What are read alouds and what can they do for instruction?
A read aloud is a planned oral reading of a book or print excerpt, usually related to a theme or topic of study. The read aloud can be used to engage the student listener while developing background knowledge, increasing comprehension skills, and fostering critical thinking. A read aloud can be used to model the use of reading strategies that aid in comprehension.
Reading aloud good books can become a tradition and favorite activity in the classroom. (An excellent site for information on read alouds is located at: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah.html)
The Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) maintains a library of articles about using read alouds for engagement and comprehension in their archives. http://www.google.com/u/ciera?q=read+alouds&domains=ciera.org&sitesearch=ciera.org
Benefits of using read alouds
One of the most important things adults can do in preparing children for success in school and in reading is to read aloud with them.
- Listeners build listening and comprehension skills through discussion during and after reading.
- Listeners increase their vocabulary foundation by hearing words in context.
- Listeners improve their memory and language skills as they hear a variety of writing styles and paraphrase their understanding.
- Listeners gain information about the world around them.
- Listeners develop individual interests in a broad variety of subjects and they develop imagination and creativity: what better way to build skills which foster inquiry?
- Other suggestions and benefits are in the Education World article at: http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr213.shtml.
Why read alouds in science?
Science-related literature, especially non-fiction, is often an untapped resource for read aloud book selections. By choosing well-written, engaging science books, teachers provide the opportunity to introduce students to new genres of literature at the same time as they model reading and thinking strategies that foster critical thinking.
Science-related books motivate students. Whether emergent readers or avid readers, children often select nature and science books as their favorite genre of literature.
Read alouds can inspire the teacher, too. Often early childhood or elementary teachers are uncomfortable with teaching science. They know there should be more to their instruction than the textbook, but they do not feel like 'experts' in the science content or process. Using read alouds can complement the curriculum and help students make connections between their knowledge, the textbook and their own questions.
Read alouds can be used to
- introduce lessons
- provide an introduction to new concepts and increase science vocabulary
- lower the abstract nature of science textbooks' explanations
- invite conversation and generate questions for discussion and investigations
- model scientific thinking
- provide content to support hands-on investigations
- model different problem-solving approaches to science that may support students in their own scientific investigations
- examine the colorful illustrations and photographs; they can tell a story beyond the words on the page
Using a read aloud-think aloud
- When students are provided with models and explanations of the reasoning involved in reading, they are better able to use the modeled strategies on their own.
- Typically a science-related read aloud focuses on a science concept, the author's craft or a particular literary feature.
- Don't do everything with one read aloud; use a variety of opportunities to revisit a particular focus and limit how much you focus on with any one book.
- Inspire questions and investigations by modeling curiosity and question-posing-- let the students in on the 'secret' of how you, the teacher, construct questions.
- Explicitly share thinking processes-- thinking aloud is making thinking public.
For instance, "When I look at this picture of children playing in the wind, I think of the wind near our school. It always seems strongest to me over near Ms. Foster's room." OR "I wonder what the author means when she says ...." OR "Wait, this seems different than what we read in book X. I wonder how to decide which author to believe."
- Improve comprehension of science text by modeling the use of reading strategies that are most helpful for reading a particular type of literature.
- Use books about scientists and their work to inspire questions about scientific processes or the importance of life events in choosing a career.
For example, Donna Dieckman reads books such as A Snake Scientist or Elephant Woman to invite her students into the field with working scientists and to explore the questions and the challenges they encounter in their work. As she reads, she pauses to reflect aloud on her wonderings, which in turn both model and inspire wonderings in her students.
(See also Two Models of a Read Aloud-- Think Aloud based on 1999 Caldecott Medal Winner Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.
Selecting the read aloud
- Young children have difficulty separating fact from fiction, so carefully select books with the most accurate information.
- Select an appropriate book based on a specific reading purpose: concept background, exploring author's craft, introduction of key vocabulary, looking at science process or the life of scientists, or some other clearly defined purpose.
- Choose a book or section of a book that lends itself to being read aloud that supports your goal or purpose.
- Does the text flow?
- Is the topic engaging?
- Are there opportunities for stopping points to wonder aloud?
