Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Read Aloud?

Children's author Rick Walton has started a blog titled Why Read Aloud? He's collecting stories about reading aloud and being read aloud to. He says, "we will figure out a way to get your stories to the administrators and teachers who need to hear them. Your story of how being read to made your life better might motivate a teacher to read to her kids and make their lives better."

Why read aloud? Because you never know if the book you choose to read aloud will become a landmark book for a student who, ten years later, will still quote from the book and count the copy you gave her as one of her most prized possessions. (Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher)

Why read aloud? For the joy of sharing the hot new book you bought in a bookstore in London before it was released in the U.S.. (Matilda, by Roald Dahl)

Why read aloud? Because you could guess how rich the conversations would be, but you never could have predicted that some of your students would cry with you. (Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech)

Why read aloud? Because the torture of the first half of the book is SO worth the action and adventure of the second half. (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi)

Why read aloud? For the sheer joy of the language and the pace of the story. (Emily's Fortune, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)

Why read aloud? Here's why:

"It is read-aloud time. The classroom is absolutely silent except for my voice and the muffled sounds of children playing on the playground that come in along with the puffs of fresh air through the open window. Some student sit with their chins propped up in a cupped hand; others lay their heads on their desks. Every student is relaxed yet alert. There is tension in the air, a simultaneous yearning for closure and for continuation. Some watch me. Others stare into space. Because they are each intently visualizing the story in their own way, the eyes of all of the students seem slightly out of focus.

My eyes are the eyes of all twenty-six students as I read the book.  My voice paints the story on the canvas of twenty-six imaginations. The story can pause for a question, a comment, or a short discussion to clarify or extend meaning without the spell being broken. Even when the book is closed at the end of a chapter or the end of the book, and the room erupts into cries for more or sighs of satisfaction, the magic of read-aloud is not gone. An individual connection has been forged between me and each student via the book. Just like a parent at the edge of the bed or with the child in my lap, my voice has personally delivered the story directly to each pair of ears and each imagination. The book also creates a collective connection, bonding me and all the student together as one through the common experience of having met the same characters, gone on the same journeys, and suffered the same losses and triumphs.

Read-aloud may look like an ordinary event in a typical classroom, but it feels extraordinary when the teacher who is reading is aware of the power of the book and the importance of her role in not only reading to her students, but leading them through the book--using read-aloud as a teaching time. Not only the teacher can feel the difference, but also the students. At the end of one school year when I asked my students to reflect on our read-aloud time, Mathias captured the essence of read-aloud in our classroom when he wrote, 'It is a time when we can learn without trying.' " (Reconsidering Read-Aloud,  p. 1-2)

Do you have a story about the power of read aloud, or a favorite book to read aloud to your children? Share it here, then go over and share it with Rick Walton, and then give the child on your lap or the children in your classroom the chance to "learn without trying" as you weave magic with words by reading aloud to them.


  1. My son has been a “reluctant reader” for many years. His attention wanders, he gets unfocused, and he doesn’t retain what he’s reading. There was one cure. Reading together and aloud was what worked.

    We read “Boomtown” by Nowen N. Particular, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” by Roald Dahl, “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” and “North! or Be Eaten” by Andrew Peterson, and many other books.

    He’s now reading “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” by himself, and we talk about it afterward. But it took those years of reading aloud and together to make it click.

  2. What a great success story! Thank goodness for parents who read aloud to their children long past the picture book stage!!

  3. Super post, Mary Lee. I love the paragraph that describes the class during read-aloud time. You've captured the experience. I'm sharing this on FB.

  4. Love this post! Also love your blog - the look, content, feel - the entire she-bang!

    I want to invite you to be a guest blogger for our website. We are always interested in topics about literacy. If you are interested please email me.

    Happy Reading!


  5. My post, inspired by yours, is here:

  6. i've embraced read aloud this year with only one of my classes. what started out as an experiment has quickly become a class staple!

    they can't believe life when we do a read aloud. if i read aloud first thing in class, they cheer. if i make them save it for the ending, they cheer-- after all, it's nice to save the best for last.

    they always remind me about the book, and make sure i pick up where we left off. and they always beg for more.

    last thing, though-- this read aloud has taught my students a lot about accepting each other, and about accepting themselves. they've learned how to make real text to text connections-- finally!!!!!!!!!!-- and are devouring books on similar themes during independent reading time.

    in short, you have to read aloud because it's unbelievable!

    it makes me smile just to think about it.

