Now Online: In Defense of Read-Aloud

in-defense-of-read-aloudSteven convinces us that reading aloud must be a cornerstone of every teaching day regardless of the age level, subject matter, or discipline we teach.
—Regie Routman

Should be on every teacher’s must-read list.
—Jim Trelease

What do you say to someone who questions the value of reading aloud to your students? How can you use read-aloud to teach reading and writing skills? And how can you enhance your performance to leave your students engaged, transfixed, and begging for more?

Drawing on the latest research, Steven Layne provides a convincing argument for reading aloud every day across the grades, and gives teachers practical advice and specific strategies in his new book, In Defense of Read‑Aloud. You’ll learn how to:

  • arrange the best seating plan;
  • select the best read-aloud;
  • prepare for and launch a new read-aloud;
  • plan for teachable moments; and
  • read with expression to maximize engagement.

Correspondence between teachers and noted authors Katherine Paterson, Lois Lowry, Nancy Werlin, Andrew Clements, and Ben Mikaelsen open each chapter, and the book is filled with reflections and book suggestions from teachers and prominent educators such as Brian Cambourne, Richard Allington, Debbie Diller, Doug Fisher, Kelly Gallagher, Linda Hoyt, and Donalyn Miller.

In Defense of Read‑Aloud will entertain, challenge, and inspire you to make the most of this essential literacy teaching practice. You can preview the entire book online now!

1 comment December 15th, 2014

Quick Tip Tuesday: Reading aloud with songbooks

Despite time limits, mandates, and important tests to give, Debbie Miller believes that learning to read should still be a joyful experience for students. “Give children the luxury of listening to well-written stories with interesting plots, singing songs and playing with their words, and exploring a wide variety of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and rhymes,” she writes in her book Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades. In this week’s Quick Tip she shares why she often picks a songbook for a classroom read-aloud.

My first read-aloud is almost always a songbook. I introduce a new songbook each day, I have two or three favorites ready to go, then I ask for requests. Most days we end up singing six or seven—children love the predictable text, rhythm, and rhyme. This continues well into October, and while we might “graduate” from Five Little Ducks by Raffi and Oh, a Hunting We Will Go by John Langstaff, we begin the day with music all year long. Often I’ll type up the words to favorite songs from CDs, tapes, books, and my Girl Scout days. The children follow along, and once they know the words, laminated copies go into the baskets and plain copies are sent home.

In addition to their repetition, rhythm, and rhyme, my reasons for choosing songbooks and singing songs are many:

  • They’re fun!
  • Children are instantly engaged and motivated to learn to read the words. I have multiple copies, and children can’t wait to get their hands on them.
  • The words and tunes are easy to learn; children read along right away and feel part of the “reading club” almost immediately.
  • They build community. Where else would “Little Rabbit Foo Foo” be declared “our song”?
  • Children love to take them home to share with parents, brothers, and sisters. I send a note with the copies, telling parents the purpose of the songbooks, ways to support their early reader, and reassurances that yes, right now, pointing to words and memorizing are good things! Parents appreciate being connected to the classroom so early in the year, and sometimes respond by sending in words to songs they learned as kids
  • Repeated readings increase phonemic awareness and build sight word vocabularies.

Once we’ve warmed up with songbooks, I read aloud one or two other types of books, depending on their length and the children’s mood.

Sometimes I’ll read one of the books out of the baskets at the children’s tables; I try to vary genre, author, format, and style and think about books this particular group of kids can easily connect with or what might pique their interest.

Reading aloud comes into play throughout the day. After lunch and/or at the end of the day, I often read aloud from a chapter book. Perennial favorites include The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Poppy and Poppy and Rye by Avi, and the My Father the Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannet.

Reading aloud is one of the most important things I do. I can’t believe I used to feel so guilty about it that I’d shut the classroom door! Now I know reading aloud motivates kids to want to learn to read, extends their oral language, and gives them opportunities to connect new information to what they already know. And reading aloud offers teachers opportunities to

  • share a variety of genres
  • model fluency and reading behaviors
  • construct meaning through think-alouds and offer children the time and tools to do the same
  • build community
  • share with kids our love of reading and learning.