- Does the text inspire questions?
- Locate relevant artifacts, illustrations or other hands-on materials that might support the text and foster student questions.
- Think about connections to other literature-- by this author, on this topic or in this genre. Collect related books for classroom reading display. (The Search-It database can provide these connections.)
- Book Links is a web-based resource for literacy activities. They have an annotated list of books for science read alouds at: http://www.ala.org/Content/ContentGroups/Book_Links1/Read-Aloud_Science.htm.
Knowing the authors
Become familiar with the authors by gathering background information. Many authors of science-related literature have interesting backgrounds that may inspire students in their own scientific or literary endeavors.
- Jim Arnosky
- Jean Craighead George
- Gail Gibbons
- Patricia Lauber
- Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
- Laurence Pringle
- Seymour Simon
Planning the read aloud
- Think about the focus for your read aloud. Identify any key words or concepts to discuss in context as you read the text. Mark "talking points" where you want to:
- stop and reflect or ask questions.
- support the target skill or purpose.
- Develop open-ended questions to stimulate students minds and imaginations.
- Use the questions to keep children involved in the book.
- Plan related activities to follow or precede the read aloud.
- Additional hints and Do's and Don'ts can be found in the Book Pals Reading Tips web site. Scroll down and visit the "More Reading Tips" pages: http://www.bookpals.net/cgi-bin/bookfinder/index.pl?page=tips.
How do I read aloud effectively?
Creating the read aloud atmosphere
- Allow time for students to settle as you make yourself comfortable. Whether you are sitting in a low chair or on the floor, be sure that each child can see the book. Remember, you are creating a community of learners. If they have to elbow each other to see it will defeat your efforts.
- Some teachers even "dress" for the occasion. Debra Bunn slips into a raincoat to read about sea monster tales.
- Other teachers create ritualized signals: "Here's the reading puppet" OR "Let's settle in as we pass around the listening stick."
- As you read, move the book around (either while reading or after reading each page) so that each student can see the illustrations. Most picture books depend on the illustrations to tell the story and students are "reading" the pictures while you are reading the words. If there are no (or few) pictures, pause and look at your listeners.
- Pace your reading to allow time for the student listeners to think about what they are hearing.
- Read with expression; create a mood. Modulate your voice to reflect emotions and emphasize key points. Give young students an opportunity to add to the story with appropriate noises. For example, have students use their fingers to drum out the sound of soft or hard rain.
- Use motions for emphasis. Do not overdo it, but use natural and comfortable movements.
Reading aloud does not come naturally, but don't despair. Practicing will make it much more comfortable. And the time spent practicing is definitely worthwhile. CAUTION: Do not read a book aloud that you have not read yourself beforehand!
Ready to read
- Introduce the text with a short sentence or two that relates the book to the students.
- Discuss the title, content, author and illustrator for less than three minutes.
- Set a purpose for listening by sharing the reason you selected the book.
- Invite students to listen while you read (using the voice modulations and movements you practiced).
- Interrupt your reading at selected points to emphasize a planned focus point.
- Hint: Mark these points with sticky notes so that you remember to stop and your reason for stopping.
- Sticky notes can also be used to quickly note student reactions or queries.
- Stop to do a think aloud, ask a question of yourself or of your students, provide opportunities for students to make personal connections
- Do not overdo the stopping points-- keep in mind your audience, time limits and purpose for the reading and for the stopping. You do want to maintain a sense of story as you read-- too many stopping points will lose that.
- At the end of the reading, wait a few moments to provide time to ask questions or make comments. If you ask, "Wasn't that a good story?" students will answer in the affirmative because they want to please you and that will end a major opportunity to generate discussion. Instead, just ask open-ended questions to generate discussion like, "What did you think of that book?" OR "How did the author ...?" Depending on the reading purpose, you may want to comment, "This reminds me of ..." OR "Reading this made me wonder...." After you model a thought, encourage students to share their wonderings and discoveries.
- Discuss what students learned. Through discussion students can synthesize and extend their understanding of the reading. They can connect their prior knowledge to the new information presented in the reading. They can make intertextual connections to other literature. This time for reflection is the key to making the reading an instructional activity.
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.