Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Importance of Reading Aloud (to Older Children, too!)

My favorite part of the school day is right after lunch. The kids are notoriously unruly from recess and the cafeteria, and the best way I've found to wind them back down a notch is to get them hooked on a good book. And the best way I've found to do that is to read to them. For many, when you hear the term "read aloud," you envision young children or a librarian or parent reading to toddlers before bed, but read alouds don't need to stop once kids can read themselves. In fact, reading aloud to older students is not only beneficial academically, it also opens them to a world of books that they otherwise might not be able to explore.

One of the best known authorities on reading aloud is Jim Trelease ( His best seller The Read Aloud Handbook will be released in it's FINAL edition (and I know you don't know me, but happy retirement, Jim!) at the end of this month. It is a must for a new teacher, a parent wanting to learn more, or anyone who just wants to hone their read aloud skills. Some of what I've learned from his book and from my own practice is briefly outlined below:

*Use funny voices and intonation!!! I cannot stress this enough. What better way to engage kids than to liven things up a bit? There is nothing better than watching thirty faces JUMP when you get to a suspenseful part, knowing you read it just right to make that happen. THAT is what the author intended, so make it happen! Get in touch with your inner actor. I promise they'll be laughing WITH you, never AT you.

*Skip the dull parts. If there's a part that you just know is going to take away from the "performance" of it or disengage kids, skip it. It's okay!

*Kids can listen and understand texts far more complicated than they can read on their own. This applies to big kids, too! (even gifted big kids) You have the power to tap into that to expose your students or children to texts that they may not have the ability to handle on their own just yet.

*Use props! If the story allows, bring in some props or dress in character. Your kids will love it!

*Slow down! Just like when the kindergartners do the pledge on the intercom, most people rush when reading aloud. It takes practice to get it down naturally.

*Big kids like picture books, too! I always start the year with a fun, childish picture book, even when I've taught sixth graders. Everyone likes to enjoy a fun book.

*Leave them wanting more. This is just my personal favorite with older students. If you stop at just the right part, it's like watching your favorite TV show right before the season finale ends. They will yell for more. That's how you want them. They don't get much more engaged, folks! This leads to them reading more, and we all know, the more they read, the better they'll do in all areas.

Happy reading! Here is a short video of a read aloud I did with my 5/6 split at the end of this past school year. It's nothing magical. Just a quick read. Don't skip this super important piece of a balanced literacy block. You're missing out on a huge opportunity to engage your learners if you do! Enjoy!

Mo Willems Read Aloud 5th 6th grade

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