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Never Too Old: Reading Aloud to Independent Readers

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I almost didn’t recognize her. With flat-ironed hair and makeup, Madeline did not look like the gangly sixth grader with frizzy red hair who I remembered from my class four years ago. “Hi Mrs. Miller,” she said, “I am assigned to your room today.” Participating in Writers’ Day at a local intermediate school, I was asked to teach two rotations of writing lessons to budding 5th and 6th grade authors. High school volunteers, like Madeline, were paired with teachers to help with crowd control and work with the younger kids. I laughed, “I hope you don’t mind, but you will have to listen to me read the same story twice today.” She smiled, “I don’t mind. I don’t think any teachers have read out loud to me since I was in your class.”

Writers’ Day was successful and I enjoyed reconnecting with Madeline, but I thought all the way home about what she told me. When does reading aloud to children end? When we are confident they are reading well on their own? When we cannot snuggle and hold them on our laps any longer or comfortably arrange them in a circle on the floor?

I often hear teachers bemoan the lack of class time for reading aloud to their students. Considering the extensive research, which proves that reading aloud to children of all ages improves comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, and writing skill, this activity should be the last to go. Guilty of cutting read alouds when my lessons ran too long, I made a conscious decision to carve out daily read aloud time. Now I plan read alouds into my workshop schedule, write the titles into my lesson plan book, and dedicate the time. If assemblies, testing, or other infringements shorten our class time, I make sure that I read to my students every day, no matter what else I cut.

Instructionally, reading aloud books, poems, articles, and short stories to students gives teachers endless opportunities to highlight great writing and model reading strategies, but reading aloud provides other benefits to young readers.

Reading aloud builds community. Shared experiences create memories that connect us to each other. Reading aloud books with children offers these unifying moments. While reading together, we laugh and cry together, comrades on the same journey. My students are a reading community, bonded to each other through the books we have shared, and these connections last long after the book ends.

Reading aloud exposes children to books, authors, or genres. When choosing books to read aloud, I often pick books with the goal of leading my students to more books they can read on their own. Perennial favorites include authors like Gary Paulsen, Gordon Korman, Deborah Wiles, and Roland Smith. Students beg me for more books by authors I introduce during read alouds. Read alouds are perfect opportunities to expose students to genres they often avoid like poetry, biographies and nonfiction, too. After discovering books they enjoy first through read alouds, children are more receptive to reading more books from these genres. You don’t have to read the entire book to entice readers, either. Frequently, I will read the first chapter, article, or poem from a book and place it on the marker rail. The book rarely lasts until the end of the day before an eager reader claims it!

Reading aloud supports developing readers. Realistically, no book fits every reader. Read alouds are a perfect replacement for whole class novels, which can exclude readers who cannot independently read the book. Reading aloud removes roadblocks to comprehension like unfamiliar vocabulary and contextualizes words developing readers do not know. Listening to a fluent reader gives students a reading role model for their own oral reading skills, too.

Reading aloud reminds children why they love reading. Sitting on your lap, encircled by love and warmth, these are our children’s first reading memories. Reading aloud reminds children that reading is pleasurable, an activity they enjoyed before reading turned into a school chore. Early in the year, I ask my students to bring in their beloved picture books (Thanks to Janet Allen for the great idea!). Sitting cross-legged on the floor, we revisit classics like Green Eggs and Ham and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Seeing lanky boys clutching Tacky the Penguin, eager to share it with their friends, is heartwarming and magical. I share my childhood favorites like The Story of Ferdinand and The Little House, too, and we discuss why these books are still special to us.

Undoubtedly, you have favorite read alouds—books you love from your childhoods or remember sharing with your children or students. Here are a few of my favorites from recent years.

Favorite Read Alouds for Upper Elementary and Early Middle School

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman

The Word Eater by Mary Amato

It's Disgusting and We Ate It! True Food Facts from Around the World and Throughout History by James Solheim and Eric Brace

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Skellig by David Almond

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Peak by Roland Smith

Tangerine by Edward Bloor

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult by Sara Holbrook

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I could go on—making booklists is one of my favorite reading rabbit holes. Join me in the fun! Submit your favorite read alouds; include testimonials and recommended ages; and enter to win the drawing for a copy of my new book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child published by Jossey-Bass and Education Week Press.

Update March 19, 2009-- Thank you for posting your favorite read alouds and sharing your wisdom. Cherie Saylor Garrett, of Lampasas, Texas, has been selected as the winner of our book giveaway. Thank you, Cherie for promoting reading each and every day with your students!

Continue to participate in Share a Story/ Shape a Future, the international blog tour to promote reading. I have enjoyed reading the posts this week and have picked up countless booklists, resources and tips, and I look forward to learning more in the upcoming days.

