Reasons to Read Aloud

It makes you a better reader and writer

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended that I listen to an episode from the Read Aloud Revival podcast that changed my view on teaching writing. Host, Sarah Mackenzie, asked Andrew Pudewa how students become better writers. His answer, in a nutshell, was they need to listen to books that are read aloud.

Pudewa’s link between reading aloud and writing starts with the belief that you cannot get something out the brain that you have not put in. Reading feeds the brain with new characters, story plots and vocabulary to help it produce written work. In another article on the same topic, Pudewa quotes Louis L’Amour saying, “A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first” However, the input-output cycle is not quite that simple. Good readers are often not good writers. One of the reasons for this, according to Pudewa, is because the writer is not listening to good reading. By listening to stories, that are just above their current reading level, students build up their brain’s database with advanced vocabulary and better absorb formal grammatical structures used in writing.

writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first

Louis L’Amour

He holds that reading by yourself doesn’t always yield this same result because the literature may be too simple, words or sections may be skipped and grammar may be ignored. By contrast, a good reader will help their listeners catch the nuances in meaning, grammatical structures and cultural or knowledge references that readers may not have.

Are homeschooling, read-aloud fanatics the only ones who think this way? Clearly not, in a 2018 study, conducted by researchers Colin Macleod and Noah Forrin at the University of Waterloo and published in the journal Memory, found that a number of significant relationships between hearing words read aloud and memory retention. If you are interested in investigating this further, Dylan Hendrick’s recent blog post summarizes a few of Macleod and Forrin’s findings.

It builds community

This summer I listened to The Hobbit with my kids. They loved it! The narrator was amazing. His different voices alone, had my three-year-old captivated even though she barely understood what he was saying. As we built a listening routine, I was surprised to find that it was good quality time with my kids that led to significant conversations. The same is true of the time I have spent reading aloud as a teacher. When I find a book that excites a fair percentage of my class, they always ask for and look forward to read aloud time. As I read, we laugh together, experience the high and low emotions of the characters together and usually watch the movie together. All of these things created a shared experience and build relationships.

What is true for students is true for you

Listening to books that are read aloud not only makes students better, it also makes teachers better. Let me explain what I mean. I have four children under the age of eight. From the time I get up in the morning, until the time I sleep at night, these little people swarm our house. There is little time for any kind of uninterrupted reading. Perhaps you don’t have four kids but I’m sure you can identify with the busyness that can plague our lives. Listening to audiobooks is a way to stay literate and relevant as a teacher. Even when I don’t have time to sit down with a coffee and a book, I do have slices of time when I can listen to books. Listening to books also inspires me to read other books and buy more books. The result is an improvement in my reading and writing ability–improving my ability to teach reading and writing . Realistically, it will help me teach everything with more clarity and understanding.

Tips for Reading Aloud or Listening to Books

  • Pick the right book. If you are reading aloud to your family or to your class, it helps to have a book that is written for reading aloud. Some books have short, choppy prose that difficult to read. One the other hand, picture books–like The Lorax–are written using rhyme and rhythm that is intended for listening pleasure. One of my personal favourites for middle school students, is the illustrated version of The Lightning Thief . A family favourite is The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. Yan Glasser’s smooth writing style and short chapters are perfect for reading aloud.
  • Pick the right genre. Certain genres are easier to follow as a listener. For example, listening to one of Malcom Gladwell’s stories, is much more compelling in audio than persuasive writing with fine distinctions and detailed arguments.
  • Find the right audiobook app or supplier . If you don’t want to read aloud, you could find an app that does it for you. The app I would recommend is Audible –Amazon’s audiobook app. It has the best selection of audiobooks, is very user-freindly and reliable. Our library also has a few apps. One is called OverDrive, there is also one called Libby that I have on our iPad to download audiobooks–yours might too. There is also a good chance that your local library is well-stocked with a number with a number of CD audiobooks–if still have a machine that plays those.
  • Pick the right reader. When you download audiobooks, make sure that you sample the readers voice. If you are anything like me, it will be really hard to endure multiple chapters a voice that you find annoying. If you are reading to your class, you will want to model the best expression, pacing and funny voices that you can. But don’t be afraid to make mistakes–these will be instructive for your class too.
  • Pick the right time and place. Scheduling in a routine of reading before bedtime, on Sunday afternoons or during workouts is a ideal but not always possible. The great part about audiobooks, is that you can download them onto an app and listen whenever you have downtime. Are you going on a road trip, taking a hike, or doing an workout? Why not listen to an audiobook? Do you have a block after lunch that is set aside for reading or creative writing? Why not mix it up and read a book to your class–or listen to an audio book? Having a reading space with ambient lighting and comfortable chairs or pillows is great for reading aloud to a class. I often find a relaxed place in the library to read to my class.

Reflection

  • Do you read aloud to your students? Why or Why not?
  • What other reasons are there for reading aloud to students or listening to audiobooks as a teacher?

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. Amazing post, Jordan. “By listening to stories, that are just above their current reading level, students build up their brain’s database with advanced vocabulary and better absorb formal grammatical structures used in writing.” You’ve got me thinking I need to do more of this with my class next term!

    For an absolutely fascinating look at the way existing content inspires us to create, check out Everything is Remix on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJPERZDfyWc. I highly recommend it.

    Like

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: