Reading aloud

Summary of key findings

Reading aloud and discussing the text was a crucial strand of the RfP pedagogy identified in the TaRs research. It enabled children to access rich and challenging texts, offered a model for silent independent reading, prompted the children’s affective engagement and created a class repertoire of ‘texts in common’ to discuss.  

In this short film researcher Roger McDonald and teacher Claire Williams explain the implications of the findings and how we can address them in our teaching practice.

Reading aloud relied upon teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature, and when combined with booktalk, and time and space for independent reading in a social reading environment supported the development of communities of engaged readers.

More research details

Initially when the practitioners in the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) project read aloud, this was as part of the formal literacy curriculum and from the text they were currently studying with the children. It was thus linked to, and used for, comprehension and related writing activities. The children did not always view it positively. By unconsciously tethering reading aloud to literacy teaching, many of the teachers offered no provision for hearing literature or other texts read aloud without attendant work. Some did read aloud on other occasions, but this was deemed an ‘extra’, as icing on the cake, only included when time allowed. 

As the research year progressed, and teachers listened to texts read aloud to them in project sessions, they developed new knowledge of the value of reading aloud, its many personal, social and cognitive benefits and a deeper understanding of the pedagogic principles involved. They came to recognise the affective impact of reading to ‘reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, to inspire’ (Trelease, 2013:04). 

Nonetheless, it took time for the teachers to find and make the space to read aloud regularly in the classroom and a genuine shift in thinking for them to consider reading aloud as a key pedagogic and professional practice that supports young readers, offers an externalised model of expressive reading, and enables them to access texts beyond their current reading ‘ability’. There is considerable evidence that reading aloud to children enables them to process challenging content, text features and vocabulary – even in subjects not normally associated with reading aloud, such as science and technology (Heisley and Kukan 2010). Furthermore, reading to 4-5 year olds more frequently has been shown to lead to higher reading, maths and cognitive skills at age 8-9 (Kalb and van Ours, 2013). 

By the end of the year, all teachers reported reading aloud at least 4-5 times per week, some read every day and other at ‘every chance we get’. These changes were accompanied and driven by a growing sense amongst teachers that reading aloud is intrinsically valuable, and that books should not be used solely as conduits for delivering curriculum literacy objectives. 

 I now read to the class without thinking ‘I could do this with it or I could do that with it’ and I think the children sit back and think ‘I can just enjoy this’ … that had been a big struggle - thinking how many boxes can I tick, what objectives can I cover and you actually then lose the impact of…the book. You know, just enjoy it for a book and a good story and a good emotional journey. - (TaRs teacher, Birmingham) 

As teachers developed their reading aloud skills, they took more pleasure in ‘doing the voices’, inhabiting the text and making it an interactive experience, with in depth or brief conversations about what was being read and additional book recommendations. Teachers also seized informal, unplanned opportunities to read aloud from a diverse range of texts. 

The research demonstrated that reading aloud creates a sense of community, building the class repertoire of ‘books in common’ and a shared reading history. Teachers also noted it gives all children access to sophisticated themes and literary language without placing literacy demands on them. At the close of the project, reading aloud was widely viewed as a key strand of a reading for pleasure pedagogy, one which demonstrates the power and potential of literature and thus influences children’s perceptions of the pleasure to be found in reading.

Adapted from pages 94-97 Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge.  

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries and related papers  at http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book, or the UKLA/Primary National Strategy professional development guide to developing reading for pleasure (based upon TaRs, Cremin et al., 2008).

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document is designed to help you consider your practice with regard to reading aloud. In the TaRs research, reading aloud was identified as one of the 4 core strands of an effective reading for pleasure pedagogy, although it is not simply a case of employing these strands. Teachers need a rich repertoire of children’s literature and other texts, knowledge of the children as readers and an understanding of reading and being a reader.

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Practical classroom strategies

Through reading aloud we have texts in common - stories, poems, news – that we all share, laugh about, are shocked by and discuss together- so small but so important for building a sense of a reading community. (TaRs teacher, Barking and Dagenham)

1. Read aloud PLUS 

Read aloud and pause occasionally to invite the children to engage with the text in some way. Try to avoid a battery of questions, but rather seek to offer a variety of brief, small group activities to promote children’s involvement with the text. These could include: 

  • open-ended pair discussions of characters/themes/other books by the author
  • making connections to the text ( to life or other texts/films, books etc)
  • group freeze frames of what might happen next
  • the use of props/puppets/objects

2. Daily read aloud with your class

Build up the class repertoire of ‘texts in common’; select texts that you love but also be prepared to share texts that enthuse the children. Poetry and picture fiction often only take a few minutes and can be revisited and read again and again with pleasure. Extracts from news articles can also be brief and engaging.  

3. Weekly read aloud with your class

Choose ideas from the menu below to read aloud with your children.

  • writing from a new author/illustrator/poet
  • writing from a prize-winning author/illustrator/poet
  • reading around a particular theme
  • reading around a particular genre
  • a novel/collection of short stories/anthology of poetry
  • an opening chapter to entice and invite.

4. Who makes the choices?  

As well as making your own wise choices of books that are rich and engaging reads, consider regularly asking the children to choose/vote for the texts they would like to be read aloud. For example, you could offer 3 WWII books or 3 of David Almond’s books… Read the blurb for each as a taster and let your class vote. Alternatively profiling 3 illustrators or poets, with a reading/sharing of one of their works offers a taster to help the class choose.

5. Where and when does reading aloud take place?

Consider different environments where reading aloud can happen. This could be:

  • In the school library
  • In the playground/outdoor area
  • On a story-telling chair, inside or outside the classroom
  • As part of special school events.

6. Who does the reading?  

Invite a variety of readers to read aloud with the children. Consider the size of group – this could be for individuals, groups or the whole class. Invitations could be made to:

  • The children in your class 
  • Children from other classes (e.g. consider setting up reading buddies)
  • Support staff/TAs
  • Parents/carers/family members 
  • Adults in the community speaking/reading/telling stories in different languages

7. Children move and choose

Once a week invite all the children in your year group/ school to select from a menu of reading aloud sessions. In these staff chose a focus/theme/book to read aloud for 15 minutes. After lunch, or at the end of the day, children go to another teacher’s class to listen. This might also involve TAs enabling smaller groups in the library too and could be on a smaller scale or simply once a term.

8. Read aloud and draw

As you take your time, use your voice playfully and bring the text to life, allowing longish pauses at ellipses and chapter gaps, invite children to doodle or draw – IF they wish while you read. 

9. Author readings

Where school budgets allow, invite authors/poets/illustrators in to share their work. Ensure that children are familiar with the works before you do so. If budgets don’t allow, there is plenty of material online (eg Letterpress) and audiobooks where you can share children’s authors’ reading their work aloud. 

10. Annual big bedtime read aloud

Once a year invite all the children, siblings, parents/carers and community in your Year Group/ school to a big bedtime sleepover/evening event. Suggest that they come in their pyjamas and bring a favourite text they want to read to others /have read aloud to them.

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