Rediscovering Read Alouds

Sometimes we, meaning I, get so caught up in teaching the required standards, that we forget.  We forget the simple pleasure of hearing a book read aloud. I’m not talking about picture books here — those texts are used over and over to illustrate a mini lesson or a book with enjoyable illustrations. I am talking about reading longer chapter books for a sustained period and letting students use the author’s words to visualize.

I began reading Little House on the Prairie to my third grade students this week.  My class will be attending a Theatreworks production of the same name in about a week and I wanted to give them some idea of who Laura Ingalls Wilder was and why someone might think she would be a good subject for a play. At first, the students seemed puzzled by the lack of pictures on each page. Why wasn’t Mrs. Bisson stopping to show the illustrations on each page? There was some restlessness, some wiggles, and I wasn’t altogether sure the vocabulary in the story might pose a problem to my mostly-second language learners.  However, we plowed ahead and after reading Chapter 1 took a look at a US map to see where the Ingalls family started (Wisconsin) and where the two rivers were located.

This afternoon I continued to read for another 20 minutes that I carved out of the day – right before dismissal got underway. Again, I was concerned that the vocabulary was over the students’ heads, but as I glanced up from the text to check, I noticed they had all crept forward from our usual circle and many were lying on tummies, chins resting on hands, to hear the next adventure in the life of the Ingalls family on their journey through the prairie. Calmly and intently they were engaged in the story of a long ago family on the adventure of their lives.

For me, this was a moment of realization when I understood in a new way that all the standards based time on task in the world won”t hold a candle to students enraptured as their teacher reads a book aloud. The time we spent today, lost in the adventures of a pioneer family in the mid-19th century calmed the kids down. Several students expressed the thought that, though a long story, they were enjoying hearing each chapter.

The kids I teach may not have a parent at home who has the luxury of time to read aloud to a child. Their parents often work multiple jobs, or they are still negotiating learning English, or perhaps their school career was not as positive as mine was and they never developed that love of words and story. Whatever the reason, students in this urban environment need adults to read and share books; sometimes the only person who can do that may be the classroom teacher.

Honestly, I don’t know why it never occurred to me before today to say the heck with the schedule, let’s enjoy a good book; let’s read another chapter. Some of my favorite remembrances of elementary school are connected to books and read alouds. Charlotte’s Web was read to me as a third grader and I can picture my teacher, Mrs. Harrell, standing before us reading a chapter at a time.

I hope that finding a few minutes each day to read a new chapter is something my students will remember with fondness when they grow older.  Meanwhile, back to the book – this is a really exciting part.

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One thought on “Rediscovering Read Alouds

  1. Read-alouds are some of my fondest memories of elementary school, which in general i found very frightening and overwhelming. The boxcar children comes to mind. I have kept the tradition going into adulthood on long car trips and when I was married we didn’t have a television and read books allowed. I’ve read the hobbit, lord of the rings, mists of avalon (twice), Sidhartha (twice), and many others aloud with friends and lovers. Nice to see you carrying on the tradition.

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