There was a time when the read aloud was as firmly entrenched in the daily routine of school as going to lunch. Teachers read aloud to their students with the regularity of school bells announcing the beginning of a new day. No one questioned the practice — what could possibly be wrong with something so sensible, so enjoyable, something so thoroughly satisfying as reading aloud to students? Who would dare question the motives of a teacher sitting at the front of a room on a tall stool, holding an open book while captivating the full attention of an entire classroom of children? And think of it, all this with nothing more than the human voice and well-crafted language.

Yet as I work in schools around the country, teachers report feeling they don't have time for the read aloud in their increasingly busy days. They report feeling they can hardly justify time spent reading to children, and that to do so makes them feel subversive. How very sad that something so pure, something so very simple has become suspect. How very sad that we have reached a point in schooling where as teachers we feel we must justify our every decision, even the most basic, commonsense decisions about taking time to read aloud to children. So I invite you to join me in an effort to reclaim read aloud for our students and, yes, even for ourselves. Let's reinvent this tried-and-true practice, this commonsense standard in the education of our children. Let's reclaim this sensible source of endless inspiration. Let's reinvigorate this trusted means of investing in the minds of our students and opening their lives to a world beyond their own imaginations. Let's re-envision read aloud as a respected means of instruction. Let's make every read aloud intentional.

Read-aloud experiences in our classrooms:

  • Serve as a foundation of a solid, thoughtful language and literacy program
  • Support content in every subject area by building background knowledge that supports inquiry
  • Nourish the intellect (listening comprehension is built through daily experiences hearing texts read aloud, participating in discussions of those texts, and making connections with those texts)
  • Demonstrate thinking as we and our students share personal connections, make connections to other texts, take in new information, and adjust personal views
  • Expand vocabulary and create sensitivity to language
  • Provide exposure to text structures, helping our students understand the difference between nonfiction and fiction, poetry and prose
  • Provide a demonstration of phrased, fluent reading, showing the function of tone, intensity, pacing, and mood
  • Create a literary community in the classroom where a pool of shared meanings and a common language can develop
  • Expand children's literary knowledge by developing their understanding of plot, character, themes, and setting
  • Build a repertoire of genres, favorite authors, and favorite illustrators
  • Expand our students' notions of writer's craft

To make the read aloud intentional I believe that we must be as thoughtful in our planning as we are when selecting manipulatives for mathematics or when establishing the flow of a classroom. We must select the books we will read with the same care we take in designing centers or in setting up a science lab. We must be as diligent in considering our reasons for reading aloud as we are in selecting the focus of a mini-lesson in reading and writing workshops. In short, we must pay careful attention to our intentions for the read aloud. So why do we read aloud to our students? What are our expectations for the experience? What result or product do we hope for? How will our students be different for living through these experiences with us? Are we hoping to motivate them to explore a topic or genre? Are we inviting them to meet a new author or illustrator? Are we leading them to compare the organizational framework of this story with a favorite known by all? Are we simply reading today for some future benefit, investing the time now to connect future instruction later? Are we reading to introduce specific vocabulary that will be essential in understanding the concepts for a unit of study in a subject area? Are we reading to contrast the multiple meanings of troublesome words? Are we reading to raise awareness of a targeted issue? Are we reading to model a specific reading strategy or skill? Are we reading to draw them in, to lure them into wanting to read more for themselves? Are we reading to bank images and language we will draw upon in an upcoming study?

As I see it, all these intentions can be easily grouped under three broad reasons for reading aloud. We make read aloud intentional when we purposely select texts and times with the intent to inspire, invest, or instruct.


This article is excerpted from Unwrapping the Read Aloud: Making Every Read Aloud Intentional and Instructional by Lester L. Laminack.