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Reading aloud from the best of children’s literature should be a daily part of every classroom programme at all levels. Listening to a story told or read aloud well is a captivating experience.
Reading aloud to children frees them from the labour of decoding and supports them in becoming active listeners, totally engaged and immersed in the text. As children create meaning from a text by making connections between what they already know and what they hear, they develop new knowledge and awareness. They enrich their vocabulary by hearing new words in context and familiar words used in new ways, and they develop new insights into the way language works (for example, how words can be ordered and how imagery can be used) and into the different text forms. A great deal of implicit learning occurs when children are read to.
Reading aloud is appropriate for all students, including those who already read accurately and fluently. This teaching approach can be used effectively with both large and small groups. Students who have had limited experiences with books, or who are receptive rather than active learners, can benefit when they are read to in small groups and the teacher can encourage them to engage with the text and respond to it actively.
We’d been studying tales and myths of Aotearoa and Pasifika countries. I chose Maui and the Sun for this group because I thought they would like a superhero who overcomes the forces of nature. The elements of the traditional tale are all here – the cunning plot, the brothers-in-arms, the struggle. It’s short but full of action, so I was able to read it twice in one session. The style of illustration sets the Maori context well, and when we looked at the detail after they had heard the story, the children were intrigued by the changing expressions on the face of the sun. The strong narrative has suspense and action, and it kept the children engaged. I dramatised the reading by heightening the different voices of the characters – Maui, the brothers, and the sun. I emphasised the repetition of some phrases – “and plenty of …”, for instance – and when I read it again, Aaron and Tu both chimed in on the second “Let me go!” I’ll follow this up with another Maui story soon.
Teacher, year 2 class
Reading to children is an approach that can be used strategically in order to:
When selecting texts for reading to children, teachers are guided by their own instructional objectives and by the students’ interests and cultural values. Refer to page 114 in chapter 5 for discussion about the importance of using a range and variety of texts.
The way the teacher reads aloud is very important. Teachers may need to practise so that they know the story well and can relax and concentrate on reading expressively. Such reading provides a good model for students and conveys many implicit messages about literacy learning. Above all, it demonstrates in the best possible way that reading is important and that books are a source of delight.
Depending on their teaching objectives, the nature of the text, and the students’ interest, the teacher may encourage the students’ responses and their predictions or conversations about the text (without interrupting the flow of the text and the listeners’ enjoyment). Effective teachers enable their students to savour the experience, share their enthusiasm, and reflect on new words, expressions, or ideas.
I read to the class every day, and it’s a special time for us. The emphasis is on enjoyment, but I’ve become more focused in selecting texts. Recently I read The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, a nice reversal of the traditional tale. We’d been looking at the great themes of conflict and resolution in traditional literature. I also wanted to develop the students’ listening comprehension. In addition, about one-third of my class are NESB students who need to encounter many literary texts in English.
We all enjoyed the fun of the story, and all tuned in and became engaged with the narrative. Then we got into a debate about what made the big bad pig become friends with the little wolves and whether this was a good thing to happen. What I’m finding is that rich conversations around texts show what thinkers these students really are – and it’s got nothing to do with whether they are the more able readers in the class or not. It’s a matter of giving the students the opportunity to process ideas and share their views. I also notice increasing participation by those from diverse cultural backgrounds, who may not be used to expressing a point of view.
Teacher, years 3 to 4