You’ve picked a time to read. You’ve chosen a text and practiced your reading. You’ve created a mood. Now it’s time to read aloud. There are two important points to consider: setting the stage to convey the importance of the experience, and thinking aloud to help students view how a good reader approaches a text.
Setting the Stage
I often begin read aloud by lighting a ritual candle and reciting a familiar quote or poem to set the mood. This communicates that something special is about to happen. I particularly like to use the Shel Silverstein poem “Invitation.” This simple poem, when read aloud, signals to students that we are about to do something very special: read!
Similarly, I often use a poem to bring the read aloud to an end, such as Lee Bennett Hopkins' “Good Books, Good Times!” This poem can be read by the teacher or by the class, chorally, or in groups.
Beginning and ending each read-aloud session with a quote or poem communicates to students the importance and value of the event.
Read aloud allows developing readers to view fluent and meaningful reading, but we can occasionally make the reading process even more transparent by thinking aloud. When you think aloud, you stop the reading from time to time and share how you’re negotiating the text and constructing meaning. For example, you may make an error while reading aloud, on purpose or by accident. This provides a wonderful opportunity to show students what good readers do when they run into difficulty. When you make an error, stop reading and share your thinking. Here’s an example:
Text: After the ballgame I went to the movies with my friends.
Teacher: “After the ballgame I went to the movies with my freds.” Freds? Does that make sense?
Several Students: No.
Teacher: Let me try that again. “After the ballgame I went to the movies with my . . .” Okay, who would I go to the movies with? Maybe Fred, but there is not a Fred in the story. No, it needs to be someone who has been mentioned before. Let me take a closer look at that word, f-r-i-e-n-d-s. Oh, that word is friends, of course. The story so far has been about what I do with my two best buddies, and another name for buddies is friends.
At other points in the text, you might stop and offer predictions about what will come next based on the events thus far and the background knowledge you possess. Here’s an example from a teacher reading Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg:
Teacher: Wow, that was quite a dream that Walter had. He had a glimpse into what the future might be like if people didn’t take care of the environment. I wonder what will happen next? Hmmm. Since the story began by showing some of the ways Walter didn’t care for the environment, I wonder if now he will do something about those things.
At other times you might debate with yourself over the meaning of certain lines or ideas in the text.
Thinking aloud can become tedious if you do too often. But when you use it strategically for particular purposes, thinking aloud helps students see that reading is more than a matter of reading the words as quickly and accurately as possible. It is thinking, problem solving, and meaning making. Later, after you’ve modeled the process, individual students can share their own think alouds with you and classmates.
Good readers — readers who understand what they read — often carry on a conversation with themselves during reading. Thinking aloud while reading aloud allows you to show students how this conversation might take place.
Responding After Read Aloud
No read-aloud experience is complete without giving students an opportunity to respond to what they have heard. Jean Piaget noted that learning requires two acts: assimilation, in which experience or information comes into the learner, and accommodation, in which the learner adjusts him- or herself to the learned experience or information. Reading requires similar acts. The reader takes in information from the text. To fully understand that text, however, he or she must respond in some meaningful way to the reading experience.
As adults, we often find ourselves discussing a book or newspaper article with a spouse or friend, arguing with ourselves about a provocative passage, writing a letter to the editor in response to a magazine or newspaper article, finding out more information about something we’ve read. All of these actions are meaningful responses to our reading and help us take our understanding of what we have read to a deeper level.
In their 1993 survey of read-aloud experiences in elementary schools, Hoffman, Roser, and Battle found that most teachers engaged in discussion about the reading for five minutes before or after the read aloud. Moreover, the researchers found that other types of response activities, such as writing, drawing, and dramatizing, were offered to students in less than a quarter of the read-aloud experiences they observed.
Creative and varied ways to allow students to respond to read aloud should be a regular part of the experience.
This article is adapted from The Fluent Reader (2nd Edition) by Timothy V. Rasinksi.