Reading Aloud – Not Only in New York

In recent workshops and presentations to teachers, both primary and secondary, I have suggested the importance of reading aloud in the development of literacy skills. To older readers, this will not exactly come as a startling revelation, but I believe that in recent years – probably the past couple of decades – we have largely abandoned the practice as soon as young learners are deemed to be ‘able to read’, or what a good friend of mine has described as competent at ‘barking at print.’

Admittedly, in those wonderful halcyon days when I was learning in primary school along with my forty-one fellow students, being asked to read aloud could be an embarrassing, and sometimes even humiliating, experience for some. It’s little wonder then that daily ritual of reading round the class has largely been abandoned (hasn’t it?).
Unfortunately, I fear that in rightly protecting the sensitivities of young people we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and forgotten the importance of a strategy which even as mature, developed readers, we often use when faced with a text which we find challenging, or which has been written especially to be spoken – think Shakespeare, or Dylan Thomas or Laurie Lee.

So reading aloud should not be seen simply as a way of demonstrating an ability to ‘say the words’ but should be recognised as an important strategy in developing comprehension and higher order reading skills, as well as a celebration of the joys of language, and it should be encouraged at all ages! Recently I came across a programme on Teachers’ TV which does just that. It is presented by John Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs* among other things. I have included a short extract from the film, in which he talks about reading for fun, the importance of graphic novels, ‘reading’ pictures, embracing new technologies and the value of reading to your kids and having them read to you. You can see the full half-hour programme by clicking here.

*The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is a good example of a classic story given a modern twist. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes is another one which appeals to young people. Updating with a humorous take, or setting a familiar story in a different time or location can be a creative writing challenge which young people respond well to.


11 thoughts on “Reading Aloud – Not Only in New York

  1. I think the problems with read-alouds as they were done (and I remember doing them not too long ago) was that the students were never taught to read aloud, and that this was the only way we experienced a lot of set texts. Which was painful for the students who couldn’t read, painful for the students who were fast readers and had to spend all the time waiting, and managed to turn a whole lot of people off good books.

    It would be interesting to approach read-alouds as another aspect of reading teaching – modeling and practicing reading aloud, asking students to prepare a small section of text and moving up to reading unseen texts in small groups/larger groups. As you said, texts like Shakespeare should be heard out loud – but when it’s read out loud by students who haven’t practiced it’s pure agony to listen to (as a fellow student)

    I think I’m going to look into teaching reading out loud as a mini unit later in the school year – thanks for the idea

  2. Thanks for the comments M. I quite agree with what you say and I am not advocating reading around the class ( I remember talking a school year for our class to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was 14 – not a great experience!). What I am suggesting is that we encourage learners to read aloud at every opportunity but in ways they are comfortable with, such as peer-to-peer, one-to-one with teacher or parent, or even in private using audio or video recording and playback. I think there is a very close link between ‘hearing’ a text and understanding it properly.

  3. It is a tragedy that the daily ritual of the teacher reading a story to a class seems to have long gone in primary schools. Children do still have the experience of listening to a story, but it is not a sacrosanct ritual as it was in the past.
    Of course, not all teachers are necessarily skilled at reading aloud, but there are ways to learn how to do this, for example at the Storytelling Centre for those who live in Edinburgh.
    Children are more likely to volunteer to read aloud and to relish the experience, if they themselves have enjoyed the encounters with texts that comes from listening to a good tale well told.

    • Hi Hilery,
      Good to hear from you again – hope you are well. My focus was on the importance of the learner reading aloud but of course they do need to hear good readers and storytellers so that they can model their reading on the best performers. You make an interesting point about teachers not automatically being good readers, and I think this comes from a genuine reluctance on the part of many of us to listen to the sound of our own voices – I would be interested to know how many teachers go through most, if not all, of their careers without ever hearing themselves recorded on audio or video. I wasn’t aware of the Storytelling Centre but I will check it out now that you have mentioned it. Thanks.


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  5. Came here via Mr W … I can remember the boredom to which you refer as early as Primary 2; I could read before I started school and can still feel the irritation I felt at one girl who took for ever to read a passage aloud. However, I was always keen to involve my students in reading plays, even if only a few words in a minor part; we got over the problem of longer speeches by having understudies who would take over the moment the poorer reader said “You do this bit.” After a while, this seemed natural and not embarrassing, and I felt that everyone benefited. But you really need to work at the class ethos before this strategy succeeds.

    BTW – love the pic of the Arran hills at the top of your blog!

  6. Thanks for the comments Chris. I like what you are saying about the plays – the right play does allow you to differentiate according to the abilities and preferences of the various members of the class or group. The difficulty I always found was that there were very few plays available which were interesting enough and with enough parts to involve all of the kids. I’m sure there is a fortune to be made for anyone who can crack that particular challenge and produce an up-to-date Gregory’s Girl or similar.


    PS Well done for spotting Goatfell in the snow.

  7. At the Saint Louis, Missouri, USA Public Library system, there is a literacy program in which a beginning and perhaps shy reader can read to …… a dog. One room with a thick rug for the child or children to lie or sit on, one book, one medium to big even-tempered dog, accompanied by the adult owner/quiet encourager, and a Saturday morning or afternoon. Kids open up – it’s been quite popular, and has expanded from one to several branches in a few months. Many families with children can’t house or afford dogs, so this experience also familiarizes them with friendly members of the species.

  8. I teach Primary 4-7 and read aloud to them most days. We pick a book at the start of each term – sometimes I choose it related to the topic and sometimes the children choose it. My children love listening to a story and because of the range of ages I try to vary the level of the book chosen throughout the year. I also read some ‘big picture’ books from the primary 1-3 classroom. These are always a real hit with the children because they pick up a lot more information from the text and the picture that younger children don’t get. The majority of our language work is linked to what we are reading in class at the time which produces great results over such a range of activities.

  9. Hi Diana,
    I obviously don’t need to tell you the benefits of reading aloud or listening to a story – I would imagine there are very few kids who don’t like listening to the teacher reading a story. In fact, some kids would like to do it all day long. However, I was more concerned to make the point that in order for them to become competent readers themselves and to develop higher order comprehension skills, they must be encouraged to read aloud regularly and into adulthood. Only then will they, and you, be able to tell how much progress they are making.


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