Managing interruptions during the read-aloud experience

We have all been there. You are reading to a group of children only to find you can’t get through the book without fielding questions or stopping to address some kind of interruption. Today, as part of our blog book study on “The Read-Aloud Handbook,”  Jim Trelease gives us his perspective on two different types of interruptions that take place during the read-aloud experience.  The first question is related to children who interrupt and the second question is related to adults who interrupt the read-aloud experience…

Managing interruptions during the Read-Aloud experience from Teach Preschool

The child who interrupts

The Question: Young children often want to shout out something (sometimes related to the story and sometimes not) in the middle of a read-aloud experience which can make it difficult to really read a story well and keep all the children engaged in a large group setting. What are your thoughts on children who continuously interrupt a story?

Managing interruptions during the Read-Aloud experience from Teach Preschool

The Answer from Jim Trelease: Attention spans are not built overnight. They’re built over days and days of reading and pages and pages of books. Here is something I’ve included in recent editions, including the 7th:

EXCERPT from The Read Aloud Handbook:
Here, for example, are two concepts entirely within the grasp of a three-year-old:
• The telephone can be used to make and receive calls.
• Books contain stories that give me pleasure if I listen and watch.

Nearly thirty years ago, my friend and neighbor Ellie Fernands, today a retired elementary school principal, returned to teaching after a ten-year hiatus. Since her former experience was in junior high, this new job—-preschool—-was almost extraterrestrial. I recall Ellie telling me of her experiences on the first day of school with those two concepts: the telephone and books. She said, “All morning the three-year-olds used the toy telephone in class to make pretend calls to their mothers for reassurances that they’d be picked up and brought home. They dialed make-believe numbers, talked for long periods of time, and even used telephone etiquette.”

Understanding the concept of the telephone, these children were able to use and enjoy it for a considerable length of time. Their telephone attention span was excellent. Now compare that with story time in Ellie’s class that day. “Thirty seconds after the story began, two of the children stood up and moved away from the circle, obviously bored. More children quickly joined them. Within two minutes, half the children had abandoned the story.” (Ellie later learned that one of the two children who listened through the entire story was a child who had been read to from day one. We both later discovered he—-Michael Nozzolillo—-had been pictured in the very first edition of this book; his parents were lifelong friends of mine.) The
difference between the attention spans for phone and book is based on the concept that each child brought to the subject. When a child has little or no experience with books, it is impossible for him to have a concept of them and the pleasure they afford. No experience means no attention span.

Managing interruptions during the Read-Aloud experience from Teach Preschool

The Teacher’s Challenge

Mr. Trelease continues: The teacher’s challenge is going to be teaching that child-interrupter and all the children that there is a time to contribute and a time to listen. Without that control of the class, little teaching can occur in the day, whether it’s reading or any other subject.

And finally, the attention span for books may be short in the beginning, so keep the reading short. There is nothing on the cover of the book that says it must be completed in so-many minutes. Split the story into two or three sittings, opening each session with the question: Who can remember where we left off this morning? What was the teddy bear’s name in the store?

The adult who interrupts

The question: Often, teachers stop throughout a really well written children’s book to explain things or repeat things rather than reading the book from cover to cover then going back to address specific points. What is your perspective on the teacher interrupting the story?

Managing interruptions during the Read-Aloud experience from Teach Preschool

The Answer from Jim Trelease: It’s tough to learn to ride a bike if you can’t get up enough speed. That is, get rolling! Interest or understanding of story is not easily reached if there are continual interruptions that drain the life out of the book, to say nothing of the plot.

So how about creating a preface to the book, during which you itemize and explain some challenging vocabulary words that will be coming up, and maybe a challenging piece of plotting. For example, “Today’s book, Fly Homer Fly by Bill Peet, is a wonderful tale about a pigeon who leaves his home in search of a new home, only to discover that his old home is … well, I don’t want to give away too much of the story. There are a couple of words, however, we might want to know about before jumping into the book. Someone want to tell me what a PLAZA is? How about a FREE-FOR-ALL? What is someone doing if he or she is FEASTING? And finally, what is an ALLEY?

More from our book study

Join us for more great tips and information on how reading aloud to young children is an important part of developing a promising reader for the rest of his life!  To join us simply visit this post or check out the linky below!


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Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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