Tag Archives: read-aloud

Why Is the Read-Aloud a Life-Changing Form of Civic Learning?

The following post was written by Pam Allyn and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”

—Mem Fox

The academic reasons to read aloud are profound: building comprehension skills by modeling a deepening engagement with text, building fluency as the child listens to the smoothness of a mentor reader, building vocabulary and grammar skills as the child marinates in literary language. But the benefits of the read-aloud extend far beyond improvements in reading ability. They also have a powerful impact on the child’s social and emotional development and the ineffable benefits to the child’s human spirit.

What does the read-aloud do to benefit the child’s spirit? The read-aloud:

1. Builds empathy and understanding

Reading aloud gives children a lens through which to understand the experiences of others. The characters who become dear to us collectively in the warm embrace of the read-aloud are characters who, through the voice of the reader, become alive to our children. They are in the room with us. We can witness the other side of a story or the internal struggle of a beloved character. Authors such as Mo Willems, Charlotte Zolotow, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kwame Alexander all create a tenderly reverberating world of empathy and compassion, of knowledge building, of how we are all human in this great big complex world we live in.

2. Scaffolds cultural engagement

A story in literary or informational form is honoring the experiences and lives of a whole world of people living in a variety of cultural and linguistic contexts. The read-aloud is powerful when it can be a way to bridge divides and also to illuminate differences that are compelling and wonderful to the listener. Let us select books to read aloud that represent a wide range of characters and cultures, languages and dialects. Host a virtual read-aloud to share across cultures. Don’t worry if everyone doesn’t understand every word. Hearing stories read aloud from different cultures and languages gives a child the powerful sense of all the diversity in the world. Great writers give us exquisite examples of how the world is full of colors and sizes and sounds that all add up to our humanity, and great writers also write specifically from their own cultural perspectives and language to share the details that make us profoundly and beautifully different. Beyond all else is the fact that reading aloud is a powerful complement to the oral tradition around story sharing.

The sound of the human voice passing along stories has a deep tradition across many cultures, and the presence of the read-aloud in our classroom is a way to honor that.

3. Cultivates the power of deep listening

Reading aloud builds listening skills in an unparalleled way. These skills extend far beyond the world of reading. Research of children’s reading habits conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found that reading aloud to kids every day will put them a year ahead of kids who are not read aloud to daily, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances. Listening deeply means we are not only encouraging answers in response to preordained questions, but also that we are encouraging listening to the sound of an author who conveys his or her particular style, that we are listening to the unique dialogue characters speak, that we are listening to tone and rhythm and the sheer delight of literary sound.

4. Creates excitement for the beauty of vocabulary and grammar

Reading a Walt Whitman poem to a group of fourth graders is a powerful immersion in complex grammar and vocabulary. They don’t have to understand every word or even most lines to soak up the sophistication of his text. The cadence and intention of his ideas carry them along as a boat carrying its passengers, riding the high seas boldly and bravely.

As I Walk These Broad, Majestic Days

As I walk these broad, majestic days of peace,

(For the war, the struggle of blood finish’d, wherein, O terrific Ideal!

Against vast odds, having gloriously won,

Now thou stridest on–yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,

Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,

Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others;)

–As I walk solitary, unattended,

Around me I hear that eclat of the world–politics, produce,

The announcements of recognized things–science,

The approved growth of cities, and the spread of inventions.

There are certainly complex words and phrases in this poem, but the overall theme and the soaring rhythm and even a small amount of background knowledge will give our students the thrill of a lifetime. Your voice conveying that excitement and fearlessness is what helps them to tackle difficult grammar and vocabulary in their own independent reading lives.

5. Fuels happiness

Happiness really matters. Ask any parent what they most want for their child and happiness is one of the top two answers (good health is the other). Yet when we talk about school and about teaching, we talk about outcomes to the exclusion of happiness. We talk about test scores and formative results of portfolios and improvements, all of which most certainly matter, but at the end of the day, for me as a mother and as an educator, the smile matters most. I think we truly underestimate the importance of happiness in school. I have sometimes said that the only assessment we actually need would be to ask children: “Were you happy in school today?” Their response would tell us everything we need to know, from the quality of the teaching to the quality of the physical environment to the interaction of peers.

