Read About Best Practices in Understanding Read-alouds

Introduction/Overview

Reading to students is one of the most important teaching opportunities of a school day. Through read-alouds, a teacher has the opportunity to model how good readers read and how good writing sounds. According to the authors of Becoming a Nation of Readers, there is no greater opportunity during the school day for building the knowledge required for reading success than reading to students. (1984) In addition, Reggie Routman feels that, “Reading aloud is a powerful technique for promoting story enjoyment and literature appreciation and for noting what authors do in the writing process so that students can make similar choices for themselves.” (1993, p. 33)

What is a Read-Aloud?

First let’s define a read-aloud. A read-loud is simply that—a time in the school day when a teacher reads orally to a group of students. A variety of print sources can be read: a picture or chapter book, a poem, a letter, the wall, a sentence chart—a teacher is only limited by their imagination. While the teacher reads, the students listen, engage in the material, and comprehend what they hear. Typically, the teacher shows the pictures to the students to not only engage them in the story but to demonstrate the value of pictures to a story line. The story can be new or one previously read. Read-alouds should occur throughout each school day. Opportunities can occur:

  • At the start or close of the school day
  • As a transition from one activity to another (example: following recess)
  • As part of a reading and/or writing mini lessons
  • As part of a content lesson
  • As a planned part of each day

Below is an example of a first grade classroom schedule. As you review the schedule, think about opportunities where a teacher could read-aloud to her students to enhance the learning for the day.

After you review the schedule below, think about the different times during a school day when a read-aloud can be used and why you think the times you chose would be appropriate for read-alouds. Include ideas that may not coincide with the schedule below.

Mr. Z’s Schedule

TimeSubject
7:40 Pick up students
7:45 - 8:00 Announcements/Calendar Math
8:00 - 10:30 Read-Aloud/Shared Reading - 15 minutes
Guided-Reading and running record - 30 minutes
Wed/Fri - circle team
Tues/Thurs - triangle team
Monday - teams alternate
Guided-Reading and running record - 30 minutes
Wed/Fri - line team
Tues/Thurs - cube team
Monday - teams alternate
Daily News - 10 minutes
Interactive Writing - 15 minutes
Journal/Independent Writing - 20 minutes
Word Wall/Word Study/Phonics - 30 minutes
10:30 - 11:00 Math
11:00 - 11:45 Lunch (duty on Tuesdays)
11:45 - 11:55 Read-Aloud
11:55 - 12:20 Math - continued
12:20 - 12:50 Science/Social Studies
12:55 - 1:30 Enrichment Classes: Mon. Fine Arts, Tues. Library, Wed. Computer Thurs, Science Lab
1:30 - 2:15 P.E./Conference Time
2:15 - 2:35 Read Alouds/Author Studies
2:35 - 2:45 Fine Arts/Reflections of the day

Read-alouds are an important part of each school day. Many self-contained classroom teachers read aloud to their students for as many as thirty minutes throughout each day. Why? Because they value the role that listening to reading plays in a comprehensive literacy classroom.

The Role of Read-Alouds

Read-alouds are an important component of a comprehensive literacy program. As seen in Figure 1, interactive read-alouds are the base of a reading program whose goal is to build independent readers.

Choosing Books for a Read-Aloud

Experts agree that students should be read many books each day in their quest to become an efficient reader. In addition, experts have stated that books read orally to students should be no more than one or two grade levels above their present grade. Why is this? Consider the values of read-alouds as presented by Fountas and Pinnell (1996, p. 22) listed below.

