“Books can add immeasurable richness to our daily lives. Books enhance our knowledge and experience, help us to solve problems, and can provide pleasure and relaxation. Although the value of literature may vary from individual to individual, literature’s greatest value might be the delight we often derive from reading” (Stoodt, 322).
“Children, who from an early age are exposed to good literature, begin to get the sense of the power and beauty of language. As children listen to or read stories and poems, they experience this power” (Elkind, 3). Reading can bring power! Listening to stories can bring power! The power of the written word combined with the power of the imagination can lead to a deeper understanding of the world around us. “Words are merely words, but real literature for any age is words chosen with skill and artistry to give the readers pleasure and to help them understand themselves and others” (Lukens, 10).
Not enough importance has been placed on the value of reading aloud to children. “Beginning in infancy and throughout their elementary years and beyond, children should hear books read aloud” (Lynch-Brown, 233). Some parents do it, mostly at bedtime, to make their child relax and fall asleep easier. Their approach is not calculated, they do not choose books for their rich, diverse language; in order to build background knowledge; or to delve deeper into their child’s feelings. But, those types of learning happen when a child hears a story read to them. A task so simple can bring so much!
That’s where, as teachers, we need to be calculated in how we plan our literary instruction. If reading aloud is important to the growth and development of our students, then we need to be doing it ~ for all students, at all grade levels. “Reading aloud can be done with students from preschool through high school, making reading an enjoyable part of each day” (teachervision.fen.com). “This teaching strategy is just as important in the development of intermediate grade level readers as it is in kindergarten” (Lynch-Brown, 233). “Reading aloud to middle and high school students can motivate them to read, enticing them with good storytelling and providing a model of excellent reading; phrasing; expression; and pronunciation. Reading aloud to students, whose second language is English, can help them to make connections between written and spoken language” (teachervision.fen.com).
“Children of all ages enjoy listening to good stories” (Stoodt, 327). When planning for each read aloud session, teachers must select materials for reading carefully. Any type of text can be acceptable: books; poems; newspaper articles; or magazine sections. However, whatever is chosen must be interesting and give room for engagement in follow up activities, when appropriate.
First, choose excellent books that are written at one or two levels above their independent reading level. “Young people have a listening level that significantly surpasses their reading level. Reading aloud makes complex ideas more accessible to students and exposes them to vocabulary and language patterns that are not part of their everyday speech” (teachervision.fen.com). “Teachers should read books that children can’t or don’t read for themselves. Reading these books aloud to children enables them to enjoy selections they would otherwise miss” (Stoodt, 327). We need “to provide students with exciting and stimulating experiences in reading matter that may be too difficult for them to read themselves but not beyond their ability to enjoy and appreciate” (Lynch-Brown, 233). “Whether instruction calls for fiction; nonfiction; or informational books, they should provide information in a way that captivates readers” (Moss and Young, 73). “Children who are read to discover the rewards of reading and are motivated to learn to read” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 419).
Second, in order to create the best experience, teachers need to be familiar with the book to be presented. Teachers should read the book beforehand, making sure that its content matches with current instructional goals; has appropriate language; and contains illustrations with “teachable moments” (those are my favorites). These “teachable moments” could mean having the children predict the plot; anticipate character responses; or solve any dilemmas that arise during reading. “Be alert to stopping points at which you might invite predictions or discussion. Monitor your own responses to the story. The things you notice or wonder about are worth remembering because these spontaneous responses can become conversation starters following the reading” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 422).
Third, develop a routine for reading aloud. Children should be taught how to accept the material being presented and to behave appropriately during each session. “For students to profit from read-aloud experiences, they need to be attentive. You can organize students for reading aloud by having them remove distractions; having them sit quietly in a designated area; and asking them to be ready to listen” (Lynch-Brown, 234). Prepare the students for any new vocabulary or concepts that may surface while reading. “Ask students to predict what the text will be about; have them do a picture walk through the text; introduce unfamiliar words; and build background knowledge using strategies like K-W-L” (Moss and Young, 73).
