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Reading to students from the best of children’s and young adults’ literature should be a daily part of every classroom programme in years 5 to 8. Listening to a story told or read aloud can be a captivating experience.
Reading to students frees them from decoding and supports them in becoming more active listeners, totally immersed in the text. As students create meaning from a spoken text by visualising from the author’s words and making connections between what they already know and what they hear, they extend their literacy knowledge and awareness. They enrich their vocabulary by hearing and discussing new words in context and familiar words used in new ways. They develop new insights into the way language works (for example, how humour can be used) and into the features of different text forms. A lot of implicit learning occurs when students are read to.
Reading aloud gives teachers valuable opportunities to introduce and discuss complex or connected themes and ideas, to model reading strategies, to extend topic studies, and to explore sophisticated language features with students in a relaxed and familiar reading environment. These can later be examined more closely and in greater detail through shared and guided reading.
Reading to students also extends their oral language skills, especially their awareness of the sounds, rhythms, and patterns of language. Listening to texts read fluently, accurately, and with expression is particularly useful to students who need additional support in oral language development or who are learning English as a new language.
When selecting texts for reading to students, teachers are guided by their instructional objectives and by the students’ interests and cultural values. Effective literacy teachers also ensure that they expose their students to new and challenging texts and unfamiliar authors. Teachers need to ensure that their repertoire of “read-to” texts is wide-ranging and is made up of texts that they themselves know and enjoy so that they can make each text come alive for their audience as they read it.
The way the teacher reads aloud is very important. The teacher should become familiar with the text in advance so that they can relax and concentrate on reading it fluently and expressively. Through their voice, they can make the information accessible, bring the characters to life, create the mood effectively, and express their own delight in reading. 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 books are enjoyable and empowering.
Depending on their instructional objectives, the nature of the text, and the students’ interest, the teacher may encourage the students to respond to the text, to predict what may happen, or to discuss possible outcomes (when this can be done without interrupting the flow of the text and the listeners’ engagement). For example, the teacher may ask the listeners to create and share their mental images.
My students and I love sophisticated picture books – getting together on the mat and discussing both the text and the illustrations as I read to them. For instance, we devour picture books by Chris van Allsburg, Gary Crew, and Shaun Tan. The students enjoy listening and then putting the text and picture clues together to make meaning of some quite complex abstract concepts. The discussion and thinking that we share is very stimulating and gives them great ideas for their own writing. We also return to parts of the text and discuss what gives them impact, asking, “What makes this effective writing?”
Teacher, year 8 class