My two boys don’t often talk about school without some prodding. They enjoy it well enough, but at ages 9 and 11, School has become just a routine part of life and is no longer the mystical, magical world it once was in the early years.
There are a few things they’ll bring up on their own: pep rallies, being accepted into the Engineering Club, or that time the local rec center sent wrestling representatives to the school and let them wrestle their friends in P.E.
And read-alouds. When their teachers choose books that pique their interest, I definitely hear about it. Most recently, with my younger son, it was The One and Only Ivan. He came home one day and declared that we HAVE TO watch the movie so he could see what happens next. (Don’t worry… I made him wait until they finished the book.)
Regrettably, I didn’t utilize read-alouds much in my own teaching career. The years I taught reading or literature were mostly in secondary (eighth and twelfth grades). I just assumed they were too old to sit and listen, and honestly, we were often pressed for time. Plus, I didn’t really remember many of my own teachers reading out loud to me past sixth grade.
But I now believe that students are never too old to sit and enjoy a good story.
Here are just a few evidence-based benefits* of reading aloud to your students:
My all-time favorite read-aloud experience was with my sixth-grade Social Studies teacher, Ms. Prickett. At the end of each week, she would turn off the glaring fluorescent overhead lights and invite us to put our heads down on our desks as she read an account from Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story. It had a profound impact on me as a reader to hear these unbelievable stories of the twists and turns and impossible coincidences of real life. We begged her to read more.
Recently, I subbed in a third-grade classroom. As the day neared an end, I had a student ask me if she could be the one to read the current read-aloud book during their regularly-scheduled afternoon time. I agreed, and I watched how proudly she stepped into the role: she sat up straight and tall on the teacher stool, quieted everyone down, and captivated her peers as they gathered to listen to the next chapter of the story. Their story.
“Through intonation, expression, and attention to punctuation, the reader demonstrates meaning embedded in the text.” Think about the best storytellers in your life. They have charisma, the ability to gather crowds using animated gestures and voices to re-enact an exciting memory. Heck, even the least interesting moments can be brought to life with some solid narration. Reading aloud to your students does the same thing.
Using different inflection, gestures, and movements will provide the additional context needed to expand vocabulary, even among your ELL students.
Additionally, by choosing a book that’s not attached to a grade, the pressure is off, freeing your students to simply pay attention to the story itself. I believe the low-key-ness of the activity actually increases student engagement over graded activities.
Read-alouds are probably best done with as little interruption as possible for this reason. However, I also think it’s an easy place to sneak in a bit of reading comprehension practice – asking for predictions at the end of a chapter or discussing major themes, connecting them to students’ own experiences. (This is a good time to let students tell their own related stories they so desire to tell! So often I felt like I had to shut that down to get things done in the classroom.)
In a world of sound bites and half-formed ideas expressed quickly in electronic formats, students benefit from hearing complete ideas, expressed with originality and attention, such as one finds in literary language.
Perhaps my favorite potential benefit of read-alouds is that they provide a time for students to decelerate and just be still. Our world thrives on the fast-paced and the git-er-done, so we don’t slow down often enough to hear what others have to say. I think it’s a skill that our digital-era children need more help developing.
And you know what? It just might provide you with the time to take a breather, too. Teachers have these massive, never-ending to-do lists. Maybe a time to read to your students can be your time to escape the madness, if even for a little bit.
*Source: “What Are the Benefits of Reading Aloud?” An Instructional Format for College-Age Learners. Center for Teaching.
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