Values

Involves students in reading for enjoyment

Demonstrates reading for a purpose

Provides an adult demonstration of phased, fluent reading

Develops a sense of story

Develops knowledge of written language syntax

Develops knowledge of how texts are structured

Increases vocabulary

Expands linguistic repertoire

Supports intertextual ties

Creates community of readers through enjoyment and shared knowledge

Makes complex ideas available to students

Promotes oral language development

Establishes known texts to use as a basis for writing and other activities through reading

Review the values listed above; choose two and reflect upon why a book two grades above or below a target grade may not be appropriate. For example, a reflection on the value of ‘getting a sense of story’ may include the following reflection – If a book such as Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (1998) was read to first grade students, the story line would be too complex. The students would be overwhelmed and not be able to follow the plot lines of this complex story. A better book for a first-grade read-aloud would be The Very Quiet Cricket (1990) by Eric Carle. This text has a story line that students can follow and give them a good sense of the beginning, middle and end of a good story. The story is about a male cricket who rubs his wings together to make a sound but no sound comes forth. He meets other insects who are able to make sounds but he cannot make a sound until he meets a ‘she’ cricket.

In addition to the values listed above, read-alouds also increase a student’s listening comprehension which is one of the four components of comprehension. The four forms are:

Listening—what we hear

Speaking—what we use when talking

Reading—what we read easily

Writing—what words we write

For example, consider the word hors d’oeuvre. When hearing this word, most adults know what it means because they have heard it before. In a restaurant, this word is used when ordering because it is part of most adults’ listening vocabulary. When a menu is read, the word is quickly known because it is at the beginning of the menu. However, if this word is placed in a book where the message is not about food, adults may need time to recognize it out of context. Also, this word is difficult to spell and isn’t used much in writing. The word appetizer is written more because it is easier to spell. What does this tell us? When words, concepts, thoughts, ideas are incorporated through listening, they are accessible to each of us in the other forms of comprehension – speaking, reading, and maybe writing. Increasing a student’s listening vocabulary through read-alouds is important. At first, choosing books for your students may be difficult, but it becomes easier as more good books are chosen and the students react positively. Fountas and Pinnell suggest: (2001, p. 29)

  • Are there a small number of unfamiliar words as compared with the familiar words?
  • Is the complexity of the sentence structures within the student’s grasp?
  • Are the students familiar with concepts presented in this book?
  • Are the students familiar with the vocabulary presented in this book?
  • Is the length of the book appropriate for the student’s focus level?
  • Does this story support reading for meaning?
  • Will the students enjoy hearing this book?
  • Will the students hear phrased, fluent reading?
  • Will the students be able to understand the story structure?
Effective Read-Aloud Techniques

Effective oral reading takes a great deal of thought and planning. Dorn, French, and Jones (1998, p. 31) tell us, “You should prepare very carefully before you read a story. First, include a brief introduction that answers any questions about the characters, plot, or setting.” One step that may precede this recommendation is to make sure you have read the book before planning. Take the following steps when preparing a book introduction:

Meaning Statement –

Develop a main idea statement that will give the students an idea of what the story is about. This statement can be given before the students see the cover, while they are looking at the cover, or as the teacher shows the students the title page if it is different than the cover. Also, consider using the back cover of a book for it sometimes gives additional information through pictures or text.

Content/Vocabulary Questions –

As you read the book, think about questions the students may have while listening to the story. For example, in the book Possum Magic by Mem Fox, the students may not know what an emu is. You can anticipate that questions with an explanation of this Australian bird.

Unusual Language Structures –

When previewing a book for a read-aloud, you may find an unusual structure that you would like to introduce. Ones such as, “Once upon a time”, “On Monday….., On Tuesday….”

Effective Read-Aloud Techniques

Read the following book introduction for Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.

Meaning Statement – Good morning boys and girls. Today we are going to read a story called, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? In this story, a mother reading a book to a group of students and the book has lots of animals in it. As I read, we will look at the pictures to guess the animal she is reading about. And guess what? On each page, the animal will be asked if they see someone looking at them. And you know what? Each animal names another animal looking at them and what color they are!! If we look at the inside cover, we see strips of many colors. These colors can help us guess the animal on each page.

Content/Vocabulary Questions – Consider a question such as, I have never seen a black sheep. Are there black sheep? Yes there are black sheep and white sheep. Most sheep are white but there are a few.

