As I write this blog post, I’m about halfway through Ellin Keene’s latest book Engaging Children. I’ve long considered Ellin to be a kindred spirit. Her books and presentations have pushed my thinking and helped to refine my craft. So, it’s no surprise that Ellin’s wisdom is swirling around my head as I write about a topic that I’m passionate about—read aloud experiences. If we are, as Ellin writes, to help children THINK—FEEL—BELIEVE—ACT (2018, p. 65) then I would argue that the read aloud experience is the place to start.
Elevate the read aloud experience
Reading aloud is not an extra activity. It is an instructional necessity that spotlights essential behaviors of readers, learners, and citizens. With each book, listeners are expanding their vocabularies, forming foundations for future learning, and walking in another’s shoes (Walther, 2019). Join me in educating the stakeholders in our schools about the importance of dedicating time for daily read aloud experiences in every grade. Sometimes, as Ellin reminds us, “We need to push back against policies and practices that make it difficult to create the conditions that support engagement” (p. 58). Voice your research-guided beliefs as you elevate read aloud experiences in your own classroom and champion read alouds in your school and community.
Notice authors’ and illustrators’ brilliance
“Notice how Barb Rosenstock uses the repeated phrase ‘down, down into the deep’ to move the action forward in Otis and Will Discover the Deep” (2018). Statements such as this one engage children in writerly conversations. Young writers who are immersed in discussions about the written (and illustrated) word quickly learn that authors and illustrators make intentional decisions. Little by little, the brilliance they notice in the published books you read aloud seeps into their writing. So, in addition to the benefits I’ve mentioned thus far, reading aloud will make your writing instruction more accessible and engaging.
Gather the best books you can find
If we want our kids to THINK—FEEL—BELIEVE—ACT, then books with powerful messages will help them on their way. In her book Read, Talk, Write, my mentor and friend, Laura Robb, reminds us that literary conversations occur when learners talk about high-quality texts. Carefully selected texts “spark emotional reactions and prompt them to think about themselves and others” (p. 3). A wordless picture book that fits Laura’s description is the moving I Walk with Vanessa (Kerascoët, 2018) about a girl who witnesses bullying and decides to take action. To gather other high-quality texts like this one, consult with your school or public librarian, visit the nearest independent bookstore, attend conferences, or join Twitter and follow those who are spreading “book love.”
Ask questions that make kids think, feel, and wonder
To get students thinking, you might compare and contrast two books like Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung (2018) and One by Kathryn Otoshi (2008). Ask students to discuss how both authors use personified colors to illuminate different themes—Mixed explores the theme of tolerance while One is about bullying. Reading aloud Off and Away (Atkinson, 2018) offers an opportunity for students to empathize with Jo’s fears of the sea and share times when they, too, felt afraid. Don’t miss the prehistoric poems in the book In the Past (Elliott, 2018) that will prompt listeners to pause and wonder about these fascinating creatures.
Guarantee read aloud time for ALL
If students are leaving your classroom for various reasons, try to guarantee that they are back in time for read aloud. Often striving students are pulled out of our classrooms during this low-stress, highly-engaging reading event. If there is no way around it, set up your phone or other device to record the read alouds they are missing. Then, e-mail or post the file so that each child can enjoy the experience with his or her family. This not only guarantees that children do not miss out on the read aloud experience, but it also educates families about how to expressively read, think aloud, and discuss books.
Enjoy this special time with your students
I’ll leave you with the words that appear on the first page of The Ramped-Up Read Aloud,
“A read aloud should be a joyful celebration for all. For you, for your students, and indirectly, for the author and illustrator who toiled over each word and every image that lies on and between the covers of the book.”
Professional Resources Cited:
Keene, E. (2018). Engaging children: Igniting a drive for deeper learning K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Robb, L. Read, talk, write. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Walther, M. (2019). The ramped-up read aloud: What to notice as you turn the page. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Children’s Literature Cited:
Atkinson, C. (2018). Off & away. New York: Disney/Hyperion.
Chung, A. (2018). Mixed: A colorful story. New York: Holt.
Elliott, D. (2018). In the past. (M. Trueman, Illus.). Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Kerascoët. (2018). I walk with Vanessa: A story about a simple act of kindness. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Otoshi, K. (2008). One. San Rafael, CA: KO Kids Books.
Rosenstock, B. (2018). Otis and Will discover the deep: The record-setting dive of the Bathysphere. New York: Little, Brown.