Why We Need to Read Aloud to Big Kids

“Reading is the skill.” –Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion.

As kids get older, teachers tend to do fewer and fewer read-alouds. This robs students of a valuable experience and makes them feel that reading is no longer fun. There are so many reasons why I make reading aloud a priority in my middle school classroom.

I have always found that middle schoolers and high schoolers love read-alouds. I love it too. For one, reading aloud from a shared text is an almost foolproof way to settle kids down after a rowdy class transition. It can help establish a calm atmosphere in addition to helping me reach instructional goals. The confident students embrace the chance to participate and read aloud, while the shy or struggling readers gain valuable, if reluctant experience when it’s their turn. The opportunity to hear fluent readers, including the teacher, is important.

Our whole-class reading of classic books like Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and The Giver are some of my favorite memories of teaching. Reading Tears of a Tiger aloud as a class moved us to tears. The same goes for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 

part time indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: this chapter is a read-aloud must!

Secondary teachers tend to assign chapters and passages as homework. Frankly, I can’t be sure students are doing the assigned reading when they’re at home, and from my experience with assessments, it’s clear that they’re not reading. Also, for my students with reading challenges, I am concerned about how much of the independent reading they will actually understand.

When we read a book aloud together, we have a shared experience and a shared literary work that we can use as an example throughout the year. Students can use these texts as a basis for understanding the literary terms we discuss, making lessons more meaningful. There are so many metacognitive skills I can address while doing a “read-aloud, think-aloud,” including understanding vocabulary words in context, asking questions while I read, making predictions, visualizing, and more. These are sometimes called Before, During and After, or B-D-A reading strategies. Graphic organizers can help you implement these powerful reading strategies, like the ones here.

Some people have questioned the benefits of reading aloud to middle schoolers, but I am convinced it’s a best practice.

In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov gives great advice about reading aloud–a practice he supports–which he calls “Control the Game” strategies: these are ways to ensure that the highest percentage of students are actually reading the book while readers take turns. He suggests picking readers randomly rather than in some predictable pattern. (I like to use the random function on ClassDojo to do this.) Also, have these students read for unpredictable amounts of time. Finally, the teacher reads aloud to bridge difficult sections and to keep the pace moving forward.

Lastly, I believe sometimes the right thing to do is to read aloud to students without having any instructional agenda. My 4th grade teacher read aloud to us on a regular basis, and I still remember the stories he read. Hearing his expressive, excited reading, the vocabulary in context, and the author’s skilled storytelling was enough from which to benefit. Every Halloween I like to read a scary story aloud to the kids, like “The Open Window” by Saki. They listen with rapt attention.

How do you incorporate read-alouds in your secondary classroom? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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