8 comments May 31st, 2011

Guest blog post: Read-alouds in sixth grade

Sarah Mulhern is a sixth-grade language arts teacher and the blogger behind The Reading Zone. In this guest blog post she talks about how she uses “Mock Newbery Awards” to get her tweens excited about reading and she explains why read-alouds are not just for younger students.

When I tell people that I read aloud to my sixth grade students daily I get some strange looks.  I also get a lot of questions, mostly along the lines of, “How do you know they are even listening?  Kids that age don’t care about hearing a book read out loud.  They think that’s for babies!”

I usually react by biting my tongue for a moment, to ensure that I don’t lash out at the offending party.  After taking a few deep breaths I calmly explain that my students may feel the same way at the beginning of the year but the evaluations they complete at the end of the year rate read-alouds as one of the top three experiences of their sixth grade year. It’s the number one way I turn my students on to reading! Inevitably, this conversation leads to how I get my students to buy into read-alouds when they are “too old” to be read to.  Well, that’s simple:  Mock Newbery.

I begin each school year with a Mock Newbery.  I explain to my students in the first week of school that we will be reading and enjoying a variety of novels as part of our daily read aloud.  I tell them that while these novels will be very different- various genres, authors, and topics- they will all have one thing in common.  Each book we share as a class from September to January will be eligible for the Newbery Medal that is awarded by the American Library Association in January. Tween and teens love competition and the Mock Newbery builds community while letting students work towards a common goal- predicting Newbery Medal and Honor winners for the current year.

I spend most of the summer scouring the blogosphere for books that are receiving a lot of Newbery buzz. I look at starred reviews in School Library Journal, Kirkus, and other industry magazines. I look for books that bloggers are talking about and praising.  I read these books myself and decide on the first book we will share as a class.  I continue reading books through the fall, looking for the books we will share in October, November, and December.  I don’t always read the same books with all four classes and will sometimes choose books based on class needs and class personalities.  But no matter what, we chart the books we read on our Mock Newbery bulletin board.

Our bulletin board is a focal point in our classroom.  I post the cover of each book we read together. When different classes read different books this serves as an advertisement for a variety of new books, above and beyond any book talks I do in class.  Throughout the school year we refer to the books we have read together and the bulletin board serves as a visual reminder of our shared reading for my visual learners.

After winter break my classes do a brief unit on the history of the Newbery Award and the criteria for awarding the medal.  After studying the criteria for a few days each student writes a short essay supporting the book they think deserves the Newbery, according to the criteria.  It’s a great exercise in critical thinking and writing about reading and the students get really into it.  We have heated debates about the merits of each book we read and students get very heated when supporting their personal favorite!

But the best part of our Mock Newbery read aloud time is when we sit down together in January and watch the live webcast of the awards.  Last year my students were on the edge of the seats and some even jumped for joy when their favorites won the medal or an honor.   But I’m fairly certain nothing will beat a class full of students turning to me after cheering for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and exclaiming, “We knew it would be eligible! We knew it!”  This was a class of once-dormant readers who were now experts on the Newbery criteria and were prepared to defend to their death that The Graveyard Book was eligible for a Newbery despite the fact that the fourth chapter was previously published as a short story.

That is the reason I share read-alouds with my tweens. That moment alone makes it worth the time and energy I spend on choosing books and sharing them with my students.

2 comments June 28th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Talking and Reading Aloud

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Talking, Writing & Thinking About Books: 101 Ready-to-Use Classroom Activities That Build Reading Comprehension by Jo Phenix. The set of activities in this downloadable and printable PDF focus on using oral reading to enhance students’ understanding and to generate ideas for their own writing.

Some of the activities include creating a radio advertisement, writing a song, giving a speech, and “chalk talk.” Download this chapter from Jo’s book right here!

