When my year 3 teacher, Mrs Margaret Browne, told us she had to pull on a pair of gloves before she could start reading our new class novel, I don’t remember thinking much.
I just watched on as she stretched each arm out in front of her and slowly pulled on both of her long, silky, black ballgown gloves.
When she repeated the routine the next day, before picking up the same novel, I was intrigued.
And then, after four days of the same routine, she came to THAT chapter.
How to Recognise a Witch
“I am going to tell you how to recognise a witch when you see one.”
“Can you always be sure?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “you can’t. And that’s the trouble. But you can make a pretty good guess.” “In the first place,” she said, “a REAL WITCH is certain always to be wearing gloves when you meet her.”(Dahl, 1985)
All these years later, I distinctly remember looking around in panic at my classmates after Mrs Brown read that last sentence.
Witches wear gloves.
“Could this mean…? Could Mrs Brown, OUR TEACHER, be a witch?”
I was sold.
Sold on the Mrs-Brown-is-a-witch theory, sold on Roald Dahl’s novel, and, most importantly, sold on reading.
You see, both Roald Dahl and Mrs Brown understood the theatre and the power of the read-aloud.
Roald Dahl provided the fodder and Mrs Brown made it come to life.
Together, they carried even the most reluctant participants into the wonderful world of imagination that lay within the pages of a great book.
As a principal, I only had one hard and fast non-negotiable: “every student must be read to every day.”
Every student. Every day.
There are countless benefits to read-alouds and yet, with the crowded curriculum, focus on data and now “catching up” after Covid, this is a practice that is increasingly disappearing from timetables.
Reading aloud to young children is not only one of the best activities to stimulate language and cognitive skills; it also builds motivation, curiosity, and memory.(Bardige, 2009)
Here’s a list of just 6 of the rrrreasons vhy teachers should be rrrreading aloud to their rrree-volting students everrry day:
#1 Real-alouds immerse students in the joy of reading for pleasure
My body would burst with anticipation as I watched Mrs Brown carefully pull on her Witches reading gloves. I couldn’t wait for her to surround us with the words of that fascinating other world, where children give off stink-waves and Grand High Witches roll their ‘r’s.
Read-alouds enable the listener to become lost in the story of a novel or fascinated by the facts of a non-fiction piece.
They give the listener a vision for where reading can take them and a reason for persisting through the challenges of learning to read themselves. One day, when I can read like that myself, I’ll have an all- access passport and plane ticket to transport me to any time, any place or any world I want.
#2 Read-alouds give students access to books outside of their independent reading level
“According to experts, it is a reasonable assertion that reading and listening skills begin to converge at about eighth grade. Until then, kids usually listen on a higher level than they read. Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than what they could read on their own.”(Trelease & Giorgis, 2019)
Read-alouds are a great leveler.
When decoding is taken out of the equation, students of all reading abilities can focus their attention solely on comprehending the text.
They can then participate in class discussions about characters, plots and problems. They can make predictions, provide evidence and even argue their opinions about texts.
This is particularly important for those students who can comprehend at a much higher level than they can decode- just because these students can’t read the text themselves, doesn’t mean they can’t understand and interpret what’s happening in the story.
#3 Read-alouds expose students to new vocabulary
Wide vocabularies support success in both reading and writing (and academia in general).
Rich words abound in rich literature.
Carefully selected read-aloud books are generally above (or well above) the reading level of most students in the class. Opportunities to hear and learn new vocabulary abound in these books.
What more supportive environment could there be to discover new words than a) learning about them in context and b) learning about them through a shared experience with your peers?
(Which brings me to my next point…)
#4 Read-alouds provide a shared experience
Whole class read-alouds build up a bank of known texts for you and your students to discuss and refer back to. They become a reference point when teaching reading and writing:
“Remember what the Grand High Witch said after she zapped the witch who spoke up in her meeting? ‘Frizzled like a fritter.’ That’s an example of alliteration, Roald Dahl has repeated the ‘fr’ sound here.”
Books as shared experiences aren’t just about teaching reading and writing though- they provide students with ‘social cred’ too- a shared topic they can talk about long after the last page has been turned.
#5 Read-alouds provide students with a model of fluent reading
When we read aloud to our students, they can tune their ear into what fluent reading really sounds like. This is the perfect opportunity to learn about all the different dimensions of fluency: pausing, intonation, prosody (expression) etc.
Students get to hear how you group your words, where you pause, where you add stress in words and sentences and how you add expression to bring the story alive. They can learn about different reading rates and even watch how you patch up any errors you’ve made while reading.
# 5 Read-alouds expose students to new authors, texts and genres
Read-alouds are an ongoing commercial for books and reading.
When you use read-alouds as an opportunity to introduce new authors, genres or series to your students, you’re constantly building up their all-important TBR piles (‘to be read’ piles. i.e.: the list of books they want to read next).
We want students to know that it’s ok to have favourite authors and series they like to return to, but it’s also important to stretch themselves outside of these favourites (I’m talking to you, Isaac- my Treehouse-Series-loving nephew).
Reading widely (meaning different genres and authors) exposes students to new vocabulary, genre structures, writing styles and even themes and ideas.
“It’s through a rich, technicolored collection of print and nonprint media that reflect the values and strengths of every culture that we learn about and come to understand provinces beyond our own.”(Culham, 2016)
# 6 Read-alouds help improve student writing
“The writing in a classroom can only be as good as the literature that supports and surrounds and buoys it up. Reading aloud is an essential way to build vision in your students for what strong writing looks like, sounds like, and feels like.”(Fletcher, 2017)
Sentence Fluency is one of the consistent traits of good writing. It’s about writing well-crafted and rhythmic sentences that are easy on the reader’s ear. It’s a trait that requires careful placement of the right words, in the right order, with the right conventions supporting them.
“I demand maximum rrree-sults! So here are my orders! My orders are that every single child in this country shall be rrrubbed out, sqvashed, sqvirted, sqvittered and frrrittered before I come back her again in vun year’s time! Do I make myself clear?”(Dahl, 1985)
Reading aloud to students immerses them in the language and rhythm of good writing. It allows them to develop their reader’s ear to listen to the flow and syntax of well-structured sentences and paragraphs.
Just as good musicians have an ear for rhythm, good writers need to tune in their ear for the rhythm of writing. (This is even more critical for EAL students who may not be familiar with the syntax of English).
So there you have it- just 6 of the reasons vhy read alouds should be happening in every classroom every day.
The next question is, of course…which books should you read? I’m glad you asked!
I think it makes sense for the Oz Lit Teacher community to answer this one together. I’d appreciate it if you could add your suggestions to this Google Form. I’ll then collate your responses and create a downloadable list to share in weeks to come.
Do you remember the books that were read to you in school? I’d love to hear your memories! Share them in the comments below or over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.
- Bardige, B. (2009). Talk to me, baby!. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
- Culham, R. (2016). Dream wakers. Portland: Stenhouse.
- Dahl, R. (1985). Witches. London: Puffin.
- Fletcher, R. (2017) The writing teacher’s companion: Embracing choice, voice, purpose, and play. New York: Scholastic.
- Trelease, J., & Giorgis, C. (2019). Jim Trelease’s read-aloud handbook (8th ed.). New York: Penguin.