Fourth, enjoy the reading time. Too often, we find that our schedules do not allow for worthwhile reading activities. We have too many interruptions in our day ~ fire drills; pull outs; reading groups; special classes; and guests. Take advantage of the time when you have the entire class together. Consider it to be one of those “cozy, cuddle up” times and that you have enough arms to reach around all of your students while you read to them! It is especially important to have your students see you enjoy this reading time as well. “Vary your reading pace to reflect in mood and emotion; read expressively; and use different voices when appropriate” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 424). Allow for interruptions within the story, especially for younger students. Younger children often forget their observations if they are forced to wait. “There may be a time when you need to guide students through a tricky part of the story or fill in information important to understanding the story” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 424).
After reading, arrange for your students to further connect with the book by creating discussion activities. Students love to share their feelings after reading a good book. Use the whole class discussion method where the teacher becomes the facilitator to access understanding. “Whole-class discussion centers on the different ways students feel and think about the book; its characters; its events; and its outcomes” (Lynch-Brown, 245). The literature response group can be used to create smaller groups of children who discuss and respond to the book. The teacher can use what she knows about each student to create these groups. “Students share their responses with peers where they learn to work with one another and to value the views and opinions of others” (Lynch-Brown, 245).
The teacher may choose to set up individual conferences where the teacher allows the child to reflect on the book just read. “The conference is focused on what the student thought and felt about the book. Some teachers ask the student to read aloud a favorite part and tell why that part was selected” (Lynch-Brown, 246). The method of questioning can be used in either type of group as listed above. The teacher creates open-ended questions for students to answer relating to the story as a whole. “The best ideas for questions to stimulate book discussions flow directly from your response to the particular book and why you want the students to experience the book. Your questions will tell your students what you believe is important in reading” (Lynch-Brown, 247). “When students are invited to share their own connections to a story, they sometimes offer personal experiences or they connect the stories with others they have read. Children frequently share some of their most insightful thinking when they compare stories” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 465). Additional activities that can be prepared for literature discussions could be: creative drama; readers’ theater; journal writing; story maps; language charts; book reports; and art projects. Using today’s technology can provide for a wide range of responses that are visually stimulating and keep students engaged.
In summary, reading aloud should be the “centerpiece of a curriculum in literature” (Lynch-Brown, 233). “Read alouds are the ideal vehicle for encouraging children to think in response to literature. Children become acquainted with the cadences of written language and discover how print functions. Children can acquire real-world knowledge that is so critical for success in school” (Temple, Martinez, Yokota, and Naylor, 419).
For reading aloud to be effective, teachers need to plan ahead by choosing a good book and pre-reading it. Don’t get discouraged ~ it may take reading several books to find the “right” one! Encourage questions; observations; and time for predictions during the reading. Develop a time within each day to read aloud. Make the space inviting with certain listening rules. Enjoy the time spent reading to your students. Offer creative outlets for students to share their experience with the book.
In order for our children to become good readers, we must read to them. How can we be remiss in showing them how to be rich and powerful ~ such as reading brings?
Elkind, David. (1978). Language Arts and the Young Child. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Lukens, Rebecca. (1990). A Critical Handbook of Children’s Literature: Fourth Edition. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
Lynch-Brown, Carol and Carl Tomlinson. (1992). Essentials of Children’s Literature. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Moss, Barbara and Terrell Young. (2010). Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Stoodt, Barbara. (1981). Reading Instruction. Hougton Mifflin Company. Teacher Vision.
“Reading Aloud”. www.teachervision.fen.com/skill-builder/read-aloud/48715.html
Temple, Charles; Miriam Martinez; Junko Yokota; and Alice Naylor. Children’s Books in Children’s Hands: An Introduction to Their Literature. (1998). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.