Children who are immersed in a rich language environment through hearing stories and talking about them grow as readers and thinkers.
Consider the language students encounter in a story: words they can absorb into their own language databases, expressions that range from the archaic to the contemporary, patterns that ring in their ears and seduce them into joining in. Through listening, students come to understand what to expect of a story or rhyme’s structural patterns and conventions. It enables them to understand words, ideas, customs, and values that lie outside their reading ability and experiences. Regardless of their age, listening to stories told or read aloud gives students their future strength as readers and writers. As Jim Trelease says in The Read-Aloud Handbook (2006), “As little as fifteen minutes a day spent reading aloud to students can have a significant effect on their becoming lifelong readers.”
In Booktalk: Occasional Writing on Literature and Children (1986), Aidan Chambers explains that the art of reading lies in talking about what you have read. Children are usually keen to talk about what they have enjoyed—they like to explore those aspects of a story implicit in the text and they enjoy pondering the connections they have made between what they have read or heard and their own lives and the lives lived in other stories. Stories become memorable if students are encouraged to pose their own questions about them and to search for answers. Unless students are given opportunities to say, in their own way, what they think, stories in print can mean very little to them. The great challenge for us lies in creating environments where genuine sharing can occur. To begin with, we need to choose books to share that will provide an experience rich and varied enough that all the students will find something they can and want to share with others. We should make the books we read aloud available for independent browsing and reading, along with related books and media.
What Books Should I Read Aloud?
This is a difficult question to answer because not everyone likes the same thing; however, here are a few suggestions that repeatedly prove worthwhile:
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle
- A Dark, Dark Tale written and illustrated by Ruth Brown
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz
- Dog Loves Books written and illustrated by Louise Yates
- Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School written and illustrated by David Macintosh
- Revolting Rhymes written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake
- Letters from Father Christmas (also known as The Father Christmas Letters) written and illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Acting It Out
One of the best ways to make reading meaningful is to select and read a story to your class and then have the students act out various parts of it. There’s no need to act out every event in a story even though it’s preferable to follow the story’s chronological sequence. You can move from action to oral language and then to a combination of both; and from individual responses to having the students work with partners and then in small groups. Acting it out is a wonderful comprehension exercise!
Share your thoughts here. We’d love to know how you make reading come alive for students!
Check out Author Denise Ryan in her book, Reading and Responding: A Guide to Literature, published by Shell Education.
Denise Ryan has taught students in grades K-7 and beyond. She is a former language and literacy curriculum consultant to the New South Wales Department of Education. In later years, Denise became an educational publisher and has held senior positions in three international publishing companies. She currently works as an independent publisher and as a writer of nonfiction books for children.