  7. Every Friday we have a class meeting to discuss questions, comments and concerns. This past Friday a concern was that I did not do a read aloud in January. I look puzzled and I told the kids that I did read aloud-we ready many amazing picture books throughout the day. One student looked at me and said that is not read aloud. I paused and asked why not he said because it is not a chapter book.
    Something for me to reflect on. By the way, I started a chapter book read aloud today.

  8. I consider myself lucky because my children's elementary school emphasizes reading aloud in all the grade levels.

    My husband and I have always read aloud to our boys and its great for all of us. Now we have fewer read alouds at home but more non-technology time and more reading time as a family together in the family room.

    Reading aloud is the best way to "show" students how to read with emotion.


  9. " feels extraordinary when the teacher who is reading is aware of the power of the book and the importance of her role in not only reading to her students, but leading them through the book."-- I experienced this very thing today when reading "Back of the Bus" by Aaron Reynolds to my 2nd grade students. They were gripped by the words and the cadence of the story. It was the perfect book to give them a snapshot of the unrest and uncertainty of the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

  10. Toby -- thanks for the compliment and the FB share.
    Christine -- we don't often do guest posts (doing good to keep our own blog rolling!!), but I'll come check your site out.
    Monica -- I have having all your read aloud posts in a "digest"! Thanks!
    Jennifer, Maria, Connie, Hesterbarian -- great stories!

  11. Thank you Mary Lee for the shout out! And wow! Your post gave me goose bumps!

    Rick Walton

  12. MaryLee,
    Your post gave me goosebumps also! I wrote a post about the power of a great read aloud too.Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  13. Thank you for writing this post. I can't imagine NOT reading out loud daily to my class. It's my favorite part as well as the childrens. It's a calming part of the day and is a great transition after recess/lunch.

    I was reading SCAT to my 3rd graders last year. You could hear a pin drop when it was time for the story. There would be screams of NO when I stopped for the day. People would peek through the window of my door to make sure that everything was ok. My teacher neighbor snuck in one day while I was reading. She said that she always listened to read aloud since it was her plan time, but she wanted to join us for the ending.

    Read alouds are truly a magical time and a part of the day that my class cherishes. When asked what they remember most at the end of the year...I always hear about one of the many read alouds we have shared together.

  14. My favorite read aloud story happened just this year! After reading aloud Psst! Yo, It's Me the Bogeyman by Barbara Parks, the kid clapped and Krissy asked "Mrs. Frazier, where do you get all these great books?" Her face was all aglow and her eyes dancing. This comment brought tears to my eyes, I knew I had hooked a reader!

  15. I just stumbled upon this website and I love it! I just got my own website going for parents of young learners. It gives them read-alouds and activities to do with them. The power of reading to your child is amazing. I'm hoping to spread the word! I will continue to follow your blog now! Check this out if you get a chance: Thanks!

  16. Mary Lee,
    There you go making me think on a snow day! As usual I just loved your post. You have really hit the reasons we read aloud. Your examples shout the importance of read aloud.

    I still remember my 4th grade teacher. He was a young teacher and really struggled with keeping our class in check, but he was the Pied Piper when he pulled out a book. He is the first teacher I ever remember reading aloud to us. He is the first teacher I remember sharing the sounds of poetry with us. He is the first teacher that didn't teach me reading, but instead made me think about what it meant to be a reader. (Wow, I didn't know that until now.)


  17. Cathy -- Happy snow/ice day, happy reading, and, as always, happy REFLECTING (aka thinking) -- but you do that well enough without me!!!

  18. I am a fifth grade teacher who is currently reading aloud Out Of My Mind. More than any other read aloud of the year, this one is keeping my kids wanting more and more! And every day it is so hard to not give it to them! Love love love that book and thanks for the great ideas on your blog!


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