In honor of World Read Aloud Day 2020, Lester Laminack, author of The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource: 2nd Edition, shares his personal read-aloud experience.
If you are of a certain age, you likely remember being read to every day during your elementary school years. I cannot recall a single teacher throughout elementary school who did not read aloud to our class. Several teachers read to us at least three times each day: to open the morning, right after lunch, and to close the day. As I recall, those experiences required only that we listen. There were no questions to answer. There was no essay to write. There was no assignment to write a new ending, create a letter to one of the characters, or to write from the perspective of a character. There was no time set aside to have a discussion of the plot. There was no direction given other than, “clear your desk and listen.”
The teacher’s voice was the vehicle that took us into the story. That voice set a pace, translated the mood and tone, and became a model for what I heard later when I read silently. There was no need to prompt us with questions because we were living alongside those characters. We laughed with them. We feared with them. We ached with them. We celebrated with them. And because of this we talked about them on our own. Those characters and their challenges would surface in our conversations over lunch and on the playground. Our play would often incorporate some actions or phrases taken directly from the plot. Our teachers reading to us provided a shared experience with a common set of characters. Those experiences, I dare say, were the first many of us had living within a story. That is, we were able to fall in and be among those characters when they were given life by the power of a teacher’s voice. We visualized, we empathized, and we anticipated as we listened. As listeners reading with our ears, we animated the story. Each of us held a vision of the setting and the faces of each character. Our spontaneous conversations across the day often revealed that those images may overlap, but were not always the same from person to person. Listening to stories, living within stories, and talking about stories with others taught us that our understandings were made clearer when we shared a text and shared our thoughts with others.
It was my experience that the read-aloud was a given, a standard practice, a routine across the elementary school years. Though there was no formal lesson, no assignment, and no obvious instructional motive, there was much learning. We learned about the development of characters, the pacing of a plot, the power of choosing words carefully, the importance of tension, and the role of setting, dialog, and narration. We learned what makes a story powerful enough that it works its way into your conversations and your play.
Teachers often tell me their days are so packed with increasing expectations from the curriculum, district pacing guides, rising and shifting standards, and incessant assessments that they often let the read-aloud slide. Yet, the power of routine read-aloud experiences has not diminished over time and remains as viable and as important today as ever. Research from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report: 7th Edition™ shows that 83% of children who are read aloud to love or like it a lot.
It is vital that children hear what written language sounds like when delivered on the voice of a competent and fluent reader. It is vital that children have deep and powerful connections to stories to drive their interest in being independent readers. It is vital that children hear language that broadens their vocabulary and expands their known concepts. It is vital that children hear language that validates their own experiences. It is vital that children hear language that pushes and challenges their understandings and gives them a view of the world beyond what they already know. It is vital that children hear language used to introduce new information, challenge opinions, make an argument, and to explain a perspective. It is vital that we read aloud to our students.
Reflecting on my own read-aloud experiences, one thing strikes me as limited. Though I was read to every day, sometimes more than once each day, the text selections were always fiction. I don’t recall those daily experiences ever featuring nonfiction. Children need to hear nonfiction read aloud for many of the same reasons we read fiction aloud. When we read nonfiction aloud to our children we provide opportunities for them to acquire new subject-specific vocabulary in the context of age-appropriate exposure to new ideas. We provide opportunities for them to form new concepts and develop connections between related ideas, while acquiring the language to share those insights. We provide opportunities for them to ask questions that lead them to more complex texts and more profound insights. We provide exposure to various text structures and text features most often found in nonfiction. We demonstrate how those text structures and text features contribute to greater insight about the topic or issue. And we demonstrate how a proficient reader navigates those text features seldom found in fiction.
Reading aloud nonfiction to our children is no frivolous endeavor. Instead, it is solid instructional time. To make that time most effective and efficient, we must select what we read and how we read it with the same attention we give to selecting math manipulatives and science labs. We must recognize that reading nonfiction aloud will pave the way for instruction in social studies, health, mathematics, or science. Nonfiction read-aloud experiences can be chosen to introduce vocabulary, introduce or extend concepts, and add information to the fund of knowledge necessary for independent reading on the topic.
Time spent reading aloud, whether fiction or nonfiction, is never wasted time.
Looking for a starting point? Join Scholastic and LitWorld on February 5th to celebrate World Read Aloud Day. It’s as easy as grabbing a book, finding a buddy, and enjoying a story! World Read Aloud Day is the perfect moment to discover the power of reading aloud in the classroom, at home, or anywhere else you enjoy reading!