May 03, 2012

The Importance of Reading Aloud to Students of All Grades and Levels

Tags: Education Research, Teaching Reading Tips

“If we are always reading aloud something that is more difficult than children can read themselves then when they come to that book later, or books like that, they will be able to read them – which is why even a fifth grade teacher, even a tenth grade teacher, should still be reading to children aloud. There is always something that is too intractable for kids to read on their own.” – Mem Fox

reading fluency

In a recent Reading Horizons webinar, Author Sarah Collinge discussed the importance of reading aloud to students of all reading levels and the impact this simple practice can have on increasing students’ reading levels in connection to an overall structured literacy program. Regardless of how many times I learn that little things can make a difference, the impact of many simple practices never ceases to amaze me.

As the above quote points out: reading aloud is beneficial for students of all ages. During the webinar, Sarah discussed how this simple classroom practice builds students' reading levels by exposing students to texts above their current reading level, creating collaboration, and modeling fluent reading.

Exposure to Challenging Texts

As stated in the Common Core State Standards:

Children’s listening comprehension outpaces reading comprehension until the middle school years (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 27)

Because students have a higher level of listening comprehension than reading comprehension, reading aloud to students at a level slightly above their current level exposes them to texts that challenge their current reading ability. AND, because they have an adult guiding their conversations and answering questions, they can comprehend texts they would not comprehend on their own. 

Creating Collaboration

Sarah pointedly explained that classroom discussion is essential for making a classroom read-aloud effective. If the teacher is not guiding discussion and providing the vocabulary and context necessary for students to understand texts that are above their independent reading level, reading aloud to students will not build their reading level.

Children benefit from structured conversations with an adult in response to written texts. (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 27)

To build collaboration surrounding classroom reading alouds, Sarah realized that students needed a guide to create the type of discussions that would benefit her students and help them better comprehend difficult texts. When she left them to themselves to discuss the text, she found they naturally pointed out obvious points. So, she thought about what type of discussions she wanted her students to have about the texts they were reading. She decided she wanted students to recognize when they had a thought or idea that was evoked by something they read, and then for them to be able to provide textual support for that idea. To help facilitate this type of discussion amongst her students she used an activity called "Turn and Talk."

Turn and Talk required that after a passage was read aloud, she would say "Turn and Talk" and the students would discuss the passage that had just been read using the following discussion "stem:"

First student: "When the book said ________ I was thinking ________ because ________."

Partner: "I agree with you because ___________." OR "I disagree with you because __________."

After applying this strategy, Sarah was amazed by the increased engagement level of her students with the text. She felt that using these discussion stems helped students think critically about the text and match the level of rigor required by the Common Core State Standards.

More “stems” are presented in Sarah’s book: “Raising the Standards Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A Approach” ›

Modeling Fluent Reading

Having a teacher read aloud to students helps increase their reading level, because it models fluent reading for students. By following along and seeing how the teacher emphasizes different words, pauses at commas and periods, and pronounces difficult words, students can increase their own reading fluency.

To learn more tips for increasing student comprehension, view Sarah’s entire presentation: “Motivating Readers: Collaboration, Challenge, Competence, and Choice” ›

Learn more about reading comprehension ›

Click here to learn more about Lexile® and book levels.


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Mariz said

One significant factor of reading aloud to children is to talk about what’s being read to them. With this the child will not only learn how to read the words on the page, but also to comprehend what they are reading or being read to.