For additional tips about reading aloud to older children, check out the following links:

“Teens Take Time to Listen When You Make Time to Read Aloud” by Alison Follos

“Tips for Reading Aloud to Preteens and Teens” from R.I.F.

“Reading Aloud to Kids Who Are Old Enough to Shave” by Candy Blessing

Jim Trelease’s Home Page

33 Comments

It may sound crazy, but I often read picture books to my classes when I was teaching high school. "Lily's Purple Plastic Purse" and "Caps for Sale" were ideal to teach the elements of plot, for example. "Chanticleer and the Fox" was a nice tie-in to "The Canterbury Tales" as is "Good Masters, Sweet Ladies." To a student, they always loved it, and often asked to write the titles down so they could rread those books to younger siblings, cousins, etc... I considered that my version of the trickle down effect.

Sharing beloved picture books sounds like such a great way to reconnect with books and to begin connecting with each other. Thank you for the great links, too!

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is one of my all time favorite read alouds. This book can be read all across the grades from first to high school. Just recently, it was read in a first grade class and they couldn't wait for each day's read from the book. Also, most books by Roald Dahl are great to read aloud. My favorites are James and the Giant Peach and George's Marvelous Medicine.

I incorporate reading aloud six times a day in my fifth glass and they LOVE it! A great professional resource for how to do this is Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature: Making the Most of Read-Alouds Across the Day by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth. The book includes over 400 recommendations with annotations!

Some of my favorite read-alouds are:
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John
The Adventures of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Alabama Moon by Watt Key

My husband and I continue to read to our children every night before bed even though they are now 12, 14 and 16. The books have increased in complexity (Moby Dick, Gulliver's Travels) and sometimes include non-fiction (presently Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams) but the kids won't go to bed without them.

I've been thinking lately that kids today aren't familiar with much classic children's literature of the past, like Alice in Wonderland or Treasure Island, and that these might make great read-alouds for middle school students.

You might also consider the works of the English author E. Nesbit. She is best known for The Railway Children, but her novels about magic were the inspiration for authors like Edward Eager (Half-Magic.)

Here at home, we had a great time reading aloud Cornelia Funke's Ghosthunters series ("Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost," and so on). I'd recommend the books for children aged 7 to 10. Suspenseful, funny, not overly scary.

I thought that was a really great idea, having the kids share their favorite picture books from when they were younger.

My 5 year old son is always showing guests his favorite books.

I don't have any testimonials. I only have a 5 month old baby, but he loves Green Eggs and Ham. I hope by reading to him everyday now, he'll let me read to him later too; there are so many books I want to read to hi:. The Limeny Snicket series, Harry Potter, The Hatchet, and the list goes on.

This is a lovely post, Donalyn. I especially liked the idea of having the kids bring in their favorite picture books ("Seeing lanky boys clutching Tacky the Penguin, eager to share it with their friends, is heartwarming and magical. I share my childhood favorites like The Story of Ferdinand and The Little House, too, and we discuss why these books are still special to us." - that's heartwarming to me, too). If only more kids could have teachers like you, Susan Dee, and Sarah Mulhern who read aloud to them... (No need to enter me in the contest - I've got the book on the way, and am looking forward to it!)

My 8th graders look forward to "story time" in class and they come with their journals ready to go. Being in Hawaii, I read local literature stories and poems, but the they also love Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street (probably because I love the language). I try to bring in pieces with that kind of rich imagery ("sitting her sadness on an elbow")because it's a nice transition to writing workshop. My 6th graders in summer school enjoyed The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs for their read aloud novel because they wanted to know what "wonder" Eben found each day.

I am pleased to see your list of benefits to reading aloud to students. These are the sort of things I continue to tell parents and other teachers and it is nice to see here.
I enjoy reading aloud with the class almost as much as they do. The discussions we have about the stories and the references in our daily conversations back to the novels are proof enough of the love for reading we share.
Two of my favorite read alouds are Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. After reading these, many of my fourth graders have completed the series as well. We also love The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, the story is magical. And sometimes, our read aloud helps to reinforce the curriculum, like Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone, a historical fiction account of the settlement of Jamestown.

Fantastic! Thank you so much.

Donalyn, this post reminded me of an experience I had over 20 years ago with my own son, Hamp, who wears the labels of cerebral palsy and moderate retardation. At that time Hamp was in his early teens and pondering very seriously the call at our church for members to give not only of their money but their time as well. It hit me one night in talking with him that here was a chance for me to promote reading yet again with him; I suggested he consider reading fun picture books to the 3 and 4 year old nursery classes. He decided that was a good idea if I would go with him at first. He practiced diligently all week after pouring over books to make a choice...it was more "reading practice time" than I ever achieved otherwise, and reading became more fun for him that it had ever been. The adoring children who were fascinated that he sat in a special "chair" and read to them gave him such great confidence!

