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What Is It?
Reading aloud means just that-reading aloud. When we read to students, we take advantage of the fact that until about the eighth grade, young people have a "listening level" that significantly surpasses their reading level. When we read aloud to students, we engage them in texts that they might not be able to read. In the process, we expand their imaginations, provide new knowledge, support language acquisition, build vocabulary, and promote reading as a worthwhile, enjoyable activity. All students, from pre-school through high school, can benefit from being read to. Listening to a fluent, expressive, and animated reader can help students make connections between written and spoken language.
Why Is It Important?
The single most important activity you can do to build the knowledge students require for eventual success in reading is to read aloud to them (Anderson et al. 1985).
Students can listen on a higher language level than they can read, so reading aloud makes complex ideas more accessible to students and exposes them to vocabulary and language patterns that are not part of their everyday speech. This, in turn, helps students understand the structure of books when they read independently (Fountas and Pinnell 1996).
Reading aloud is the foundation for literacy development. It is the single most important activity for reading success (Neuman, Copple, and Bredekamp 2000).
The reader's pauses and emphases allow students to better understand the phrasing and fluency of the language and to hear new vocabulary and the way the words are used (Fountas and Pinnell 1996).
Listening to others read helps students develop key understanding and skills, such as an appreciation for how a story is written and familiarity with book conventions, such as "once upon a time" and "happily ever after" (Neuman et al. 2000).
To become lifetime readers, students of all ages need role models who are readers. By getting excited about books, taking time to read to students, and sharing your interest in books, you inspire students by showing them the positive effects of reading. The discussions, memories, and time you spend reading with students can help them gain a desire to read for pure pleasure.
Reading aloud to students, regardless of their reading ability, provides them with the understanding that print has meaning and can tell a story. Young students can become familiar with the phrasing, expression, and flow of sentences in stories or texts that are read aloud to them.
A student's listening level, the level of text that he or she can understand when it is read aloud, is far above the reading level until about eighth grade. When students listen to a text that is above their reading level, they comprehend more difficult and interesting material and broaden their vocabulary. Fourth-grade students can understand texts written on a seventh-grade level, and these texts are most often more interesting and complex than those students can read on their own. For example, five- and six-year-olds usually enjoy listening to Charlotte's Web, even though it is written on a fourth-grade reading level.
Middle- and High-School Students
Reading aloud to middle- and high-school students can motivate them to read, enticing them with good storytelling and providing a model of excellent reading, phrasing, expression, and pronunciation. Reading aloud to students whose second language is English can help them to make connections between written and spoken language.
If students follow along as you read aloud, they can see how the pauses in speech match the punctuation and structure of written sentences. This connection can also be reinforced by reading students' writing aloud to determine whether the written phrases and sentences flow as they should. This should be done in a safe environment with students' permission, and students should be encouraged to read their own writing aloud to determine if revisions are needed.
Provide experiences for students to listen to fluent, expressive, and animated readers. Reading aloud also provides a good forum for dialogue and interpretation. There are many texts, such as poetry, speeches, and plays, that are meant to be read aloud and can take on a new meaning when performed. Encourage students to choose a particular character when reading Shakespeare aloud, and discuss how the text can become more powerful, meaningful, and entertaining when read aloud as opposed to when it is read silently.