Reading Tips

The Essential Read-Aloud

I love to read out loud to my students! I enjoy introducing my students to interesting books they may not have chosen themselves or follow a tangent of discussion brought on by our current read-aloud. But with all of the standards we must meet, lessons we must plan, differentiation we must offer, and the general business of the classroom, is a read-aloud really necessary? I would argue that read-aloud is not only necessary but essential. Here are seven reasons why read-aloud is an essential instructional tool.

Demonstrate Deep Thinking Aloud

Read-aloud is a great starting point to showing your thinking out loud. In all subjects, we want to teach students how they should think while they are reading. As advanced readers, when we come across new vocabulary, we know to context clues to figure out the meaning of the word before we have to consult a dictionary. This is a skill, however, that must be taught. Instead of telling students what to do, it is best to model how a student should think when they come across a new word.

              “The boy squandered all of his lunch money on candy. Now, he is hungry.”

“Hmm . . . I don’t recognize the word ‘squandered.’ I am going to look at the words around it to see if I can figure out what ‘squandered’ means. Well, I know that lunch money would be used to buy lunch, but I see that he buys candy instead. Now he is hungry. Based on the clues that I see, I can conclude that squandered must mean ‘to waste’ or ‘use up.’ If the boy wasted or used up his lunch money on candy, it would make sense why he is hungry because candy doesn’t fill you up.”

By modeling this thinking out loud during a read aloud, you are given a clear opportunity to teach a reading strategy in an organic way. Students learn best when skills are put into context.

Engage Students in Meaningful Conversations

Touching the pictures as we talk.

According to Shifting the Balance by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates, “When it comes to language development, read-aloud is one of your most powerful tools. Interactive read-aloud provides an important bridge between spoken and written language, combining a more conversational guided experience with the more complex and formal language of books.” Books are great starting points for great conversation.

When reading a book to your students, conversations can be started by asking questions about the characters or events in the story. You could point out the author’s craft, make text-to-text or text-to-home connections. Each of these conversational moments demonstrates deep and thoughtful reading which students should apply to their personal reading.

Read Complex Texts

When we give students a book to read for instruction, as teachers, we want these books to be at our child’s instructional level. This means that the book is easy enough for the child to decode and comprehend, but difficult enough to push them to grow as a reader. We want their brain to be able to put in a little effort into what they are reading.

When choosing a read-aloud, however, we are free to choose books that might be at our students’ frustration level if they were reading on their own. This allows us as teachers to introduce our students to new vocabulary, complex storylines, different genres, and so on. Read-aloud give students access and understanding to texts that they may not be able to understand on their own.

Introduce New Vocabulary and Build Background Knowledge

Read-alouds are an excellent, organic way of introducing your children to new vocabulary. As children build their vocabulary knowledge, they will be able to read and comprehend higher reading levels on their own. Students can also incorporate their new knowledge into their everyday conversation.

As people, we all build background knowledge in a variety of ways including through personal experience. There are some areas in life that we may never experience in person, however, we can build our background knowledge through reading. For example, I will never go to space and experience walking on the moon for myself. However, I can still building my background knowledge on space through reading and research.

The same principle applies to our students. If we can help our children build their background knowledge in a variety of areas through our read-aloud choices, then they will begin building background knowledge that will help our students comprehend texts that they read on their own.

Model Fluency and Expression

Reading out loud to children teaches them fluency and expression. While these are still skills that they must practice themselves by reading out loud, it is helpful to hear how sentences are read smoothly, pausing for breath when you arrive at a punctuation mark. It is also helpful for developing readers to hear advanced readers read with expression.

Increase Listening Comprehension

Overall, as we introduce our students to new vocabulary through organic use in our book choices, build their background knowledge about a variety of topics, and model reading strategies, our students will begin to increase their listening comprehension. According to Shifting the Balance by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates, “Choose texts that will stretch listening comprehension by providing exposure to rich ideas, wide vocabulary, background knowledge, and novel language structures.” By reading aloud, we open up a whole new world of literature possibilities for our students to enjoy.

Introduce New Genres and Series

A few of my favorite “fun book” read-alouds.

In my classroom, I use read-aloud for different purposes. Sometimes, I use a read-aloud to support my instruction. Other times, I choose a “fun book” to read to the class. I read a “fun book” to my class for a few minutes after lunch or recess to give students a moment to calm down and refocus after a time of lively conversation and movement.

I strategically choose books in my classroom library that my students may not choose at first glance. I use these fun books as a subtle way of getting my students hooked on a series available in my library or interested in the writings of a particular author. I have noticed that at the beginning of the school year, the only books my students are interested in are the graphic novels. The rest of my library remains untouched. But then, as we dive into various novels for fun or for instruction, students become hooked on a book series or connect with an author’s style of writing. Soon, my other library books are flying off of the shelves and students begin to branch out in their reading choices.

Teachers, if you are not already including a read-aloud in your daily routine, I hope that you are inspired to get started. Parents, I hope you are encouraged to keep reading to your children. Books are a simple way to connect with your children and help them grow as a reader.

Not sure where to start? Check out these booklists for your babies, toddlers, or elementary children.

Happy reading!

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