more than 20 so far, so I decided to share some steps you can follow to bring your virtual read-aloud idea to life.

Steps for Holding a Virtual Read-Aloud

1. Determine the device you will film on. 

I like to film on my iPad or iPhone, but another option is to film on your laptop’s webcam. This depends on what you feel most comfortable with and the devices to which you have access. Whichever device you opt to use, be sure you have enough space or memory to record a video on it. To ensure my device is stable while filming, I have been utilizing my iPad’s Otterbox stand but have recently ordered a tripod that will hold both my iPad and iPhone.

If you are going to do a live read-aloud, I recommend using your computer or iPad. Once a week, I do a live read-aloud with my first graders on Zoom. Make sure you flip your camera beforehand so you are not backwards.

2. Find the perfect space and background.

I like to use a corner of my living room—it's simply a chair in a cozy spot of my house. I know some teachers have devoted a full room as their classroom and have even made it look very similar to their school classroom. However, if you are limited in terms of space like me, an inviting space is key. You may even include something that the students may associate with your school classroom—pictures, pointers, or a specific book or decoration. Another benefit: my simple chair, in a cozy spot of my house, is almost like a view into my life outside of the classroom that my students would not have seen otherwise.

3. Choose the book you are going to read.

Is it going to be a “fun” read-aloud or a book pertaining to a particular lesson? I have been using read-alouds for a "brain break" in my first graders’ school day. I brought home a pile of potential read-aloud books—some favorite picture books, and others that relate more to spring or summer. The more upbeat, the better!

4. Lights, camera, action! 

Get ready to press record! While I can talk in front of a classroom of 27 students regularly, I’m finding being in front of the camera to be a challenge. I’m not used to being on camera and recording myself. But I am finding that the more read-alouds I do, it's getting easier and easier every day. There are times where I start and stop. There are other times where I have to go back and scrap the entire video due to noises or talking over myself—but of course, you can't do this if you're doing a live read-aloud, so make sure you're comfortable with the process before taking this route.

I always have a glass of water nearby and clear my throat before recording. I don't look directly into the camera since I'm reading a book, but when I do, I always smile because I know my students need to see a happy, strong teacher to keep them motivated during this time. If it starts to feel a little awkward, something I learned from an undergraduate public speaking class is to look just above the camera so you are still looking in the direction but are not completely off target. It’s not something that I have found to come naturally but I am working on it. 

5. Upload your video to the most familiar platform for you. 

If you're doing your read-aloud live, great! You're done. Otherwise, once you’re done recording, you can either upload your video as is or get creative and edit in easy-to-use software such as iMovie on a Mac or Windows Movie Maker on a PC. If you are unfamiliar with these programs, I recommend going on YouTube for their “how-to” guides that will walk through the programs step by step. For example, I usually include a creative introduction that has my Bitmoji and free music that comes with iMovie. It’s almost like a TV show introduction for my students so that when they hear that song or see my Bitmoji, they know a read-aloud is coming! You can email the recording to your students and their families or post it to school social media accounts. YouTube is allowing teachers to post read-alouds as long as they are unlisted! This allows you to send a link out. 

I have found that my students desperately want to see me. They want to have some semblance of normalcy, and that involves seeing their teacher. These videos will mean the world to your kiddos!

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To help you continue teaching and learning during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), visit our At-Home Learning Support page for free resources.

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