Reading aloud to adolescents

>> Wednesday, January 20, 2010

 Reading aloud to students in the classroom: it's not just for elementary schools anymore.

An Education Week article this month says more and more middle school and high school teachers are reading aloud to their students. “If the only thing a teacher shares is from a textbook, how are you going to get students excited about reading?” asks Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, and longtime read-aloud advocate. According to the article, teachers see reading aloud to older students as a way to model good reading, build interest in a topic, expose kids to books they might not otherwise read, and promote a love of literature.

When I taught eighth grade, I made a point of reading out loud to them once a week. I didn't read from the books I assigned for class. Instead, I read from popular novels--mystery, science fiction, fantasy--to get them interested in genres and books not often covered in a traditional curriculum. In some cases, I read the whole book, in installments, over time. Other times I read on the first chapter or first few pages of a book, as a teaser. I always chose a book from my in-class library, so interested kids could find the book later and finish reading it on their own.

One of my favorite professors of all time, Dr. Ted Hipple, used to do the same thing in his graduate education classes. He would bring in a stack of YA titles from his bookshelves, read the first few pages, and then ask who wanted the book to finish it. Half the class would raise their hands, and he would chuck the books across the room at people. It was a circus. It created an excitement about books seldom seen in a classroom, where books are usually ceremoniously opened, studied, and then stowed away until homework time.

No, reading aloud to kids shouldn't be a replacement for learning good personal reading habits--but as Jim Trelease says, if all we do is read from dry textbooks in class, how are we supposed to show kids how to read for pleasure?


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