Education Opinion

Never Too Old: Reading Aloud to Independent Readers

By Donalyn Miller — March 10, 2009 5 min read
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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 Wallsby 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

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.