Add comment September 22nd, 2009

Share a Story – Shape a Future: Tips for Parents

In today’s post, Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Know-How and the upcoming Notebook Connections, shares how she reads with and for her son every evening. Aimee offers advice for parents on how to make evening story time a launching pad for talking about books with kids.

See the other topics in today’s lineup at The Book Chook.

EXCLUSIVE: Get a sneak peek of Aimee’s new book!

Reading Aloud at Home

One of my favorite times during the day is when I read aloud to my son. He’s 9 years old, and he’s more than capable to read on his own. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. It gives me valuable insight to the person my son is becoming as well as opportunities to nurture his growth as a reader.

It’s important to make this time enjoyable for you and your child. My son and I have a designated time and place where we read together. I am careful not to turn this into school, but a quiet time for him and I to enjoy a good book. Everything else will come about naturally.

When I read aloud to my son, I choose books like I choose the vegetable I’ll make for dinner. I often choose to cook vegetables that I think he’ll like but may not choose on his own to try. And sometimes, I have to sneak the vegetable into his diet by tricking him or covering it up with something yummy. Reading books with him is similar. I try to choose books that he may not pick up to read on his own but that I think he’ll enjoy. I also may choose books based on what he’s studying – historical fiction to help him visualize the Revolutionary War for example. That way I’m able to enrich his experience with different genres.

This is not to say that my son never chooses the book we read. He does. And there are times I’ll select two or three books for him to choose from. I just figure that he gets to choose the books he reads to himself, and I get to choose the ones I read aloud. It’s like who gets to choose the radio station while in the car. There is no right answer, except for what works for you.

Reading with my child creates opportunity for me to model fluent reading with appropriate intonation. Many children read monotone, even as they get older, because as the text gets harder, it’s more difficult to figure out the intonation. I’m still a more fluent reader than my son, so by simply reading aloud, I can model habits of good readers. When I come to a word I may not know, or think he may not know, I stop to think about what it might mean. If as I’m reading, I get confused or my mind trailed off, I stop and tell him I have to reread that part and why we’re doing it. I’m not putting on a show, and I can do this quite casually. After all, in the books I read to myself, I do have to stop and think about words or reread parts I don’t understand. Now I’m just doing it aloud with him so he can see me doing it.

Discussing the books we’re reading is very natural. I don’t quiz him or tell him to write about it. But I do have some ways to get him to talk about the book. Here are three tips:

1. Before we read each night, my son is responsible for a ‘nutshell summary.’ This is a quick summary of the chapter we read the night before. It’s not a retelling of the whole book, just a way to remind us what’s happening in the story before we begin to read. I never interrupt him during this time. If he forgot an important part, I may say something like, “Oh, and do you remember when…”

2. My son will stop me from reading when he wants to talk about his thinking. It wasn’t always this way. So, to get him willing to stop and talk, I would stop in the story when I felt the urge to share my thinking. Sometimes we both wait until the end of the chapter or picture book. It just depends on what feels the most natural at the time.

3. When my son talks about the book, I insist he uses the character names. This is important. So if he says the “boy” or uses a pronoun before mentioning the character’s name, I ask him, “Do you remember the character’s name?” If he doesn’t, we either look back in the story or I tell him. (It depends how close to bedtime it is!) If a child doesn’t know a character’s name or can’t accurately tell you where the story is happening, it’s likely they don’t understand what’s going on. You’ll want to help your child with these details.

Overall, when reading aloud to your child, just be natural. Allow conversation to flow from the book based on your thinking and your child’s. If nothing else, you establish a wonderful ritual that helps you and your child connect … over books.

4 comments March 12th, 2009

Share a Story-Shape a Future… with nonfiction!

This post is part of the Share a Story – Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy. Today’s focus is “Selecting Reading Material.” The complete schedule for the week-long blog tour can be found here.

Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching fourth and fifth graders for over twenty years. In her book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud, she shows teachers how to identify and capitalize on those teachable moments that surround read-aloud time in the classroom. In today’s post she shares her favorite nonfiction works for read-aloud. You can find more topics on today’s host blog, The Reading Zone.

