Across the course of my teaching career, no matter what age or stage of children I am teaching, I have always read to them aloud as a class. Sure, sometimes with older classes this is not always initially welcomed, but I cannot think of a single class that did not grow to appreciate the experience.
Digging through memories of my time at school, I can recall being read to. Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in the equivalent of Year 2 (I kid you not) was not a hit (I was too young), but just about every other book I can bring to mind was an invitation to expand my world and embrace new ideas, new people and new experiences, and I listened spellbound. We were encouraged to browse the library too, which further fuelled the interests stirred by being read to in class.
There is no doubt that reading out loud to children is beneficial for them. There is an established body of research detailing the benefits and plenty of examples illustrating why making time to read aloud with classes and to enjoy reading books together in this way is so important. (See below for more on this.)
Ben King, Year 5 teacher and Reading Lead at Kingslea Primary School in West Sussex, has long read aloud to his classes. He is certain there are benefits to be gained: “Reading out loud I think is one of the biggest contributors to not only developing and nurturing inference skills, emphasis and a myriad of other reading traits but also in fostering a genuine love of reading for pleasure.”
It is this genuine love of reading that can have such a powerful influence on learning across the curriculum. Wherever interests lie, inspiring books can be identified to boost that interest and move it onwards. But we need to keep reading aloud, even as children move up through the years. As Ben explains, “Once children become free readers often they no longer share books, some parents feel a lack of importance in relation to sharing stories together, at bed time for example, and instead opt to allow children to read alone in bed before sleep. This can be especially common if the child reading is considered part of the school homework. However, the benefits of shared reading cannot be overstated. Adults model so much, pronunciation, pause for effect and the adaptation of voices to show characters just some of the facets. This flows even further to audio books, I have to turn down requests from my own class to listen to stories most afternoons (I don't want to overload their brains with too much).”
There are other, less overtly academic but equally important reasons for taking those opportunities to read aloud. “Being able to enjoy a secret journey together brings the class and its teacher closer, they have a common feeling, a common shared enemy perhaps and a collective mission,” Ben explains. “Reading is too often used as a punishment, too often left for the end of the day when it often slips off the timetable. A lack of carpet space in Key Stage 2, I firmly believe, plays a role with many teachers feeling that distance between reader and listener like a real space. But whatever time constraints, whatever pressures, time must be found, reading to a shared audience must be supported, promoted and cherished.”
Boosting reading across the school
- If we want teachers to read aloud to their classes we need to allow time for them to develop subject knowledge, specifically their knowledge of children’s literature and how it can be used to support and promote learning across the curriculum. That said, reading aloud should not solely be utilised to support other dimensions of learning; it holds benefits sufficient in itself.
- It is not just about reading stories, but discussing the text too, making links and connections, understanding motivations and character, predicting outcomes, reflecting on narratives and conclusions.
- Make something of the shared experience of reading together. Allow children to bring in favourite books to read to their class as well as making suggestions for you to read to them. Share the reading of a book, too.
- Encourage the discussion of the text in between times. Demonstrate how we can become hooked on storylines and excited to find out what happens in the next installment.
- Think about where you can read aloud? It’s not just about the classroom. Can you have a story outside or in some other location in your school that would suit the text?
- Consider reviewing the texts you read. Share those reviews around the school with children in different classes.
- If you have a budget for it, consider inviting authors in to do readings. It can be a brilliant way of injecting enthusiasm for reading into your school.
Reading aloud in schools is about adding richness to the curriculum on offer; it’s about building community in classes and about sharing and discussing experiences. And ultimately, it’s about pleasure in and enjoyment of the written word and accompanying illustrations.
Find out more…
- The Open University’s Research Rich Pedagogies pages on reading aloud can be accessed here
- Examples of reading aloud across school can be found here
Practical suggestions for boosting reading aloud in your school can be found here
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.