Ready for the World with Powerful Literacy Practices

by Mau­r­na Rome

I believe whole-heart­ed­ly in the impor­tance of read­ing aloud dai­ly to my stu­dents. On days I fail to meet this goal, I go home feel­ing like I’ve let the kids down. I recall the fren­zy of Valentine’s Day with the excite­ment of school-wide bin­go, spe­cial class projects and more than enough can­dy — but no time spent read­ing aloud. I doubt that the kids left my class think­ing that some­thing was miss­ing that day and I am sure no one report­ed to their par­ents that their teacher real­ly blew it by not read­ing to them. Yet it both­ered me great­ly. It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last day I fall short. How­ev­er, I am ded­i­cat­ed to mak­ing read­ing aloud a pri­or­i­ty in my class­room. I encour­age every teacher to join me in mak­ing it a goal that stu­dents will not miss out on this essen­tial ingre­di­ent from our arse­nal of lit­er­a­cy best practices.

cover imageMore than 30 years ago, Jim Tre­lease wrote a lit­tle book that would become a nation­al best sell­er, with more than a mil­lion copies sold. The 7th edi­tion of The Read Aloud Hand­book was released in 2013. It high­lights present-day lit­er­a­cy chal­lenges as well as those that have remained the same since 1982. I high­ly rec­om­mend this gem, along with sev­er­al oth­er “pro­fes­sion­al books” on this top­ic by experts I great­ly admire: Unwrap­ping the Read Aloud by Lester Lam­i­nack; Ignit­ing a Pas­sion for Read­ing by Steven Layne, and Read­ing Mag­ic: Why Read­ing Aloud to Our Chil­dren Will Change Their Lives For­ev­er by Mem Fox.
I can guar­an­tee that none of the 9 year olds in my class­room have read any of the texts men­tioned above. Chances are that they are also not aware of the recent report issued by Scholas­tic assert­ing that we can pre­dict which kids will become our best read­ers based on how often they have ben­e­fit­ted from being read to.

How­ev­er, when I recent­ly chal­lenged my stu­dents to write a let­ter to teach­ers every­where about the impor­tance of read­ing out loud to kids, they seem to have hit the nail on the head. Here is a sam­pling of their wis­dom and insight:

  • I think it’s a good idea because every stu­dent will be won­der­ing every time you read.
  • Your stu­dents might learn new words that they don’t know.
  • It’s a good idea to read chap­ter books to your stu­dents because they can see pic­tures in their minds.
  • Chap­ter books are full of adventures.
  • They can relate with some­thing they did or some­thing one of their fam­i­ly mem­bers did.
  • They can be bet­ter writers.
  • If it’s a fun­ny chap­ter book, you will get a laugh out of it.
  • It gives kids ideas and more imag­i­na­tion. It might make kids want to read even more.

Lam­i­nack has iden­ti­fied six types of read alouds that offer teach­ers a sure fire way to accom­plish the fol­low­ing: sup­port stan­dards, mod­el the process of writ­ing, build vocab­u­lary, encour­age chil­dren to read inde­pen­dent­ly, demon­strate flu­ent read­ing and pro­mote com­mu­ni­ty. As I reflect on the respons­es from my stu­dents, I see that all six pur­pos­es are men­tioned. I am con­vinced that the very best books for read­ing aloud are able to incor­po­rate all of the above. What a pow­er­ful approach to mak­ing an impact on lit­er­a­cy achievement!

cover imageLast week we fin­ished the unfor­get­table 2013 New­bery Award win­ner, The One and Only Ivan, by Kather­ine Apple­gate. Here is a peek at how this touch­ing sto­ry played out in Room 132.

Sup­port­ing the stan­dards: See the fol­low­ing exam­ples and notations.

Mod­el­ing the process of writ­ing: Using the six “sign posts” from Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Prob­st, we are always on the look­out for tech­niques the writer uses to tell the sto­ry. While read­ing Ivan, we have dis­cov­ered that “tough ques­tions”, “again and again”, and “words of the wis­er” are woven through­out the sto­ry. Kids are now begin­ning to work these same ele­ments into their own sto­ries!
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.B Use dia­logue and descrip­tions of actions, thoughts, and feel­ings to devel­op expe­ri­ences and events or show the response of char­ac­ters to situations.

