There are so many benefits of using read alouds in your classroom. To state a few- students who listen to their teacher read aloud will develop a strong vocabulary, build connections between spoken and written words, increase their attention span, and it strengthens their cognitive abilities. Not to mention, it’s fun!
In this post, we’ll talk about just how crucial read alouds are, how to choose great books, tips for making it interactive, the power of think alouds, and some awesome resources for your next great read aloud! So without further ado, let’s get into it!
Why This Matters
Reading aloud is the single most important activity for reading success (Bredekamp, Copple, & Neuman, 2000). And it makes sense. Think about it- when we’re reading aloud to our students, we’re modeling an example of fluent reading. The simple act shows our students the magic of stories as they relate, connect and get enjoyment from them, and it sparks interest in books so students can develop the desire for reading. These benefits don’t only last while kiddos are young either, instead they are just as impactful as grade levels progress.
There are SO many benefits to reading aloud, including building fluency, vocabulary, and background knowledge, while developing comprehension skills, language and a myriad of social skills when listening to diverse stories. Of course the icing on the cake is learning to love reading. Background knowledge in particular is crucial to understanding on all levels, so it is especially important to build it up for our students. Learn more about that HERE! When you read aloud to students, they no longer have to worry about decoding every word on the page and instead they can focus on listening to the story. It aids in comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and listening to a good model of prosody.
In addition to all the benefits of reading aloud, I personally feel that listening to a good book is just plain fun! Our students can feel our passion and excitement when reading a great story and they will take those experiences forever. We must remember, books provide mirrors and windows for us. Some stories serve as a reflection or representation where we can see ourselves and make personal connections to the character, much like a mirror. Whereas other stories serve as a window to inspire and allow you to experience the life of someone else. It may not be as relatable as a mirror book, but it exposes us to the world around us. Reading aloud a diverse set of books, to show our students mirrors and windows, is going to be super impactful in your classroom. So how do we go about finding these stories? Let’s get into choosing great read-alouds.
Choosing a Just Right Book
There are SO many books to be read and it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming to choose the right ones. There are some things to think about when gathering some book options, such as your purpose for reading and the connections you’re trying to make. Maybe your purpose for reading is simply enjoyment. Those are the easy ones to pick out since there are so many fun and entertaining stories out there for students that they love. If your purpose is to teach or reinforce a skill or strategy, then a little research is involved. A quick google search is all you need to find books about any topic. You can check out your school or local library to preview books before you decide to purchase a new book to add to your classroom library or you can simply borrow and return it.
Since we know that reading aloud is the single most important activity for reading success, we can use it to our advantage when deciding what we’re exposing our students to. We want to choose books that are rich in vocabulary, we want to make sure they are helpful to building background knowledge, and that we’re reading both fiction AND nonfiction texts. Maybe students are struggling with behavior- find a great read aloud! Do they need some good examples of how to deal with tough social skills? Read a book to enforce social and emotional learning! Reading a good mix of fiction and nonfiction books helps build connections to other skills and content areas. If you need some ideas on some awesome diverse books, check out THIS post.
Make It Interactive!
After you’ve found the right books, it’s time to set the stage! Just like introducing any new skill to your students, we want to make it exciting for them. When reading aloud, you want to make sure every student can see the pages, they can hear you, and that they are comfortable enough to sit and listen attentively. Spend time planning out your purpose just like you did when picking the books you want to read. Maybe you’ll read the same book multiple times for different purposes. You could read it Monday to notice new words, Tuesday to prompt students to notice character traits, Wednesday to use those new words to describe some of those characters, and so on and so forth.
Making it interactive is a great way to make reading fun and help students foster a love for it. Practice your read alouds and add in animation and expression with your voice. Invite students to participate with you by asking them to make predictions about what will happen next, or by putting up a secret signal like a thumbs up when they come across a word you wanted them to notice. Ask students open-ended questions, stop and give a quick definition or synonym when you read new vocabulary, and plan for questions that may come up. You can extend your read alouds with writing activities or fun crafts too!
Check out this table from Reading Rockets that show benefits of repeated read alouds:
Power of Think-Alouds
Think alouds are simply us verbalizing our thoughts while reading. It is a powerful tool that we should always model. Not only will it help students improve their comprehension, but it also teaches them to monitor their thinking when they read.
When prepping for a think aloud, it is crucial to plan prior to reading a book to your students. One great strategy is to write out reminders or questions to ask on post-it notes and stick them on the pages of the book. For example, if I’m reading a book about Juneteenth and one of the pages talks about how enslaved individuals found out they were free two years after everyone else, I might ask my class “Do you think their late notice of freedom was fair? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down.” This would be written on my sticky note as a reminder for me to ask while reading. I might also ask students what the word freedom means to them. Dig deep with your students because it’ll help them gain a greater comprehension of the text, skills, and concepts that are presented in the book.