My third grade students loved the book "Frindle" by Andrew Clements. They tried to create their own words for everyday objects. We finished the book months ago, but they are still using the word frindle. What a great experience.

I work with mostly EL kids and reading aloud is really important for them because it helps them hear the best of English language - its phrasing, vocab, syntax, etc. Our daily oral exchanges, even we try to be conscious of being good models of language, cannot compete with those who have a gift for crafting it. I agree that the power of the read aloud opens doors for students to explore genre they would not dream of doing otherwise. This has been the case in my classroom year after year with poetry. And song!

My 6th graders love "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" every year. Part of the draw is the fantastic humor of Christopher Paul Curtis, but at the end we all weep together and are touched by the historic moment that we get to experience personally. My 7th graders loved "When Zachary Beaver Came to Town" by Kimberly Willis Holt. They learn to love the characters and learn a lot about their own relationships with friends and outsiders. Finally, my 8th graders couldn't get enough of Gary Schmidt's "Wednesday Wars." The humor, the history, and the character development kept them begging for a daily dose.

My List:
Freak the Mighty
Summer of the Monkeys
Tuck Everlasting
Thief of Always
Mick Hart was Here
Canyons
The Ghost's Grave
Tiger Rising
Weasel
Soup and Me
Somewhere in the Middle
Owls in the Family
Tale of Despereaux
Holes
I love reading your blog and totally agree with read aloud as a essential part of my reading class.
I do hate it when they make a movie of a favorite read aloud but have used it to show the movie is never as good as the book.

My nephew's in the 3rd grade now, but was in real danger of becoming a non-reader last summer, after his summer reading books were too difficult and "wicked boring." So we took a trip to the library and picked out some books, and we read some of his old favorites - no matter how simple or what age they were recommended for, and I searched diligently for funny books to bring back the joy of reading to him. For us, it was Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker. So much humor, so much fun, and he remembered that he did like to read after all. THanks for all the great suggestions!

I teach 4th grade. Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors to read aloud because she is a fabulous story-teller. The characters in her books come alive with her words. Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane are annual favorites for me. I also love to read Louis Sachar's Holes to the class. It's a great example of weaving stories together. I love the "aha!" moment when my students begin to see the connections in that book.

Thank you so much for writing this blog entry. I am an elementary librarian (@monarchlibrary on Twitter) and mother of a 7th grader. My son and I have read aloud together every night since he was a baby. Last night we finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis' "Elijah of Buxton". Books are a huge part of our nightly routine. We read a wide variety of genres from favorite picture books of my youth, historical fiction, sci-fi, biographies, audio books, graphic novels, and nonfiction selections. I use books to as a bridge to difficult conversations about adolescence, body changes, bullying, crushes, poverty, civil rights, etc. Each night I feel so lucky that my son still gets excited about reading and he feels disappointed when we can't read because its too late in the night. I bet we will continue to read together until he is off to college...or at least until he finds a girlfriend. :/

I really enjoyed this post. I remember when I was in the 8th grade, my teacher would read The Lion,The Witch, and The Wardrobe every day. This was one of my favorite school memories. I recently started reading aloud to my 5th grade Special Ed. class. They don't seem to be interested, but I will continue to do it!

I couldn't agree more. We read to our children every night after dinner -- even into their teens. They loved it and begged for more. (I must admit we didn't have either TV or the Internet back in the late 1980's as distractions.)The experience bonded us and gave us a common frame of reference as we joked with favorite phrases from our reading. We normally chose books above the children's reading levels -- books we could all enjoy.

My 7th and 8th graders get a kick out of being read aloud to. I tease them by saying, "It's story time, boys and girls!" and they respond by acting like little children as they run for the pillows and gather around the area where I sit to read. My GT classes always love Fablehaven and Zach's Lie. My other classes like I Can't Believe I Have To Do This because it was about a boy who received a journal for his birthday from his mother and is mortified that he is required to write in it every day. He warms up to the idea slowly - just like some of my students begin to warm up to the idea as they go through my class.

Thanks once again, Donalyn, for giving your readers a wonderful idea and something to think about for their classrooms. Now, about that free book...:)

I have used the book "I Can't Believe I Have to Do This" also, to introduce journal writing to my students. I teach eighth grade students with moderate special needs. Another 'journaling-themed' book is "Don't You Dare Read this Mrs. Dunphrey" by Margaret Peterson-Haddix.She has written so many high interest books that this is a great book to begin their adventures with Haddix!My favorite book for reading aloud to my students is "Guys Read," compiled by author Jon Sczieska. Jack Gantos' "The Follower" story is a beginning of the year tradition that provides me with a baseline writing sample as well as insight into my new students. The students, boys and girls, love the short stories written by famous male authors about boyhood trials and tribulations. The great thing is that they are short, high interest stories, that give students a 'taste' of authors they might not try. And if students want to learn more about the authors, their books, or get more book recommendations they can go to the Guys Read website.

