Read Aloud, Part 4

A young Alfred Munnings reading aloud outside ...
A young Alfred Munnings reading aloud outside on the grass, circa 1911, by Harold Knight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever wonder what to do with your child after reading aloud with them?  I’ve always felt like the activity was unfinished if I just read and then moved on to another book or activity.  Timothy Rasinski explains several ways to respond to reading in The Fluent Reader.

Responding orally can be a way of allowing your child or student to discuss the story with you and explain what they understood.  With younger kids, ask them literal questions about details of the story.  Stretch their thinking and that of older ones with open ended questions.  Ask them to predict what will happen next.  With my own boys, I ask them to identify pictures or ask them about details that would show me they understand the basic information.  I want them to expand their thoughts and comprehend the text at a deeper level.  They make guesses about what might happen next and talk about what parts they like and don’t like.  My students constantly discuss the text with each other with a think-pair-share activity and answer higher level questions like, “Why do you think the main character did…?”

Kids can respond visually, too.  Students can either draw a scene from the book or describe the mental imagery they experienced while listening.  I love to have my students draw while I read or after reading and then share similarities and differences in the pictures.  I search for books with great description to use to teach them to create a picture in their mind to “see” what they hear.

Once children are able to write and put their thoughts on paper they can use an open ended journal to write about anything they want related to what was read.  They could also respond in writing to a given prompt.  I use free-writing and dialectical journals quite a bit as well as providing a prompt that asks the kids to describe characters and what influences them, predict what would happen next,  to rewrite the end of the story, etc.  Now that my oldest son is starting to write, I want to help him begin to write in response to what I read to him.

Finally, kids and students can show their understanding physically.  “Tableau” is an activity where a group of students create a physical depcition of a scene from what they heard read.  At home, my boys and I constantly use part of stories in our daily activities.  We walk with our toes pointed in and out as in The Snowy Day, or copy the moves from Barnyard Dance.  My students enjoy role playing scenes from our read aloud, too.

Rasinski lists out specific examples of activities to do in responding to read aloud as follows:

“Oral Response:  Discussion; Think, Pair, Share; Oral reading of selected passages

Written Response:  Writing to a prompt; Open-ended writing; Journal writing; Poetry writing

Visual Response:  Creating/drawing pictures; Sketch-to-stretch; Induced imagery

Physical Response:  Tableau; Pantomime; Dance and movement

Combinations of any of the above:  For examples, students may create a poster for a story, using words and pictures, and act out the story, using movement and oral language.”

The importance of responding to a read aloud is to show you what they understood and to deepen their own comprehension.

Read Aloud, Part III

Reading Aloud to Children
Reading Aloud to Children (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

Good readers have conversations in their heads as they read to themselves.  They determine meaning, make connections to prior knowledge, and use various correction strategies when the text doesn’t make sense.  Students who struggle, usually need to be taught how to have this conversation.  Conducting a read aloud is one way to teach challenged readers how to make sense of what they read.

The first step, according to Rasinski in The Fluent Reader, is to set the stage.  He created an environment that matches the most of the text being read.  Light a candle, play background music, change the lighting, or begin with a poem or a quote. Some teachers bring food that may be related to their reading.  Whatever you do, the point is to help your children/students connect with the text.

Secondly, as you read to your children/students, think out loud.  Model that mental conversation so the kids know what you are thinking.  Stop occasionally and talk through your process of understanding difficult text or decoding an unknown word.  Ask the questions that run through your mind.  Explain the connections you make as your read.  My students love it when they learn something new about me by the connections I make with what I’m reading.  Predict what you think might happen next.

I like to have students practice thinking aloud by reading short sections, then writing on a Post-It note what went through their minds as they read.  Did they have a question? Did they make a personal connection?  Was anything unclear?  By allowing them to experience this process with guidance, prompting and feedback, they will begin to develop the use of this strategy on their own.

Read Aloud, Part II

Caldecott Medal Books
Caldecott Medal Books (Photo credit: anneheathen)

After understanding why reading aloud to our kids is so beneficial, the next step is to get ready for your oral reading.  Timothy Rasinski offers components to think about when preparing for your read aloud in The Fluent Reader

First, when you read and creating a comfortable atmosphere is important.  The children need to have an environment that is set up for listening.  At home, our kids prefer to be read to first thing in the morning when they are still calm and quiet and at bedtime as a time to wind down and relax.  We snuggle up in a comfy chair or in a bed and read a few books until they are ready to play or relaxed enough to go to sleep.  At school, I choose to read for 15-20 minutes at the beginning of a class period as a warm up or at the end of the period with an exit ticket.  I let my students get comfortable at their desks or on the floor so they will be more apt to listen.

