Reading aloud is one of my favorite classroom activities. It also happens to be one of my students’ favorites. It’s an opportunity for them to experience the joys of reading without the stresses they sometimes experience. Freedom from those stresses allows them extra room for visualizing the text. I’m not necessarily talking about those who have reading challenges! It’s great for all children, of all ages. I wish adults did it more often, too. I often find that the children who say that reading is their least favorite work at school are the ones love read-aloud time the most.
When it comes to choosing content, I try to mix it up. Sometimes I read picture books that are relevant to the unit we’re working on. It might be a story about a specific part of speech or a history of the Chumash Indians. At other times it’ll be a short story to demonstrate descriptive language. I even have a book about manners that I’ve been known to break out when I notice an increase in rude behavior. Then, as class, we’ll use the book I’ve read as a place to begin a discussion.
I often use picture books to stimulate class discussion and critical thinking. I ask questions as I read, and then after. Sometimes I ask the students to make predictions about what will happen on the next page or at the end of the book. I also try to encourage them to draw parallels to their own lives, even by a simple raising of their hands. In small ways, I encourage them to be active listeners, which prepares them to be active readers, which in turn prepares them for the critical thinking skills we work on in class. Particularly research.
I don’t limit myself to reading picture books, though. During the school year, I generally have time to read 2-3 novels (occasionally four) aloud to my students. I choose the novels carefully and on a rotating schedule of genres. I like to tie them in with whichever unit I’m teaching when I can, but shifting between genres is more important to me, as it allows me to discuss each genre. I also alternate between male and female protagonists. Nobody’s ever noticed that I do this, but I feel that it’s important.
The third thing I keep in mind when I’m choosing a read-aloud is whether or not the book is part of a series. I’m more likely to choose it if it is. I’m sneaky like that. I make certain I have the rest of the series on my bookshelves and when I’ve finished reading the first book aloud, I show the students where they can find the rest of the series on the shelves in the classroom of they’d like to finish it themselves.
One year, the Upper Elementary and the Middle School read three Tintin books aloud as a group. We assigned parts and sat in a circle as we read. It was like reading a play and so, so fun. We had a lot to stop and discuss (Hergé’s portrayals of foreigners, Captain Haddock’s addiction to drink), but it was wonderful. We timed it so we finished when the movie based on the three books we’d read came out. Both classes took a field trip to the movie theatre to see the movie. Afterwards, we discussed how the movie and the books were similar and different and wrote compare and contrast essays. (I did something similar with The Lightning Thief.)
The truth is, I love to read. It’s one of my passions as a teacher to make readers out of my students. I understand that not every student that crosses my path will leave with my love of reading, but if I can impart to them a glimpse of the pleasure it gives me, I call that success.