Build­ing vocab­u­lary: Dur­ing each read aloud ses­sion, a stu­dent serves as the “word recorder”. Stu­dents are encour­aged to lis­ten care­ful­ly and hold up their thumb any­time they notice a spe­cial or fan­cy word in the text. We talk about those words and the word recorder makes a list of all the words we dis­cuss. Once we had over 30 words, each stu­dent select­ed one word, paint­ed it on poster sized paper (as Ivan would have done) and then drew a pic­ture to show the def­i­n­i­tion.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.4 Deter­mine the mean­ing of words and phras­es as they are used in a text, dis­tin­guish­ing lit­er­al from non­lit­er­al language.

Ivan char­ac­ters in the classroom

Encour­ag­ing stu­dents to read inde­pen­dent­ly: As with all of the books I read out loud in the class­room, stu­dents are eager to check out that very same title from the library. Those that are lucky enough to get their hands on the book bask in the light of know­ing what is yet to come in the sto­ry. They keep the promise of not spoil­ing things for their peers, as they are clear­ly moti­vat­ed to read ahead on their own.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.10 By the end of the year, read and com­pre­hend lit­er­a­ture, includ­ing sto­ries, dra­mas, and poet­ry, at the high end of the grades 2 – 3 text com­plex­i­ty band inde­pen­dent­ly and proficiently.

Demon­strat­ing flu­ent read­ing: To show my stu­dents what smooth oral read­ing sounds like, I empha­size the voice of each char­ac­ter. While read­ing The One and Only Ivan, Ruby is rep­re­sent­ed with a 5 year-old lit­tle girl voice, Ivan has a deep voice and Bob takes on a more sar­cas­tic tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.3.4 Read with suf­fi­cient accu­ra­cy and flu­en­cy to sup­port comprehension.

Lit lunch cel­e­bra­tion of Ivan

Pro­mot­ing Com­mu­ni­ty: The well devel­oped char­ac­ters from our read aloud sto­ries become new friends to us. We talk and think about them as if they are actu­al mem­bers of our class­room, with lines such as “What would Ivan do?” or “Remem­ber when Ivan …” One rainy day dur­ing inside recess, the kids play­ing with our plas­tic ani­mal col­lec­tion proud­ly set up a dis­play of “Ivan” char­ac­ters; Stel­la and Ruby the ele­phants, Bob the dog, Ivan and his sis­ter, Not-Tag, the goril­las, were all arranged to reen­act a scene from the book. It struck me that my stu­dents real­ly are mind­ful of the char­ac­ters we grow to love and admire. I stopped every­thing to draw atten­tion to this sweet ges­ture and once again, my heart flut­tered all because of a great book. This lit­tle pre­tend group of friends remained intact until we fin­ished the book and cel­e­brat­ed with a “Lit Lunch” fea­tur­ing yogurt cov­ered raisins and bananas!

Yes, an effec­tive read aloud can pack a lot of lit­er­a­cy into a short amount of time, yet I know it is often one of the first things that goes when the sched­ule gets too full. If you need more con­vinc­ing to keep the read aloud front and cen­ter, con­sid­er what this young lady has to say…

Dear Teach­ers of Every Grade,
You should read to your stu­dents because they will be bet­ter read­ers and writ­ers and learn faster and they will be ready for the world!

Look­ing for resources to help you plan for suc­cess­ful read alouds in your class­room?
Find­ing the best of the best books to read aloud:

Book­storms on Bookol­o­gy
Teacher’s Choice from ILA
Children’s Choice from ILA
Nerdy Book Club Awards 


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8 years ago

This is a beau­ti­ful, must-read essay. I’ll be shar­ing it all over the place. Thanks, Mau­r­na, for ready­ing your stu­dents to be thought­ful, com­pas­sion­ate cit­i­zens of the world.