Many of us probably remember wonderful days in our elementary classroom listening to stories read by our teacher. These stories, whether they were picture books in kindergarten or chapter books in fifth grade, were a major part of my upbringing in elementary school and one of my favorite times of the school day. I distinctly remember in fourth grade listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and being sorely disappointed when we watched the movie and the details had changed. I had such a vivid picture in my head of the characters and setting. Our entire class had the collective language of the story that we could talk about and discuss.
Sadly, some teachers see classroom read alouds as a waste of instructional time. And just like everything else in the classroom, if done poorly, these sessions can be very ineffective. So, while it is true that it can be a waste of instructional time, when done well, it is not a waste at all.
More often than not, I feel that classroom read alouds are well worth the investment of time. Everyone loves to be read to—even adults. Look at the popularity of audiobooks and sites like audible.com. These demonstrate that people of all ages love to listen to stories.
So, what makes a good read aloud effective instructional practice? And why should we encourage teachers to read books aloud to students? Here are some of my thoughts:
- Reading fluency is more than just reading quickly: Good readers are able to use timing, tone, inflection, and pausing to make the written word easy to listen to. Students do not come by these skills naturally—they have to learn and practice them. Teachers can model this so that when students read, they can transfer the ability to read with emotion and effect, both orally and when reading silently. In essence, hearing good reading helps students to become better readers themselves.
- Comprehension questions can be embedded: As teachers read the story to the students, they can seamlessly work in comprehension skills. Things like making predictions and drawing inferences can be modeled for all of the students. It’s a great way for the teacher to show students how stories have clues that can help lead us to understand a theme or draw a conclusion.
- Students are exposed to books they might not normally read: Read aloud books are typically rich in some way, shape, or form. They might be full of historical references, rich imagery, or silly humor. Often times, this will ignite an interest in an author or series that the student had never experienced before.
- It gives students a break: This might not be the best reason to do it, but it does serve a purpose. Read alouds fit in well before or after recess and in the spots in the schedule that don’t allow for long periods of instruction. It gives students a way to relax and passively listen for a few minutes in a typically work-filled day.
- It creates a shared love of literature: Most teachers read books aloud that they really love. To spend that much time with a book requires some commitment, so teachers are usually all-in with their selection. By reading something hilarious like the Junie B. Jones series or something emotional like Where the Red Fern Grows, teachers can share their love of the story with their students. The last two pages of To Kill a Mockingbird get me every time, but I loved reading them to my students every year.
- Teachers can model a growth mindset: Even teachers make mistakes. As I read the books aloud to my high school students, I would make mistakes from time to time. This allowed me to model that I wasn’t perfect—mistakes are signs of growth, and we can roll through anything that might come up.
There are other good reasons to read books and stories aloud to students in the classroom. Pure enjoyment should be reason enough to kick back and read a great book, but it is also a great practice educationally for a number of reasons. Hopefully, our students have wonderful memories of being read to just as I did when I was a student.
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