Unusual Structures – An unusual language structure for 1st grade students might be the last sentence on the last page. Throughout the book the language centers on each animal. On the last page the pronoun ‘we’ is used. So I would ask the students to repeat the following, ‘That’s what we see.’ and talk about the use of the pronoun we.

Choose a book of your own that you would like to use as a read-aloud. In your journal, write a book introduction including the title of the book, a meaning statement, questions to answer and any new language structures you would like to address. In the reflect section, consider the importance of book introduction and how it helps students to comprehend.

Dorn, French and Jones (1998, p. 31) also state, “…read the story expressively and with evident enjoyment. At appropriate points in the story, invite the students to respond to particular events.” While reading to students, teachers almost need to become storytellers – getting the students excited about the book being read and modeling phrased, fluent reading. This can be hard if the teacher isn’t familiar with the book before reading. Layout of sentences, placement of words, etc. can make some books difficult for even the most proficient reader. When listening to a book such as The Mitten, teachers sometimes wonder if they should read the print around the edges of the page, etc. A quick perusal tells the teacher that these words do not need to be read the first time through but may be shared on the second or third reading.

“Listen to the following excerpt and think about how the reading sounds. Does it sound phrased? Fluent? Fluent but not phrased?

Have the reader read this text fast with no phrases –

Brown Bear, Brown, Bear, What do you see?
I see a redbird looking at me.
Redbird, redbird, What do you see?
I see a yellow duck looking at me.
Yellow duck, yellow duck looking at me.
I see a blue horse looking at me.

(Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See? by Bill Martin, Jr.)

Reflect on how the reading sounds and the reading model this reader gave students”

Last, Dorn, French and Jones (1998 p. 31) recommend, “Afterward, engage the students in an interactive discussion; let them ask questions and solicit their feelings and comments.” The result of a read-aloud will be both cognitive and affective. Cognitively, students will build schema on the concepts read and the mechanics of reading and writing. Some cognitive questions may be: Why do you think the mother was looking at the fish? Where were the animals? Affectively, students will be excited about reading and motivated to read this and other books. Questions such as, What was your favorite animal in the story? Let’s draw your favorite animal and what was looking at that animal.

Teaching During a Read-Aloud

A read-aloud provides the opportunity to model for students’ before-, during-, and after-reading strategies through think-alouds. A think-aloud is that time before, during, or after the oral reading of a book when a teacher lets the students “in” on her thinking. For instance, when modeling the questioning strategy for comprehension, a teacher stops her reading and states, “I wonder why Natalie is doing that?” As the teacher continues reading, she responds to this question as thoughts enter her mind. The think-aloud enables the teacher to provide exposure to advanced vocabulary, text structure, sentence structure, imagery, and comprehension strategies. Students become better readers by practicing their thinking strategies through modeled instruction.

Comprehension strategies that can be introduced:

  • Make connections
  • Question
  • Visualize
  • Make inferences
  • Determine text importance
  • Synthesize information

The strategic teaching involving a think-aloud does not stop after introducing a strategy. The goal is to model and practice until students display the ability to apply the strategy independently. The steps of teaching comprehension strategies are:

  1. Teacher explains what a strategy consists of.
  2. Teacher explains why this strategy is important.
  3. Teacher explains when to use the strategy in actual reading.
  4. Teacher models how to perform the strategy in an actual context.
  5. Teacher guides learner practice.
  6. Students independently use the strategy as they pursue their own reading and projects.

Not every read-aloud needs to include a think-aloud or teaching. Many texts are read to students for the gains made through listening to stories. However, students can and will learn through read-alouds and think-alouds if the planning and implementation is effective.

Pulling it All Together on Read-Aloud

A read-aloud is much more work then just picking a book and reading it orally. It takes planning, practice, and a thorough understanding of the reading process. By engaging in this workshop, you take the first step toward integrating read-alouds into your classroom.