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Coursesmart said

Books are the best and most popular sources of knowledge that we have today. Although there are other popular sources such as Internet, videos, and images, books are still popular. We were born with just a little knowledge but through reading books and socializing with other people around us, we learn new things. Learning always begins with interest, so we really need to be interested to absorb new things and information easier. It is also good to know that there are electronic books today which can be read through the use of devices such as tablet computers, laptops, kindles and other. Thank you for this informative article, keep it up! (SHARED TO SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES)

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K. Mandeville said

Doing this can create more interaction with the text, much more involvement, more steps to greater comprehension. It can allow students to share their thoughtts, feelings, reactions to a text which are extremely important. Too often kids are turned away from reading, feeling it's boring, too hard,takes too much time - I'm sure you all know the usual excuses. Like anything else, something needs to draw them in, and this can be agreat way to do it. Keep the open interaction flowing. What's the point of a teacher sending students home with a reading assignment, objective questions to answer, with nothing more than lecturing about it the next day? Teachers are sources for guidance, but exploration and experience is involved. Reading is one of the best learning experiences you can have. It takes students thinking for themselves. This is what we need to promote.

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Cheryln said

I've been doing this for years. Sometimes we don't have time to have every student read, so I'll read the section or page. It helps the students stay on task since it's my voice they are listening to instead of each other. I model how they should be reading. I've done this with 2nd through 6th graders.

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Mary said

In counterpoint, my middle school aged child is being read aloud to too much in middle school. He is bored and would prefer to read on his own. Too much reading aloud by teachers (or having the students listen to an electronic version of the material) enables a lot of students not to read. I question whether reading aloud to students is beneficial for students who are already reading above grade level. I suspect that there are other more beneficial things some students could be doing than having to listen to an overabundance of read alouds in middle school. Frankly, my student could probably benefit more from a limited amount of time reading aloud himself just to improve how he projects his voice although some teachers won't do this anymore for fear some students will undergo stress. If you asked my student's teachers who use read alouds, they would likely believe all students love the read alouds. My student is just polite.

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Ms.Jackson said

Many teachers prefer for studnets to just listen while the text is being read, others have studnets follow along in their own copy of the text. What are your thoughts on this? Is there research that supports one method over the other?

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Stacy Hurst said

In my opinion, reading along is always preferable.Studies have shown that reading along or "supported reading" actually increases word recognition, vocabulary, and long-term comprehension when compared to just listening to text read aloud. Reading along also lessens the possibility of distractions since more than one mode of learning is engaged (i.e. visual and auditory). When reading along, struggling readers are supported in accessing the text themselves rather than becoming dependent only on listening to the text. Of course, there are exceptions such as blind students or students who need practice in building listening comprehension but generally speaking reading along is superior.

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Dave Butler said

My wife, a 5th Grade teacher of 20+ years was told by her new principal that there would be no more reading aloud by the Teacher in class. This was based on the fact that there is no specific merit or proof that reading aloud helps and benefits students. It is a waste of a teachers time it seems in Canyon School District in Salt Lake City, Utah at least in 5th Grade. I find a significant personal conflict with this attitude since I recall having read, during class by me 5th grade teacher, "Where the Red Fern Grows". At least I recall it was 5th Grade. The imagery and escape through story that I recall during that book was tremendous and to this day remains one of my favorite books and stories. And yes, it was read to us during class.

I have not been able to find anything specific to this idea of reading aloud does not benefit and for the life of me am at my wits end to understand the attitude by a school district principal. My wife is afraid that since the teaching staff is expected to cooperate without comment, that if she along with other staff disagree are welcome to seek employment elsewhere. It seams that the teachers have no say and Utah or at least Canyons School District holds experienced teachers as a commodity that is easily replaced. My wife was recognized as "Teacher of the Year " in her school in 2011. I do not think she is average, but she claims she is tired of the politics and lack of public teacher appreciation that prevails in the legislation and the minimal pay that is expected of Utah Teachers and seems genuinely concerned if she objects. I guess I am just a crazy husband who is prejudice to a uniquely fantastic wife that happens to be a uniquely fantastic teacher.

Really, I would like to know where the statistics come from for this "No need to Read Aloud" attitude?

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Elizabeth said

There is a huge difference between reading aloud and reading along. Reading aloud may improve listening skills and expose students to literature, but it does not improve comprehension. Students must follow along, see and hear the text in order for it to increase fluency or understanding.

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