The read-aloud fuels pure happiness. When done in a comfortable setting with a wonderful book, the entire community is lifted up, and the children are energized, excited, included, and joyous. All the conditions for great learning are met.

P.S. Visit my organization litworld.org to find out how you can join us for World Read-Aloud Day!

Read-Alouds for Life

This post is written by member Rick Joseph, the 2016 Michigan State Teacher of the Year. 

rickjosephI love to read. I believe in the power of story to change lives. After soliciting ideas on social media, I selected The Junkard Wonders, by Michigan author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, as the Official Book of the Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016.

The story compels readers to realize that no matter their ability, they are geniuses. It encourages readers to seek out their genius, nurture it through hard work, and use it to contribute to the betterment of others and the world. We all belong, and we all have something to contribute to our communities.

This is a message that everyone needs to hear constantly. But no group needs to hear this idea more than our children—especially in the form of stories, read out loud.

As humans, our brains are hardwired for stories. We tune in naturally to the familiar architecture of a story arc, with its problems, solutions, characters, and settings. Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey as a global story archetype, one that is common to all cultures around the globe. Our stories have always helped us not only to communicate, but to make sense of our world and realize our place in it. By reading aloud, we share these stories, and in doing so, we create community.

People have also known for years that stories develop children’s vocabulary, improve their ability to learn to read, and—perhaps most important—foster a lifelong love of books and reading.

The ability to develop a passionate reading life is crucial, according to Jim Trelease, author of the best-selling Read-Aloud Handbook. “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain,” he writes. “You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.”

This reading “commercial” is critical when competition for a child’s attention is so fierce.  Faced with many options— television, movies, the Internet, video games, and myriad after-school activities—a child may overlook the pleasures of sitting down with a book. In addition, negative experiences with reading—whether frustrations in learning to read or tedious “drill-and-kill” school assignments—can further turn children off from reading.

A child who does not have a healthy reading habit may suffer long-term consequences. As Trelease succinctly puts it, “Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.”

This is a relatively simple idea, and comes down to the importance of building a habit. Additionally, reading aloud is, according to the landmark 1985 report Becoming a Nation of Readers, “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”

Recently, I read The Junkyard Wonders aloud to  5th graders at Auburn Elementary Schools. The kids were enthralled with the story and connected easily with Polacco’s message of optimism, hope, and perseverance against all odds. The next day, in an unrelated visit to Auburn, I stopped in the same classroom. What was most remarkable was that as soon as I entered, I was swarmed with kids who were thrusting their books in my face.

“Mr. Joe, have you read The Crossover?” came an inquiry from an eager 5th-grade boy.

“I’m reading El Deafo. Have you read this book?” spat another.

“Look what I’m reading: Wonder. I love this book. Have you read it?” another asked.

I was flabbergasted that a read-aloud from the day before to complete strangers had created this instant reader-to-reader bond. I was reminded of out-loud reading’s intense power to stimulate a desire in the listener to grab a book and read more.

I felt part of a community of readers who talk about the stories they’ve read, try to make sense of them, and connect them to their own lives. Kids were so hungry to share their books with me. And they were hungry to communicate their excitement about stories—and to urge me to read, read, READ!

Rick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. He is thrilled to serve as the Michigan Teacher of the Year 2016.

Join the 2016 Global Read Aloud

read-aloud-hiThe 2016 Global Read Aloud kicks off October 3rd. NCTE member Pernille Ripp created the project in 2010 with a simple goal in mind: one book to connect the world. During a 6-week period, a book that has been selected is read aloud to students. Also, during that time, teachers and students try to make as many global connections as possible. Hear more about GRA from its creator.

