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Literacy

Reading Aloud Together, Across the Grade Levels

When teachers read out loud to students, modeling the skills of good reading, it improves kids’ reading mastery.

May 21, 2021
MBI / Alamy Stock Photo

When fluent readers are confused about something they’re reading, or miss an important detail, they flip back the pages to reread sentences or passages. When they come across a section that’s particularly beautiful, or sad, or interesting, they might read it again, maybe even underline it or jot down a comment. Sometimes they stop to look up a stray vocabulary word that escapes them, ask a friend or parent for help, or pause to think about what they just read, to make a connection, or ponder what might come next.

There’s nothing intuitive about the act of reading: Learning to decode intricate symbolic systems quickly and accurately is a hard-won skill. But even the next level of reading strategies—the stopping and starting, the gaps in comprehension that sometimes open up as we read, and must be plugged, the questions and predictions—are skills that must be taught and mastered. So it’s especially powerful when teachers carve out classroom time to model these activities in action by reading aloud to students. One way to do this in an engaging way, writes author and educator Doug Lemov in his blog, Field Notes, is through a simple variation on book clubs.

“Book club involves reading whole books aloud together with students—cover to cover,” writes Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, explaining his version of the literary gatherings. “It builds fluency, vocabulary, attention, and community via reading. These things are critical and often overlooked. Another way to look at it is as a tool to maximize time spent reading well, versus, say, talking about reading.”

Here are three practices that educators, including Lemov, recommend for incorporating communal reading aloud in the classroom.

Book Club

For book club, the teacher selects a high-interest book and reads it aloud “focusing on story more than analysis,” Lemov writes of the practice, which can happen schoolwide and across academic subjects. “When we did it at Rochester Prep many years ago, we used every teacher in the building (not just ELA teachers) and made slightly smaller groups for students who needed especially high amounts of practice.”

Reading a whole book together out loud—perhaps allocating ten or fifteen minutes every few days to it—might sound nearly impossible given the constraints of schedules and learning goals this fall, but it’s a worthwhile practice that Lemov says will bear fruit.

Reading aloud, the teacher models “expressiveness and the sound of the author’s prose,” Lemov writes, “bringing the book to life.” The teacher may add “brief pauses to explain or pronounce vocabulary words or key background knowledge or assumptions, but only briefly” so the focus stays on the practice of reading for sustained periods. Most kids learn to love it, he writes, and concurrently “develop their foundations: fluency, attention, and vocabulary.”

Choral Reading

Practices like choral reading take the pressure off struggling or anxious readers, making classroom reading a more pleasurable, inclusive experience for all students. It’s also a smart departure from anxiety-inducing classroom reading exercises like round-robin and popcorn reading. “Of the 30-odd studies and articles I’ve consumed on the subject,” says Todd Finley, a professor of English education, “only one graduate research paper claimed a benefit to round-robin reading or its variations.”

At New York-based Concourse Village Elementary School, there’s a schoolwide emphasis on fluency-oriented reading instruction (FORI) that emphasizes repeated exposure to the same text. Students echo and choral read the same text every day over the span of a week, as a class, in pairs, and alone, and each day they focus on honing a different skill: picking out the main idea, annotating, identifying important details, analyzing the author’s craft, and drawing conclusions. Because the reading of a single, challenging text is scaffolded over five days, with plenty of teacher modeling and support, students learn a valuable and portable method for decoding difficult texts.

The Last Five Minutes

By middle school, most students aren’t having books read aloud to them anymore at home or in school, writes Kasey Short, a middle school language arts and social studies teacher. But that’s a missed opportunity because research shows that when young adolescents hear books read aloud, it improves their comprehension, reduces stress, and helps expand their exposure to a variety of texts.

In an effort to tap into those benefits, build fluency, and model a love of reading in her classroom, Short reads a book out loud to her students during the last five minutes of each class period. “I’m often asked how I ‘give up time’ each day to read, but the five minutes are a gift to my students,” Short writes. “Spending this time each day enriches the classroom community, allows me to share a love of reading, enhances my language arts instruction, and exposes students to new authors, genres, and themes.”

The books she reads aloud are selected by students and must be both interesting to them and appropriately challenging. As she reads, “I ask questions, share my thoughts, and make connections between the text and other texts, as well as cross-curricular content,” Short writes. Scheduling read-aloud for the last five minutes of class, she adds, means that “students walk out of class talking about the book and wondering what will happen next in the story. The suspense facilitates excitement around reading and engagement in the content for the entire instructional block.”

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