Using Non-Fiction for Real-Aloud

In 2002, Stenhouse published my book, Reconsidering Read-Aloud. I’m proud to say that in the seven years since then, I haven’t stopped reconsidering the content or the function of read aloud as a part of the balanced literacy approach I take in my classroom.

Three of the biggest changes in my read aloud over the past seven years are:

  • I read much more nonfiction aloud.
  • I read aloud more frequently during the day now, and often for shorter periods of time.
  • I don’t finish every book from which I read aloud — sometimes my read aloud is a preview or a “book hook.”

Here are some of the reasons I read aloud nonfiction:

I read aloud nonfiction to teach or review or reinforce content.

When we were studying weather, I read aloud THE SNOW SHOW: WITH CHEF KELVIN by Carolyn Fisher. It was a fun way to review the concepts of evaporation, condensation and precipitation.

I read aloud nonfiction to introduce or review the structures of nonfiction text.

The student population of my school is very diverse. I read ONE WORLD, MANY RELIGIONS by Mary Pope Osborne to promote discussions about our similarities and differences, but we wound up noticing the way each section was organized, the way the chapter and topic headings alerted us to get ready for new information, and the way a topic sentence in a paragraph promoted accurate predictions about the information that followed.

I read aloud nonfiction to model thinking strategies.

I didn’t read aloud all of WATER HOLE (24 HOURS) by Zahavit Shalev (DK), but I wanted my students to know how to make sense of all of the information that’s presented on each page. As I read aloud the first couple of pages, I talked about how my eye was moving across each page. I flipped back and forth to show them some of the features that mark time on each page. I asked questions, made connections, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the cute baby elephants (and at the recycling process that takes care of the massive amounts of elephant dung that the herd leaves behind!).

I read aloud nonfiction to tempt my students to read it more often.

All I would have had to do to sell THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO SURVIVAL HANDBOOK: JUNIOR EDITION by David Borgenicht and Robin Epstein would have been to read aloud a few of the topics in the table of contents (How to Soothe a Peeved Parental Unit, How to Survive Outdoor Chores, How to Deal with Poo on Your Shoe). I did that, but then I read just one complete section: How to Survive Farting in Public. The book hasn’t been back on the shelf since.

In another example, I tempted my students by reading one entry in HOW BIG IS IT? by Ben Hillman and they went on to read every entry in all of his books in the How Big/Strong/Fast Is It series.

I read aloud nonfiction that doesn’t look or act like nonfiction to challenge my students’ thinking about genre.

WHY? by Lila Prap. Are we supposed to take this book seriously and learn about animals, or is it a joke book, or a book to challenge us to think more creatively? (or all of the above?)

TALKIN’ ABOUT BESSIE by Nikki Grimes. Is this a biography? But it’s written in poems! And the poems are all from different points of view!

And finally, most of all, I read aloud nonfiction for the sheer enjoyment of it — for the talk we have — for the connections and questions and WOW moments that come when young people learn about the way their world works, about the people who have made their world what it is, and about their place in our amazing world.

13 comments March 10th, 2009

Share a Story – Shape a Future blog tour

Share a Story - Shape a FutureStenhouse will be participating in an exciting blog tour event next week. Share a Story – Shape a Future is a blog event for literacy. Throughout the week, blogging librarians, teachers, parents, authors, illustrators and people passionate about literacy will offer ideas on ways to promote reading and books. You won’t find statistics, academic analysis, or judgments that tell you why you should read. Instead, bloggers will share ideas about ways to engage kids as readers.

The tour starts Monday, March 9. You can find the full schedule here. Mary Lee Hahn, author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud will discuss using nonfiction read-alouds in her post March 10, right here on The Stenhouse Blog. Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Connections, will be here March 11 to talk about how parents can talk to their kids about books.

Check out these and other exciting posts and share your thoughts and comments.

Add comment March 5th, 2009


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