Why Read Aloud?

Post image for Why Read Aloud?

by Dianne White

Reading aloud is one of those things that seems to be falling by the wayside these days. It’s a shame. Kids, parents, teachers, librarians. We’re all over-scheduled, over-worked, over-tired. And yet, for those of us who love to read and who believe in the power of story, those 15 or 20 minutes we spend sharing a favorite book with a child or a class are surely worth the extra effort.

There’s a gem of an article, written back in November of 1993, by Christopher de Vinck and published in the Wall Street Journal called, “Why I Read to My Children.” It says more succinctly than I can, why reading aloud is one of the most important things a parent can do for a child, and I’d like to think that, by extension, these same reasons can apply to teachers and librarians who read aloud to students.

The article is worth searching out and is also available in the appendix of CONVERSATIONS, one of many excellent books written by well-known and respected teacher/literacy specialist Regie Routman.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Reading aloud to children every day gives them the widest entry to that place we call freedom. Reading aloud to children begins the slow process of education that ends in parents and teachers celebrating: “They know! They know! Their hearts and minds have made the connections. Our children are free. They know! (de Vinck, 1993)

Much has been written about the value of reading aloud, both as a demonstration of the joy of a good book and as a tool for parents and teachers to model the reading process. Routman writes that reading aloud is a perfect way to “demonstrate thinking aloud – predicting summarizing as you go, working through tough spots.” (31) She suggests that reading aloud can be an opportunity to address pacing, model rereading for clarification, make connections to known information, and confirm or disprove predictions.

But reading aloud can be much more. Routman writes, “Sometimes, the book is so good that just reading aloud and savoring the moment is enough. Our silence is our appreciation. Many times, however the conversation and interaction around the book are what make reading aloud powerful. (32)

For specific hints about the how-tos of reading aloud, check out Esmé Raji Codell’s terrific list, Hints for Reading Out Loud, as well her favorite read-aloud recommendations and book How to Get Your Child to Love Reading.

Another classic resource is The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

You can also learn more about reading aloud from Read it LOUD!, a foundation formed to encourage parents nationwide to read every day to their children. Find information HERE about the benefits of reading aloud. Check HERE for tips on getting started, and HERE for a lists of great books for kids.

Routman, Regie. Conversations. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000. Print.

Dianne White has been a public school teacher for over 23 years. She’s one of the ReaderKidZ and her biggest “read-aloud problem” is choosing which of the many books in her classroom to read aloud next.

Stephanie Greene August 25, 2010 at 4:51 am

This is such an important topic, Dianne. When my son Oliver was small, I read to him all the time. In restaurants (parents can use books in cases like that to quiet small kids down), in the library, lying on the couch, in bed at night … until one day, when he was in kindergarten (this was before children were required to learn how to read in kindergarten), I went to pick him up at school and his teacher said, “Have you heard Oliver?” When I said, no, she pointed. There he was, surrounded by about 6 or 7 kids, reading aloud to them. I had never heard him read a word, nor encouraged him to do that. Everything he picked up was from having listened to me read.

ReaderKidZ August 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

Great story, Stephanie! There are so many benefits to reading aloud, in addition to the obvious one of being exposed to good books. Even for those who don’t pick up reading on their own in the way that Oliver did, kids learn the joy of books and the sounds and patterns of language and STORY. All good and marvelous things!

Sarah Sullivan August 30, 2010 at 7:18 am

Thanks so much for reminding us of the importance of reading aloud. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. More than 20 years ago, an amazing woman named Mary Kay Bond founded an organization called Read Aloud West Virginia.
I was lucky enough to become involved at the beginning. Today the organization is still going strong, recruiting volunteer readers all over the state to go into schools one day a week and read aloud to students and, in my local county, putting age-appropriate paperback books along with a library card application and a reading list into the hands of every registered kindergartner. We’ve seen reading aloud make a difference. It’s such a simple concept and yet people fail to recognize how powerful it can be.

Cheryl Phillips August 31, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Oh how I miss my library kids! Am substituting at Newhall School this week and it feels like home being in a school library surrounded by books – I’m actually suppose to be working on beginning of the year textbooks and all I want to do is walk through the stacks and find my favorite read-a-louds and read them again to myself.
If you ever have the opportunity to read to a group of children – make sure to take a moment between sentences to watch their faces. It’s the gift you get back when you see their sweet faces hanging on your every word.

ReaderKidZ September 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Sarah – the Read Aloud West Virginia project sounds amazing. I LOVE that they put books, a library card app, and a list of great books into the hands of kindergartners. That’s an idea teachers everywhere could adopt!

ReaderKidZ September 1, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Cheryl – there’s nothing better than reading a book and looking into the eyes of a rapt child listener. I find that the more books I read, the more books I absolutely must add to my “old favorites” list. It’s just the way it works.

Glad you’re having time to read some of those old favorites while you squeeze in textbook processing!!