Congratulations! The New Zealand Create Readers blog has presented your inspiring blog with a Butterfly Award. See here for details. http://createreaders.natlib.govt.nz/2009/03/create-readers-presents-butterfly.html

I have been reading here for a while and love everything you have written. My daughter is one of those kids who seemingly taught herself to read. I am visually impaired and a single parent, so I am not sure exactly how she did it, but she did. She loves reading and writing. I can’t wait for her to read some of the books you suggested.

With this in mind – and after reading the posts from the last week’s Share a Book… I was a bit surprised and disappointed to learn yesterday that her 3rd grade teacher no longer reads aloud to the class. My daughter has been raised on audio books. It is the way we can share books… and we do it to date. The teacher apparently believes that the class needs to focus on silent reading over her reading aloud. I honestly was stunned. The importance of reading aloud is significant whether the child is having reading challenges or excelling. I have amazing memories of my school days and the wonderful books that were read – books I never would have read on my own.

I know that SOL tests are nearing and that the teachers are starting to prepare the classes for these exams (Fairfax County, Virginia) but this is 3rd grade. Have we completely lost sight of the benefits that come from teaching and modeling and sharing due to the desire to prepare for tests?

I read aloud to my boys (14, 15 and 18) every morning) American classics, as well as less challenging books. The Outsiders and The Hobbit were the most clamoured for. I can honestly say that the Iliad and the Odyssey work very well as read alouds, particularly as they were originally meant to be recited, rather than spoken. Use the Stanley Lombardo translations--they're closest to the original Greek use of meter.

Donalyn, thank you for so many things! a teenager who loves to read...mostly thanks to you. For your continuing ideas and support for building lifelong readers. For this blog because I was thinking that us merely reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the same time was a great idea. Now Im figuring out which book I will read to Brian next. I've just ordered a copy of your book that we'd love for you to sign. I am forever indebted to you for the reader in my home. 9th grade and still reading more books than I can count.
you're the best....toni

Thank you for sharing the importance of reading to children. I see more and more teachers dropping read aloud time and replacing it with a state reading assessment practice sheet. My website is dedicated to justifying read alouds as a way to reinforce reading strategies.

One of my favorite high school memories is of the time my honors English teacher (junior year, mind you!), Mr. Dant, read aloud and vividly acted out "Beowulf" for the class. High schoolers need to be read to as well! Thanks for your consistently insightful posts.

You sound like a wonderful teacher! I'm so happy to have found this post.

I've had teachers tell me that there is no time for reading aloud to students anymore. I've rarely seen widespread use of picture books beyond the primary grades. It's unfortunate, because there are so many wonderful picture books available for all ages of students, and they make it so easy to integrate subjects.

I believe that parents need to know that they cannot rely on academic reading alone once their children become independent readers. They can instill a love of reading by modeling it themselves, and by helping their children to seek out enjoyable subjects and authors.

Many people believe that newspapers will be phased out within a few years, due to online resources. I really hope that books don't become an endangered species as well. While online articles and other resources are great, they'll never provide quite the same reading experience as real books do.

Thank you so much for stressing how important reading aloud really is for all ages of children. You're never too old for a read aloud of a great piece of children's literature!

I was so happy to find this web site and be reminded how important read alouds are in the classroom, no matter the age of the students. I teach fifth grade and have gotten away from doing this lately because of the pressure of state testing. After reading these comments, I will revive that practice tomorrow! I especially liked the idea of students bringing in their favorite read alouds. I'm going to do that the last week of school, and can hardly wait to see what they bring in!

I am not a teacher, but I am and always have been an avid reader. When my children were very young I started reading to them every night. It wasn't Christmas if I hadn't read "The Best Christmas Pagent Ever" to them. While in elem school we participated in a Parents as Reading Partners program. For us it wasn't much change but it gave me an excuse to read aloud to my children as they got older and went off in to middle school. I found out that I did not need excuses. It became abudently clear to me how much they enjoyed being read to when I was reading a young adult book to my then 5th grade daughter (my youngest) for PARP as her older brothers - now in HS did homework in the same room. While I was reading she left the room to prepare for bed, so I asked her if she was still listening, and if not that I would stop reading for the evening. That's when my 10th grade son piped up while doing homework on the computer -"Don't stop reading Mom - I'm still listening." My children (the 2 oldest are now out of college) have all been excellent students and readers. They remain avid readers as well. I love your comments and blogs - and we need more teachers like you!

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