Teacher read-alouds demonstrate the power of stories. By showing students the ways that involvement with text engages us, we give them energy for learning how reading works. By showing them how to search for meaning, we introduce strategies of understanding we can reinforce in shared, guided, and independent reading. Read more in this strategy guide from ReadWriteThink.org.

If you aren’t fully convinced of the merits of a read aloud program, veteran primary teachers Jenifer Katahira and Kathy Egawa provide plenty of evidence, as well as lists of their favorite read aloud titles in this article from Talking Points.

In “Collaborative Read-Alouds: Engaging Middle School Students in Thoughtful Reading” two experienced teacher educators explore the features and benefits of collaborative read-alouds, using crossover picture books, the importance of attending to student voice in contemporary learning environments, and deepening student interactions with texts.

Response Journals: Keeping Students Tuned In during Read-Alouds” provides  concrete examples of how read-aloud can increase classroom community and help students to build background knowledge and improve listening skills.

The author of “Illustrating the Reading Process: The In-Class Read-Aloud Protocol” finds that letting students see his own struggles with reading encourages them to feel greater confidence and eases the way for productive interventions in the process.

How do you do read aloud?

The Interactive Read-Aloud as Responsive Teaching

read-aloudIn the October Talking Points, Laura May and Gary Bingham encourage elementary teachers to use interactive read-alouds. What makes interactive read-alouds different from the traditional activity of a teacher reading aloud to the class? “[R]ather than waiting for the teacher to sanction student talk by calling on a student with a raised hand,” they explain, “students are allowed to make comments and ask questions as they have them.“ Teachers also stop frequently to share their own thoughts on the reading material, modeling engagement.

While this style may make the reading less smooth, May and Bingham believe it makes the students more engaged and encourages more critical thinking. “In addition to providing a way for teachers to think aloud, thus pulling back the curtain to let students see how they make sense of text, the interactive read-aloud sends clear messages to students that what they have to say is important.”

May and Bingham suggest several tips to help teachers maximize the effectiveness of an interactive read-aloud. Most crucial is selecting the right text. Nonfiction can often be engaging and educational, and they recommend considering the following questions:

  • Is this text one that allows children’s everyday sense-making to be treated as complementary to scientific reasoning?
  • Does the text reflect how the information was constructed, or does it present knowledge as fixed and timeless?
  • How does the text fit into larger socio-historical narratives?

They argue it’s also important for the reading to be “culturally relevant.” As they write, “All children should be able to see themselves and their communities reflected in the books their teachers read to them.” May and Bingham do not specify whether the cultures and communities they have in mind are ones defined by race, by religion, by neighborhood, by age, by economic class, or by lifestyle; but the advice offered applies equally well to all.

Once material is chosen that is relevant to the children’s lives, the teacher should then present it with techniques that maximize the educational benefits of interactive read-alouds:

When a teacher pauses, providing appropriate wait time between pages or after a child makes a comment, she is sending a clear message that the other students are capable and also have informed things to say—they only need a moment. Rather than dismissing comments they do not understand, teachers should respond questioningly, allowing students to make their thinking clear, describe how they arrived at it, and explain how it adds to the collective understanding of the text. Thus teachers’ responses to children’s questions and comments should serve to clarify, verify, and correct rather than simply to evaluate. When asking questions, rather than asking those that fit into the category of guess-what-I’m-thinking, they should ask with genuine interest those questions that have children engaging deeply with big-idea concepts, seeking out information about how the ideas connect to the children’s lives (and thus why they might matter to them), and thinking through how the ideas fit (or clash) with what they already know.

The bottom line for May and Bingham is this: “[H]owever we achieve our interactive read-aloud goals, high expectations have to include teaching and expecting students to productively participate in academic conversation while making space to question presented information and imagine alternate possibilities.”


On the NCTE website, you can read May and Bingham’s full article “Making Sense with Informational Texts: The Interactive Read-Aloud as Responsive Teaching.”