Ever heard someone say, “that book changed my life”?
There have been a few books to change my life over the years, but I still remember the very first. I was nine years old, and my teacher read See Ya Simon aloud to the class. It’s a book about a teenager (Simon) who’s normal in every way, except for the fact he has muscular dystrophy and doesn’t have long to live.
It single-handedly changed my nine-year-old world view, and how I saw and treated others around me.
It taught me that reading books aloud to children is powerful.
In fact, it’s crucial to literacy development.
Why is it so important? Let’s take a look.
5 ways reading aloud to students develops literacy
1. It models how to read fluently
When you read to your students, you’re modelling how to read language.
You pause at commas and full stops. You make inflection changes when you read question or exclamation marks. You show how you handle words you’re not familiar with. In other words, you give your students a framework to guide them in their own reading.
2. It’s great for vocabulary
Students can listen to more complicated language than they can read. Reading aloud makes challenging texts more accessible, and exposes them to a wider range of vocabulary and language patterns.
Stopping to discuss the meaning of new words will help cement their new knowledge even more!
3. It exposes students to new authors, texts and genres
You can’t judge a book by its cover – but so many of us do!
The great thing about reading aloud to your class is that you’re choosing for them something they might not have chosen for themselves – and that’s exactly what they need.
Learners need challenge and diversity. They need to see other people, cultures, and communities, and to be able to make connections to themselves. Books show them how different characters handle the same fears, interests and concerns that they have.
4. It builds awareness and empathy
My experience with See Ya Simon is a great example: As nine-year-old me listened to the story, I heard how Simon was treated (or mistreated) by his peers, and I made a decision about how I’d treat people like him in the future. (Kindly!)
Books help students understand something without experiencing it for themselves, and build their understanding of humanity and the world around them.
5. It can change how students feel about themselves
Research has shown there are strong links between literacy, school performance and self-esteem.
How’s that possible? You might have seen it yourself: the students who fall behind in reading often feel the effects acutely. Struggling readers can feel like a failure, and lose all desire to learn to read or even go to school. Some even begin to act out in class or set low expectations for themselves.
By reading aloud, you’re boosting their literacy development – and their chances of success in school. Readers (especially struggling readers) learn to love stories by hearing them.
So the question is – what are you going to read to your class this term?
About the author
Keri is a teacher, publisher and communications specialist. She's worked in primary and early childhood education, and now manages the digital communications for CSI Literacy.