Students sitting on the carpet in a semi-circle listening to a captivating story is what comes to mind when I think of read alouds. Unfortunately, this is a rare sight in secondary schools; why do we stop reading aloud as students get older? Yes, students must hone their independent reading skills and learn to close read. However, reading aloud still has many benefits in middle school and high school.
Reading aloud helps all students hear tone and inflection, purposeful pauses, and emotion in the printed word. Having someone other than themselves read the same text aloud helps students view the book in a different way; they may hear phrases and events in a new manner that casts a different perspective upon the text. Additionally, reading aloud chapters or excerpts of a whole class novel helps auditory learners process the material versus having students silent read. In terms of reluctant readers, reading the first chapter of a novel aloud may intrigue students who find starting a higher level text daunting and it may hook them enough to encourage them to give the book a chance. Finally, reading aloud for some older students creates nostalgia for those carpet-sitting days of elementary school or snuggling in their parents laps reading for fun.
Of course read alouds lend themselves to English classes at the secondary level, but there are ways we can incorporate them into the school library as well. In collaboration with teachers, some school librarians have begun “First Chapter Fridays” in which the teacher and the school librarian will read aloud the first chapter of a novel. The novel chosen is usually high interest with an action-packed first chapter that will grab the students’ attention. This can be done as a whole class or the class can be split with the teacher taking one group and the school librarian taking the other students. The point is to introduce students to a novel (or novels) that they can select to read. Similarly, school librarians and a group of teachers or instructional coaches can read excerpts from high-interest novels during a book talk to help hook and “sell” the book to students.
Before holidays the school librarian can host read alouds in the library with a popular teacher or the principal reading a picture book to students for fun; for example, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas before winter break. Even teens love hearing their childhood favorites again! If food/drinks are allowed in the school library you can serve cookies or hot cocoa and throw up a yule log on the projector! You could do something similar during final exams to provide students a brain break and a place to relax.
Too often we take the fun out of reading as students get older, focusing too much on academics. Reading aloud is a simple way to put some of the fun back into reading!