Benefits of reading aloud
Research proves conclusively that one simple activity — reading aloud to children — is the best way to prepare children for learning to read and to keep them reading as they learn and grow.
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
— Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading Anderson et al, 1985
The New Zealand Ministry of Education’s 2003 handbook Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 recommends reading aloud as part of the daily class programme:
Reading aloud from the best of children’s literature should be a daily part of every classroom programme at all levels. Listening to a story told or read aloud well is a captivating experience.
Reading aloud also benefits secondary school students and opens up the world of books to non-readers and those who are struggling. In 2004, Krashen states in an overview of the research into the effects of reading aloud that "children read more when they listen to stories and discuss stories".
Strengthens speaking, listening, writing, and more
Hearing stories read aloud strengthens speaking, listening, writing, and reading and comprehension skills and:
- increases their vocabulary
- helps students appreciate the beauty and rhythm of language
- enhances imagination and observation skills
- improves critical and creative thinking skills
- expands a student’s general knowledge and understanding of the world
- develops positive attitudes toward books as a source of pleasure and information and helps to create life-long readers
- builds community and a sense of belonging through the shared literary experience.
Increases vocabulary and grammatical understanding
Reading aloud provides young and old with a rich source of vocabulary, it stimulates the imagination and can help re-associate reading with pleasure.
Dominic Massaro, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California conducted research showing that reading aloud is the best way to help children develop the rich vocabulary and grammatical understanding required to learn how to read. He says that:
...children listening to a reading of a picture book are roughly three times more likely to experience a new word type that is not among the most frequent words relative to the situation of listening to their caregiver’s speech. Thus, children experience a greater number of rare words and supposedly a more extensive and challenging vocabulary with picture books than with caregiver-directed speech.
How to read aloud — some guidelines
First and foremost read. As a reading role model, you will inspire your students to read, be able to talk about and recommend books and it will make selecting read-alouds much easier.
Extend your reading beyond the familiar. Explore children’s literature review journals and websites. Some other general guidelines include:
- Read to suit yourself and the students.
- Set aside a regular place and time — at least 15–20 minutes per day.
- the more you read aloud the better you get.
Choose appropriate reading material
Appropriate reading material is essential when you are reading aloud. Some suggestions include:
- Choose a story you will enjoy reading aloud, your enthusiasm will be contagious.
- Select stories with an interesting plot, dialogue, some suspense and/or adventure, suitable emotional content for the age and background of the students.
- Look for books that support and extend the students’ special needs and interests.
- Ask students for suggestions to read aloud. Booktalk 4 or 5 options and ask the class to vote for one.
- Read the tried-and-true, but expose your audience to new types of literature – challenge, but don’t overwhelm them, move beyond what is safe and what children will choose to read themselves.
Other things to note when choosing a read aloud book:
- Books heavy on dialogue or dialect are harder to read and listen to.
- An award-winning book isn’t necessarily a great read-aloud.
- Don’t choose a book which is very well known, for example, has been made into a film or been on television — once the plot is known much of the interest is lost.
- Avoid long descriptive passages until the listeners can handle them.
- Look for books that represent a variety of cultures in content and illustration.
Getting to know read-alouds
Prepare for reading aloud
Preparing for reading aloud helps avoid surprises. We suggest you:
- Pre-read or skim the book to identify any possible pitfalls such as unexpected themes or plot developments, and to identify good 'stopping points' like a cliffhanger.
- Match the length of the story with the children’s attention spans and listening skills. Begin with short selections, increase story length gradually.
- Decide whether you want multiple copies of the book so children can read along if they want.
- Try to set aside at least one 'traditional' time each day to read aloud. Don’t leave too long a gap between read-aloud sessions of a serial novel — keep it regular, and remember you can read quite a lot in five minutes!
- Don’t use withdrawal of read-aloud time as a threat.
- Let your school librarian know what you are going to read aloud, as there may be a surge in demand for the book. This allows them to buy an extra copy, or request a copy from our lending service to meet demand.
At the start of the read-aloud session
Good things to do at the start of the read-aloud session are:
- Show the cover and read the title and author and illustrator of the book. 'Name drop' if you have information, for example, other stories by the same author, or similar titles.
- Suggest things to look at or listen for during the story.
- Allow a minute or two to settle and for everyone to get comfortable — some students may need an activity to keep their hands busy while listening, such as creating a pen or pencil drawing related to the story, while they listen.
Use reading aloud to create a listening culture
Reading aloud requires listening. Ways to create a listening culture include:
- Extend the duration of the read-aloud sessions as your audience become better listeners.
- If you read at the start of the lesson, it isn’t a reward for good behaviour and doesn’t fall off the agenda because of time pressures. Students may arrive earlier to class to avoid missing the story.
