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


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