Prompting students to make connections is another crucial part of the power of think alouds. You want to help them make connections with their own lives, other books they’ve read or listened to, as well as the world or universal concepts. If you want students to make connections with their own lives, I’ll make a connection to mine and then ask a question. If we’re reading, “Let’s Go For A Drive” by Mo Willems, I might comment “This book reminds me of when I was getting ready for a road trip and I was trying not to forget anything I needed. Have you ever gone on a road trip?” If you want students to make connections with other books, you can relate them to other stories by the same author or parts of the books that share similar themes. To incorporate diverse selections, we could read the African tale “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” by John Steptoe. I would tell my students that it is about one sweet sister, and one sister who isn’t very kind. As we’re reading, students might notice similarities to the story of Cinderella and make other connections. Lastly, if you want students to connect to a more universal concept, you could think aloud while reading a book with a theme you want them to notice. For example, I might say “Stellaluna helps me understand that species, such as bats or human beings, are all similar in several ways, but what makes us special is the little differences we all have.”
Think alouds are super powerful and it’s up to us to use them as a great model for our students. Use them, along with repeated read alouds to see the most impact and I promise you’ll watch your students soar!
Put It In Practice
Now that we have all the crucial components to a great read aloud, let’s check out a great example! There are SO many amazing books to develop listening comprehension along with other reading skills, but for this example I’m going to talk about Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. I did an awesome Scholastic Book Talk that you can check out HERE about all the awesome ways to use this book in your classroom!
This is SUCH a fun read-aloud to help students build their vocabulary, learn about sequencing, cause and effect, and writing a how-to piece.
Here students are using a sequencing map to recall events in the story. We also used similar resources to talk about cause and effect, like what happens when you accidentally give the dragons SPICY salsa on their tacos!
Of course a read-aloud is so much more fun with a writing craft! Check out these ADORABLE taco crafts that allow students to write how to make their most delicious taco! You can grab a whole How To Writing pack here!
Teaching vocabulary with this read aloud was so fun using the Total Physical Response, or TPR. This method helps students truly understand the meaning of new words. Check out how we learned about the word ‘gigantic’ during our read aloud! You can read more about some amazing vocabulary tips, including using TPR for new words HERE!
Check out the entire Dragons Love Tacos book companion resource (make ‘book companion resource’ the link) that is jam packed with fun activities that go along with this story!
Building Your Collection
Scholastic is a great way to find popular and affordable books for your library. They have amazing dollar deals and thousands of books that kids absolutely LOVE! If you would like to learn more about how I earn FREE books for our classroom, check out THIS blog post about Scholastic engagement! Other great and inexpensive ways to build your collection is to buy used books from garage sales and thrift stores, choosing to buy seasonal books after holidays when they are discounted, and even creating Amazon wish lists for books that you can share with your family, friends, or parents throughout the school year if they want to donate to your students.
Spruce up your library with diverse books. Start a collection of books that are written by authors from all cultures. Read aloud stories with characters that are of all colors, abilities, and genders. Take note of the cultures represented in your school and make it a point to get books that reflect THEM. If you can’t afford to buy all the books your heart desires, utilize your libraries. Creating a cultured collection of books takes time, but you have to start somewhere!
Reading at Home
Reading aloud boosts language development and as much as we do it in our classroom, the bigger impact starts and continues at home. It’s super important for us as educators to encourage parents and caregivers to read with their children daily at home. There is powerful research I like to share that shows them just how crucial it is for them to read at home to strengthen comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and language development.
An article by ScienceDaily shows research that there can be up to a “million-word gap” for children who are not read to at home versus those who are. The study found that children who read just 5 children’s books a day at home had heard over one million words more than those who did not have that time. The article states that “kids who hear more vocabulary words are going to be better prepared to see those words in print when they enter school… They are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily.”
When parents and caregivers can truly understand the importance of reading daily, it’ll make the task more enjoyable for everyone. Of course we must also make sure it’s equitable for all students to have access to books. Some ways you can do that is to make it a routine to allow students, especially those who may not have a collection at home, to regularly check books out from the library or your classroom. You can gift books to students as classroom rewards or a gift card to a bookstore. You can even have an entire treasure chest of books you’re willing to allow students to choose from to have, or create a bookstore they can “buy” from with classroom currency. Set up a classroom on Epic Reading if your school allows and students can read anywhere they have internet access with the Epic Reading app. Get creative and share your love of reading with all your kiddos!
I hope you enjoyed learning all about the benefits of using read alouds with your students and how to make it apart of your literacy routine. These are CRUCIAL skills for students! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Word Collector Journal FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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