The importance of reading aloud in the upper elementary classroom cannot be over emphasized. Reading aloud to students allows them to hear rich language and vocabulary that they may not be able to read on their own, even in the upper elementary grades. It draws them into fascinating stories and expository topics and motivates them to read more.
Reading aloud is standard and expected in the primary grades. But in the intermediate grades, reading aloud is often cast aside because of today’s high curriculum demands. Janet Allen reminds us that fluency, background knowledge, writer’s craft, and vocabulary can all be strengthened while reading aloud in the upper elementary classroom.
How Do We Fit It All In?
So the question is, how can we fit reading aloud into our very short reading block? The answer is to turn your read aloud into a think aloud.
How to Do a Think Aloud
One way to do this is to focus on before-reading strategies, during-reading strategies, and after-reading strategies. For example, during a unit on biographies, you may decide to read aloud the wonderful picture story book, Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport.
Before reading you might say, “When I look at this book, I can tell that it is a biography. I can see that it is a biography because it is about Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a real person. I can also tell that it is a biography because it tells real events in his life. This person probably did something important and that’s why there’s a biography written about him.”
Help students to activate their previous knowledge. Say, “I think about what I already know about Martin Luther King. I know that he was important to the Civil Rights movement.”
Ask the students, “What is the purpose of reading this book?” They will answer, “To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Notice that your conversation so far in your think-aloud has addressed two important standards already, identifying genres and setting a purpose for reading.
I begin to read the book, now thinking out loud about during-reading comprehension strategies.
As I read, I stop frequently to summarize what I have learned so far. I stop to reflect on the author’s use of text features such as graphics, titles, and subtitles. I stop to focus on a particular skill I am using to understand the text, such as cause and effect, plot, or how the setting affects the plot.
The Importance of Inferences
I infer as I read. If I run across a new or interesting word, I model inferring its meaning. I infer character traits. I infer themes and author’s purpose, always referring to the evidence in the text that leads to my inference. Let’s face it, teacher friends. If a student can make inferences, he can comprehend just about anything he reads.
Modeling How to Monitor Comprehension
During reading, I also think out loud about monitoring my comprehension. I stop at parts that might be confusing. I model re-reading a portion of the text or taking notes. I ask questions of the text. I make predictions and adjust my predictions when needed.
After reading, at the end of the text, it’s important to get students to reflect on the text and what they have learned. I model this by articulating my reflections. I summarize the important parts of the text.
Read-Alouds Are Not Just for Entertainment
As you can see, reading aloud in the upper elementary classroom is not just entertainment. It is a way to dish up reading comprehension strategies during real world, authentic reading. Students will begin to internalize what good readers do to comprehend text.
Motivation to Read More
Just as importantly, students will be inspired to read more and more. Some of the most memorable stories we read as a class are the stories the teacher reads aloud. This will inspire a hunger for more delicious texts so they can re-live the exciting texts shared during your stories read out loud.
Remember to mix up the genres. Choose luscious fictional texts, beautiful expository texts that will intrigue your students with historical events and the wonders of the world and the universe, poems that play with words, and news articles with topics of interest to your students. Think aloud as you read them all. Your students will love the shared reading experiences.
High Interest, Differentiated Reading Passages
In my inclusion classroom, I usually taught students who ranged in reading levels from 2nd grade to 10th grade. I always found it challenging to find high interest passages that all my students could enjoy and learn from. To fill that need, I wrote passages for an entire school year. Each passage is written on two levels.
Best of all, all my students could enjoy the same topic with the same images and the same grade level vocabulary. Even the questions are the same in both levels. That way, each student can access the text, and all can share in the same, deep discussions about the text, whether in whole group or small group. No one feels left out. You can find these high-interest reading passages here.
Allen, J. (2000). Yellow brick roads: Shared and guided paths to independent reading 4-12. Portland, ME: Stenhouse