With a carefully chosen book, read aloud time is a magical part of the day where students can open their imagination and even reluctant readers can find the joy in a story. However, many times read aloud is put aside due to the numerous stresses and requirements that must be fulfilled within the school day. It is easy to forget just how important the read aloud is to the classroom.
I met Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was in third grade and my teacher read Little House in the Big Woods as a read aloud after lunch. I would settle in, put my head on the desk, and travel back in time. I couldn't understand how other students could waste this precious time by going to the restroom or a trip to the drinking fountain. To this day, I make sure everyone has had a chance to take care of business before I open our chapter book.
So why do teachers read aloud, beside the fact that most of us love to read? What are we teaching our students during this time? Reading aloud, sharing a story together - experiencing the suspense, the drama, the emotion - brings a classroom community closer together. It gives the teacher and students a shared experience, a common point of reference. Teachers often choose books that relate to content being taught in the classroom. Reading Sarah Plain and Tall to students on the East or West coast gives them a picture of the prairie and a taste of the rural life on the plains. It is a study in the compare and contrast strategy as students see the ocean and the prairie through Sarah’s eyes.
This shared experience levels the playing field between students who are avid readers and those who struggle to master the skill. It allows students who are slower to read the same access to literature their reading classmates take for granted. When the teacher reads a great book to the whole class, she opens the door for conversation about the book between all students in the class. In primary classrooms, this shared experience often turns into a topic of play as students re-enact the story.
Choosing read alouds from different genres opens the world for young learners. A child who loves to go to the library, and heads right for the non-fiction animal shelf every visit, may discover a kindred spirit in Ramona the Pest. Without the teacher to hand the keys of discovery to students, they do not know the wide world that awaits them with each trip to the library.
Listening to a good book helps children to relax and settle their bodies. As they get involved in the story, they physically relax and their minds focus on a story outside of themselves. The recess squabbles, the anticipation of their extra curricular activities, the insecurity about their place in the class all fades away as they get lost in someone else’s story. For students who find school a series of trials with more failures than successes, it’s a time to relax and enjoy a stress free moment in their day. As students lose themselves in a good story, they relax and forget to be anxious about upcoming tests and activities. They are in a better state of mind to jump back into the academic routine.
It’s safe to say that Mrs. Sherman knew exactly what she was doing when she chose engaging, entertaining stories to read in those few minutes after lunch and recess.
I'm always looking for recommendations. What books do you love to read aloud to your class?