- To create a listening culture, make the first session long, even up to half an hour, to get into the story.
- Ask the children to listen for interesting words. Write down interesting words from the text and their meanings. Students use these words in their own writing.
- Try using a bulletin board displaying information about the book such as words, author information, related works, others in series and artwork.
Read at a varied and moderate pace and allow listeners to create mental images of the words. Make eye contact with your audience and change your voice to fit the mood or action.
When a book isn't working
Don’t persevere with a book that the audience are not enjoying. Discuss the reasons it’s not working with the students before moving onto a new book or activity. If unsure, one approach could be 'we’ll start on Monday. If by Friday we agree it isn’t working then we’ll stop'. Alternatively give a book a '50 page test' — if the students are not hooked after 50 pages, discuss whether to keep going or start a different book.
After the read-aloud session
After the read-aloud session you could:
- Make the book available for students to borrow when you have finished.
- Expect the students to have favourite books. Honour their requests to read them over and over again, as well as introducing new selections.
- Reading aloud can involve 'warm ups' and 'follow ups' — allow time for discussion after the story (and during the story, as appropriate) but avoid quizzes and tests.
You might want to share your own thoughts about the story or have some discussion about aspects of the story — sharing a 'reading response', such as:
- Does this book remind you of another book? Why?
- What is your favourite part of the story and why?
- How did the story make you feel?
- How might you feel or act if you were one of the characters in the story?
- Has anything that takes place in the story ever happened to you?
Reading to tweens and teenagers
Older students also need to develop their listening skills and stamina. Reading aloud provides an opportunity for them to hear stories they may have missed out on such as myths and legends, books from childhood or stories beyond their comfortable reading level. Things to consider for reading to older students are:
- As well as novels, you could read short stories, poetry, magazine articles, newspaper columns or editorials and young adult (YA) books.
- With novels for older students, it;s even more important to preview the book.
- Read a chapter or a good 'chunk' each day — keep the momentum going.
- Read books that suit students intellectually, socially and emotionally. Semi-literate readers do not need semi-literate books.
- Keep them hanging — finish at the end of a chapter. If it's a long chapter, stop somewhere that will leave them wanting to know what happens next...
- Read the Education World article "Reading aloud: are students ever too old?"
We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.
— Neil Gaiman
Reading aloud: are students ever too old?
Research and resources about reading aloud
Research on reading aloud
Two Different Communication Genres and Implications for Vocabulary Development and Learning to Read — Massaro, D. (2015). Journal of Literacy Research 2015, Vol. 47(4)
Chambers, A. (1991). The reading environment: how adults help children enjoy books. PETA
Krashen, S.D.(2004). The power of reading: insights from the research. 2d ed. Westport CT, Libraries Unlimited.
McPherson, K. (Oct 2008). Reading lifelong literacy links into the school library. Teacher librarian. 36 (1): 72-74. Reprinted from Dec 2005. (Available through EPIC MasterFile)
Mills, W. (Aug 2009). The Importance of reading aloud. Journal of reading, writing and literacy. Vol 4(2):64-78
Resources on reading aloud
Jim Trelease’s website — a mine of information about reading aloud, book lists of read-alouds, links to related websites, and author information, and brochures.
Mem Fox — a passionate advocate of reading aloud, demonstrates on her site how to read aloud and provides a wealth of articles and resources.
Read aloud 15 minutes — offers a wonderful selection of posters for download, a blog and lists of recommended books to read aloud.
Reading aloud — tips for parents and teachers — Literacy connections website a wide range of articles and links about reading aloud.
Reading is Fundamental: Reading aloud — articles and tips on reading aloud.
Ten read-aloud commandment — Mem Fox on successful reading aloud for parents.
World Read Aloud Day Activity pack — every year World Read Aloud Day calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.
Chambers, A. (1973). Introducing books to children. London, Heinemann.
Trelease, J. (2006). The read-aloud handbook. 6th ed. London, Penguin.
Layne, S. (2015). In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice. Stenhouse publishers
Read aloud brochures for download
Download the following read aloud brochures for tips and strategies for reading together with your children with the emphasis on reading for pleasure and listening to your child read.
Read aloud — English (pdf, 1.1MB)
Me pānui ā-waha — te reo Māori (pdf, 1MB)
Faitau fakaleo — Tokelauan (pdf,265KB)
Faitau leotele — Samoan (pdf, 254KB)
Laukonga le'olahi — Tongan (pdf, 266KB)
Read aloud — Arabic (pdf, 285KB)
Read aloud — Hindi (pdf, 283KB)
Read aloud — simplified Chinese (pdf, 565KB)
Tatau kia rongo ma'ata'ia — Cook Islands Māori (pdf, 275KB)
Totou fakaleo lahi — Niuean (pdf, 266KB)