Staff Workshop Teacher Handout: Why Read Aloud?
Teacher and reading specialist Julie Coiro uncovers the ways reading builds language and literacy skills and contributes to young children's future reading success
- Grades: Early Childhood, Infant, PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Reading Aloud to Children Just Learning English
Make certain all children feel included in group read-alouds by:
- making the book personal by pointing out how the characters in the stories are like them or by substituting their names for those of characters.
- reading books that reflect the culture and home language of the children.
- choosing books with patterns (rhymes, repetitive phrases, a circular story that begins and ends in the same place), so children can "fill in the blank" when you pause before reading the end of the rhyme or repeated phrase.
In addition, make time to:
- build security for language learning by snuggling up several times a day for a private read-aloud with one or two children who speak the same home language.
- find books in children's home language, perhaps from the local library, the Internet, publishers, families, community resources, or older children.
- ask children to choose books they want you to read.
As you read, ask children to:
- guess what comes next.
- use the pictures to tell what is happening.
- talk about things that are important to them.
- teach you the names of things in their home language.
Any teacher who has spent more than a few minutes with young children on a regular basis has probably been asked, "Will you read me a story?" You put aside all the things you still need to finish and make time for a story with an extremely attentive audience. As you begin to read aloud, several things happen. Children seem to snuggle in a bit closer, they reach out to help turn the pages, and you realize that you're not just reading a story together: You're sharing a part of yourself with others. As listeners, children are taking time to make sense of their world, relate to familiar characters, and listen closely. As the reader, you're taking time to say, "You're worth my attention, I enjoy your company, and I hope one day you'll love reading as much as I do." As the book comes to an end, you feel calmer and glad you took the time to share a story with children.
What's so special about reading aloud? We've always known that it keeps children occupied, but much of the current research in reading now indicates that "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, 1999, summary available at www.execpc.com/~presswis/nation.html.)
How can such a short and simple task such as reading aloud take the credit for such a monumental feat?
When you take time to read a story aloud, you are telling children that there is so much more to reading than sounding out words and answering questions at the end of a chapter. For very small children, reading aloud is just one more opportunity to be close to someone who loves them as they begin to explore the wonders of their new world. Through hearing your words, babies have the opportunity to become familiar with other people and things they might not see. Imitative toddlers begin to mimic your language patterns, and young preschoolers are given the freedom to venture into new worlds filled with fantasy and adventure. Children who are read aloud to at an early age see firsthand that reading can be exciting and fun. A special bond develops as children equate books with feelings of warmth, security, love, and family unity. Children will remember these feelings long into their adulthood, and although the actual stories may be forgotten, reading has become an enjoyable, lifelong habit.
Why Read Aloud?
There are many positive effects of reading aloud to children at any age. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, tells us that reading aloud to children "stimulates their interest, their emotional development, their imagination, and their language."
Since listening skills are more advanced than reading skills until the middle grades when reading starts to catch up, reading a book out loud to children opens up worlds of new and interesting experiences on subjects that they would not otherwise have access to. Stories read aloud bring facts and people to life in a real-life drama that encompasses historical fiction and stories from other cultures. As children are given the freedom to use their senses of sight and hearing, their attention spans grow larger and their imaginations more creative.
Emotionally, children are given opportunities to develop a sense of self as they compare themselves to characters, respond to situations, and evaluate their own feelings through informal discussions. They form judgments about characters and in the process often develop feelings of empathy for others. They are encouraged to use their imaginations to foster their understanding of other people, ideas, and customs both real and fantastic. Over the span of sometimes five minutes, they can be transported to other times and places to vicariously experience feelings of courage, adventure, curiosity, and conflict. Reading aloud encourages independence as well, by providing a model for children to later revisit the book and attempt to read it by themselves.
Language skills are fostered when children listen to the same types of stories over and over again until they develop an "almost" unconscious familiarity with literary elements and story structure. Reading aloud can provide a wonderful model of how good readers read with intonation and fluency. In addition, children are exposed to a more formal and descriptive flow of language than that of everyday dialogue, and their vocabulary grows larger story by story. Talking about the story during and after reading can foster informal communication about words, language, ideas, and real-life experiences. With lots of exposure to books, even the youngest of children automatically pick up concepts about print, such as how to hold a book, how to find the cover, and what direction to turn the pages.
Best of all, children who are read to frequently often view favorite stories as special treasures to be revisited often. There is something very wonderful about watching a child rediscover a copy of her favorite book, such as Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius, on a shelf and literally gush with happy memories of the last time she listened to the story. And later, as you walk together, the child informs you that her favorite flowers are now lupines-just like the ones that Miss Rumphius planted to fulfill her goal of making the world more beautiful. On another day, she confides in you that she hopes she can find something important to do in her life (just like Miss Rumphius did in hers). There is nothing more exciting about reading than this. And to think, all this, just because you stopped to share a few books out loud. So, pick up a book and read it aloud to the children.
Copyright D Julie Coiro. First published at Suite101.com at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/reading/10048