Reading aloud to students of all ages is a vital part of any good reading programme. Enjoyable and rewarding, it also stimulates their interest, imagination and language.
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children."
Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading Anderson et al, 1985
Research proves conclusively that one simple activity — reading aloud to children — is the best way to prepare children for learning to read and to keep them reading as they learn and grow.
The New Zealand Ministry of Education’s 2003 handbook Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 recommends reading aloud as part of the daily class programme:
“Reading aloud from the best of children’s literature should be a daily part of every classroom programme at all levels. Listening to a story told or read aloud well is a captivating experience.”
Reading aloud also benefits secondary school students and opens up the world of books to non-readers and those who are struggling. In 2004 Krashen states in an overview of the research into the effects of reading aloud that “Children read more when they listen to stories and discuss stories”.
Hearing stories read aloud:
- strengthens speaking, listening, writing and reading and comprehension skills
- increases their vocabulary
- helps students appreciate the beauty and rhythm of language
- enhances imagination and observation skills
- improves critical and creative thinking skills
- expands a student’s general knowledge and understanding of the world
- develops positive attitudes toward books as a source of pleasure and information and helps to create life-long readers
- builds community and a sense of belonging through the shared literary experience.
- Read to suit yourself and the students.
- Choose a story you will enjoy reading aloud, your enthusiasm will be contagious.
- The more you read aloud the better you get.
- Select stories with an interesting plot, dialogue, some suspense and/or adventure, suitable emotional content for the age and background of the students.
- Look for books that support and extend the students’ special needs and interests.
- Ask students for suggestions to read aloud.
- Read the tried-and-true, but expose your audience to new types of literature – challenge, but don’t overwhelm them, move beyond what is safe and what children will choose to read themselves.
- Become knowledgable - read children’s and young adult books and explore children’s literature review journals and websites.
Prepare for reading aloud
- Pre-read or skim the book to identify any possible pitfalls such as unexpected themes or plot developments, and to identify good “stopping points” like a cliffhanger.
- Match the length of the story with the children’s attention spans and listening skills. Begin with short selections, increase story length gradually.
- Choose appropriate material:
- Books heavy on dialogue or dialect are harder to read and listen to.
- An award-winning book isn’t necessarily a great read-aloud.
- Don’t choose a book which is very well known (for example has been made into a film or been on television) – once the plot is known much of the interest is lost.
- Avoid long descriptive passages until the listeners can handle them.
- Look for books that represent a variety of cultures in content and illustration.
- Booktalk four or five possible options and ask the class to vote for one.
- Decide whether you want multiple copies of the book so children can read along if they want.
- Try to set aside at least one “traditional” time each day to read aloud. Don’t leave too long a gap between read-aloud sessions of a serial novel - keep it regular, and remember you can read quite a lot in five minutes!
- Don’t use withdrawal of read-aloud time as a threat.
- Let your school librarian know what you are going to read aloud, as there may be a surge in demand for the book. This allows them to buy an extra copy, or request a copy from our lending service to meet demand.
At the start of the read-aloud session
- Show the cover and read the title and author / illustrator of the book. “Name drop” if you have information, for example other stories by the same author, or similar titles.
- You might want to suggest things to look or listen for during the story.
- Allow a minute or two to settle and for everyone to get comfortable – some students may need an activity to keep their hands busy while listening, such as creating a pen or pencil drawing related to the story, while they listen.
Ideas for the read-aloud session
- Extend the duration of the read-aloud sessions as your audience becomes better listeners.
- If you read at the start of the lesson, it isn’t a reward for good behaviour and doesn’t fall off the agenda because of time pressures. Students may arrive earlier to class to avoid missing the story.
- To create a listening culture, make the first session long, even up to half an hour, to get into the story.
- Write down interesting words from the text and their meanings. Students use these words in their own writing.
- Try using a bulletin board displaying information about the book such as words, author information, related works, others in series and art work etc.
How to read aloud
Read at a varied and moderate pace and allow listeners to create mental images of the words. Make eye contact with your audience and change your voice to fit the mood or action.
When a book isn’t working…
Don’t persevere with a book that the audience are not enjoying. Discuss the reasons it’s not working with the students before moving onto a new book or activity. If unsure, one approach could be “we’ll start on Monday. If by Friday we agree it isn’t working then we’ll stop”. Alternatively give a book a “50 page test” – if the students are not hooked after 50 pages, discuss whether to keep going or start a different book.
After the read-aloud session
- Make the book available for students to borrow when you have finished.
- Expect the students to have favourite books. Honour their requests to read them over and over again, as well as introducing new selections.
- Reading aloud can involve “warm ups” and “follow ups” – allow time for discussion after the story (and during the story, as appropriate) but avoid quizzes and tests.
- You might want to share your own thoughts about the story or have some discussion about aspects in the story – sharing a “reading response”, such as:
- Does this book remind you of another book? Why?
- What is your favourite part of the story and why?
- How did the story make you feel?
- How might you feel or act if you were one of the characters in the story?
- Has anything that takes place in the story ever happened to you?
Older students also need to develop their listening skills and stamina. Reading aloud provides an opportunity for them to hear stories they may have missed out on such as myths and legends, books from childhood or stories beyond their comfortable reading level.
- As well as novels, you could read short stories, poetry, magazine articles, newspaper columns or editorials and young adult (YA) books.
- With novels for older students it is even more important to preview the book.
- Read a chapter or a good “chunk” each day – keep the momentum going.
- Read books that suit students intellectually, socially and emotionally. Semi-literate readers do not need semi-literate books.
- Read the Education World article: Reading Aloud — Are Students Ever Too Old?
Research on reading aloud
Chambers, A. (1991). The reading environment : how adults help children enjoy books. PETA
Krashen, S.D.(2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2d ed. Westport CT, Libraries Unlimited.
McPherson, K. (Oct 2008). Reading lifelong literacy links into the school library. Teacher librarian. 36 (1): 72-74. Reprinted from Dec 2005. (Available through EPIC MasterFile)
Mills,W. (Aug 2009). The Importance of reading aloud .Journal of reading, writing and literacy. Vol 4(2):64-78
Resources on reading aloud
Read Aloud Brochures - download and distribute the Read Aloud brochures at the bottom of the page to parents and teachers.
See Read alouds for online booklists that provide suggestions of great books for reading aloud.
Chambers, A. (1973). Introducing books to children. London, Heinemann.
Trelease, J. (2006). The read-aloud handbook. 6th ed. London, Penguin. This includes his “Treasury of read-alouds”.
Jim Trelease’s website - a mine of information about reading aloud, book lists of read-alouds, links to related websites, and author information, and brochures.
Literacy Connections: This site offers a section entitled ‘Reading aloud - tips for parents and teachers’ with a wide range of articles and links.
Reading is Fundamental: reading aloud: articles and tips on reading aloud.
Contact a National Library Adviser (0800 LIBLINE or 0800 542 5463) or our lending service (see the 0800 number for your area) for further support and recommendations for reading aloud.
Image:Fehm Hussain reads to her class at Kingsford School, Auckland