Why Reading Aloud to Middle School Students Works
The benefits of reading aloud aren’t limited to elementary students. One middle school teacher explains how “read-alongs” improve comprehension and boost engagement.
While reading aloud is typically an elementary school practice, a modified method can be useful for comprehension and engagement in older students as well. In EdWeek's “Bringing the Joy of Read-Alouds to Middle School Students,” Christina Torres, an 8th grade English teacher at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, describes how she has used a “read-along” strategy with her students for six years. In a read-along, Torres reads while “all students follow along with their own copy of the text,” she writes. “I stop periodically to explain vocabulary, model note-taking in the margins, or engage in class discussion.”
Torres believes read-alongs “build student enjoyment, engagement, and camaraderie.” She likens the student conversations after read-alongs to “the way an audience talks after a movie: They walk out of class chatting about what happened. They ask their peers in other classes about the voices I used, or if I added sound effects,” she writes. They even read ahead and discuss their reading outside of class, she says.
The article provides several tips to make reading aloud with the class more engaging and informative for middle school students. Since it is a performance, Torres says, practice a bit before you try it in front of the class, and consider changing pacing, adding lighting, or trying out an accent. She even adopts a Southern drawl when reading To Kill a Mockingbird. “I create different voices using pitch, vocal placement, and speech patterns to differentiate characters,” she writes.
Understanding that preparation is required, Torres rarely asks students to read aloud to the entire class—research suggests that the practice, often in the form of “round robin reading,” may stigmatize poor readers, weaken comprehension, and sabotage fluency and pronunciation. Putting students in pairs or small groups, or giving them time to prepare for the section they’ll be asked to read, creates a less intimidating environment for reading aloud.
The process of a read-along gives time for students to stop and analyze a text or question vocabulary that they do not understand: "I’ll model metacognitive thinking as we read, stopping after a line and questioning my reactions to plot points or literary devices, or connecting the story to other things we’ve read,” Torres writes. Recognizing sign-post moments together as a group—those “strategically placed words, phrases, or plot points that help readers recognize that something important is happening”—enhances comprehension across the class.
Torres also recommends a practice developed by high school English teacher Marisa Thompson called TQEs: thoughts, questions and epiphanies. Asking questions such as “What surprised you?” or “What imagery interested you?” can help students delve deeper into the reading. Torres asks students to share their reflections and make connections between the different texts they read.
Reading aloud doesn’t have to be a long, involved activity, though. If scheduling is a challenge, English teacher Kasey Short suggests reserving the last five minutes at the end of class for a read-along.