Next, you need to choose the right book.  We make different choices for different kids and different reasons for reading.  My own children tend to drive the decision of what we read out loud.  They each have their favorites that they love to hear over and over.  We provide a literacy rich environment for them that has several forms of text to choose from and a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  We’ve read everything from Jamberry to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to parts of the Harry Potter series.  They have even requested to hear parts of the books we are currently reading.  For my students, I read either books that tie into the curriculum in their other classes or books that will increase their background knowledge and vocabulary and/or allow for use of various reading comprehension strategies.  Titles like Red Scarf Girl, My Brother Sam is Dead, and Breadwinner all connect to our social studies curriculum.  Others I enjoy are Touching Spirit Bear, Surviving the Applewhites, and anything by Roald Dahl. Newbery and Caldecott award winners are great options, too, and Jim Trelease provides a huge list of suggestions in The Read-Aloud Handbook.

Finally, Rasinski says practicing is necessary “in order to provide them with the most fluent, and expressive example possible.”  I believe it is important to be familiar with the text before reading aloud.  When we have had experience with the book, magazine, newspaper article, etc., we are able to express greater meaning to our listener with how we read.  I think my years of experience reading orally to my students helped when it came time for me to read the script for The Fascinating World of… DVD series.  It just came naturally for me. Knowing what parts to emphasize, when to change voices, and the best parts to change volume, tempo, or phrasing will make for a rewarding read aloud experience for both you and your listener.

Read Aloud, Part 1

Cover of "The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading...
Cover via Amazon

Reading out loud to our children is so very important to their language development, finding enjoyment in reading, and increasing their own reading skills.  My boys LOVE to be read to and even my middle school students enjoy hearing a story read aloud. Professionally, I get excited when I see that spark in a student when we’ve found a topic/author/book series/etc. that they are interested in due to something I read to the class.  Personally, I find great pleasure in the opportunity to snuggle up with my kids and bond with them over a book or two (or ten). As part of my independent professional development, I’ve been reading, The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension by Timothy V. Rasinski.  I felt that he clearly outlines how reading aloud benefits kids of all ages, how to prepare for a read aloud, and what to do during and after a read aloud. This will be the first in a four part series discussing read alouds.

Rasinski lists the benefits of read aloud in this way:

1.  Improves Comprehension and Vocabulary

Exposing our children to more complex written language (in comparison to oral language) provides the opportunity to ask questions about the text because they aren’t losing meaning when decoding the words.  We can expose them to advanced vocabulary in the context of a meaningful topic.  I was shocked to read that, according to Rasinski, “most printed material, even a children’s book, has more sophisticated words than nearly every form of oral language.  For example, they note that the level of vocabulary in story books for preschoolers is at approximately the same level as speech between college graduates.” My husband and I read everything to our kids.  Parker and Brandon have been interested in everything from the simple infant-targeted board books to the books we are reading to articles in Time magazine.  Parker now has a much more sophisticated vocabulary than an average three year old.

2.  Increases Fluency

I’ve always felt that reading out loud to my students allows them to hear what a good reader sounds like.  Fluency isn’t just correctly reading the words on the page.  It’s conveying meaning with how you read the words.  Rasinski stated, “Through intonation, expression, phrasing, and pausing at the appropriate points, the reader demonstrates that meaning is embedded in more than just the words; it’s also in the interpretation of the words.”  I teach my students to “read the punctuation” and emphasize certain words to allow their listener to hear the meaning of the text.  We practice placing greater emphasis on different words of the same sentence and discuss how the meaning of the sentence changes each time.  Try this.  Read aloud the sentence, “I wanted some of that,” four different times, each time emphasizing “I,” “wanted,” “some,” and “that.”  Hear how the meaning of the sentence changes each time it is read?

3.  Builds Motivation

Did I mention that my boys LOVE being read to?  They fight over chair and lap space.  We have to negotiate how many books are read in one sitting.  At bedtime, it’s not uncommon for Brandon to load up our lap with books to read before finally being put into his crib or for Parker to say, “Mommy! Mommy! Wake up!  I want to hear what happens next!” during the fourth reading in a row of his favorite book of the night.  Both of them now find their own enjoyment in reading books.  Usually, if my husband or I suddenly notice we can’t hear one or both of them, it means they’re sitting with a pile of books in their laps, focused on each page.

At school, I typically have a book or two set aside specifically for read aloud.  I read at the beginning of each class, for the entire period, and/or if we finish a lesson before the bell rings.  My students will ask me to read when we have some down-time. Rasinski said, “In a study of the factors that motivate middle-grade students to read, for example, Ivey and Broaddus (2001) found that being read to by the teacher was second only to free reading as the activity students enjoyed most.”  I agree with him.  Year after year, my students want to be read to and are motivated to check out other books by the same author or on a similar topic, and they frequently ask if there is a sequel to read next.

Regular oral reading is not only enjoyable to all ages; it is a strong factor in advancement of vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and motivation to read.  So make reading to your kids part of your daily routine.  Read to each other on road trips. Attend story time at the local library.  And find out if your child’s teacher incorporates read aloud into classroom activities. Keep reading, everyone!