Every day my students and I spend one half-hour lost in another world. In the midst of a hectic school day, away from the pressures of fractions, away from the whir of computers, this is a "tiny vacation," a time of "privacy and intense love," as Rosemary Wells describes in Read to Your Bunny. Short of a fire drill or other element out of your control, your complete attention will be given to students while sharing a great book.
More Than "Just" Reading to Students
Research shows that students who are given exposure to books on a daily basis by someone who loves books will develop the desire to learn to read. This intrinsic motivation can do more to help a child learn to read than all the drill and practice sheets in the world. So, when you do your best to find time for a read aloud every day, you're doing much more than "just" reading to your students.
When you make time for a read aloud every day, you also make time for:
- Enjoying the sheer pleasure that books can bring
- Real-life exposure to the language and literacy skills students have been learning throughout the course of the school day
- Inspiring beginning readers to plunge onward with their reading efforts
- Sending the message that reading books is so important, that time is made for it every day without exception
I think of the read aloud as a kind of "snuggle time," which can be calming after recess or lunch, a time of reconnecting before leaving school at the end of the day.
Finding the Perfect Read-Aloud Book
When searching for a read-aloud book, there are many different places to start. Do you want to connect this text to a unit or area of study? Is there a holiday or anniversary you want to celebrate with your students? Or is the read-aloud time reserved for books that exist outside of the curriculum? Whichever path you decide to take with the read aloud, make sure you choose books that you know well and enjoy reading. Your students will recognize your love for the book, and you will have fun reading it!
If you can't decide on the perfect read-aloud book, have students select the book of the day. In the morning, have three possible read-aloud selections displayed for all students to see with a sign that reads "What Should We Read Today?" Lay a Unifix cube, counting link, or another similar item on each student's desk. As students arrive, invite them to place the object into a cup or hang the object from a hole on the poster to make their selection. Count the objects in each cup to see which book has the most votes and you're ready for the read aloud!
More Tips for a Successful Read-Aloud Time
- Be familiar enough with the book to know its beats, its whispers, surprises, and exclamations.
- Explain to students that as you read the story they should listen, forming ideas and images in their own minds.
- Assure students that time will be made for discussion following the read aloud.
- Minimize distractions. Consider placing a "Read Aloud in Progress" sign on your door, asking visitors to return after the read aloud.
- Establish a relaxing atmosphere. Gather students closely around you, turn off a row of lights if possible, and hold the book so the illustrations are easily viewed by all.
- Read a book you enjoy for your enthusiasm to be most genuine.
- Before reading, ask questions to activate prior knowledge and focus students' attention on the story to be shared.
- During time for discussion, be sure to model thoughts that transpired in your mind as you read the story.