The Benefits of a Read-Aloud Across Grade Levels

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert and National Urban Literacy Consultant; M.A. in Literacy and Culture
A teacher reads a book to a group of elementary pupils that are sitting on the ground.

What is a Read-Aloud? 

A read-aloud is an instructional strategy in which teachers of all grade levels read texts aloud to students. A read-aloud can include a picture book, poem, or even a few chapters read aloud each day from a chapter book. Younger children are often gathered in front of the teacher on the carpet, while older students usually sit at their desks during a read-aloud.

It is recommended that read-aloud stories for kids should be of a higher reading level or grade level text for students to listen to and orally comprehend. A read-aloud experience for our youngest readers, ages two to four, can set children on the path to literacy success. Once children are of school age, there are benefits of a read-aloud at every grade level.

Read-Aloud Benefits: Elementary School 

A read-aloud at the elementary school level can help support a child’s literacy journey by supporting all five pillars of reading. Teachers model oral language skills during a read-aloud, including phonological awareness and fluency. Phonological awareness like letter sound relationships, rhyme, and syllabication are evident during experiences of read-aloud books. Teachers model fluency through smooth, expressive phrasing as well.

Phonics patterns can also be taught from a read-aloud, specifically a poem or children’s book focusing on a pattern or word family. Vocabulary knowledge and listening comprehension also significantly increase through a read-aloud experience. In addition to supporting reading skills, a read-aloud can also support social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching.

When a teacher strategically selects a diverse children’s picture book to teach a positive character trait, they are adding a lot of value to this 20-minute read-aloud text experience. Children’s literature also teaches life lessons that reflect real-world experiences.

Read-Aloud Benefits: Middle School 

While phonological awareness is not emphasized in middle school, phonics is still a valuable lesson learned through text, primarily plays and poetry. Fluency and vocabulary development are also essential because the teacher is modeling these reading skills at a higher reading level or grade level for students to learn from.

When teachers remove the burden of struggling students having to read text aloud by themselves, reading comprehension skills become the focus of a read-aloud experience for the middle school level. Social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching, especially through social studies and history units, can also be planned during read-aloud time in middle school.

Read-Aloud Benefits: High School 

While phonics is no longer an emphasis in high school, fluency is still an important component of reading development, which can be more challenging for struggling readers decoding high school-level text. This fluency modeled by teachers allows students to focus on vocabulary and comprehension during a read-aloud in high school. Social-emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching can also occur in high school through novel studies, history units, social studies lessons, and articles about the government or current events.

How did COVID Impact Reading Instruction?

Data shows that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted reading instruction, especially in the early elementary school level, kindergarten to second grade, where the foundations of reading are emphasized.

The use of virtual and hybrid learning and the lack of in-person learning for at least 14 months in various school communities around the country contributed to the learning loss of reading in all grade levels. Most students around the country haven’t had a “normal” school year in two years, so teachers and students have worked hard to complete “unfinished learning” this school year.

Studies show that the average student entered school at least four months behind in reading this fall. As children continue to be passed on to grade levels over the next few years, COVID will continue to impact reading instruction. Teachers of all grade levels need to become competent and confident in teaching the five pillars of reading to reach readers of all levels.

There are some reading strategies that help, though. Phonological awareness and phonics should become key components of reading instruction to help students become successful independent readers. Differentiated reading instruction and small group reading instruction will help students make the most tremendous gains on their developmental reading journey.

 Ways to Incorporate Read-Alouds in the Classroom 

Traditional Read-Alouds

A traditional read-aloud takes place when a teacher gather children on the carpet in early education or elementary school years to listen to a selected book. This can also work for older students directly in the classroom. Despite the grade level, teachers are modeling:

This helps student engagement so that they understand what great readers do and how they look when they are reading. Since students are listening rather than reading themselves, they can focus on understanding the book and often answer oral comprehension questions with greater ease.

Choral Reading, Echo Reading, or Partner Reading

A read-aloud can be turned into a shared reading experience when students chorally read or echo read a poem or specific repeated lines of a text. This practice is most appropriate at the kindergarten or first-grade level. Choral reading is reading aloud in unison as a class or as a group, while echo reading consists of the teacher reading a line and the students repeating it back like an “echo.”

Students in upper grades can partner read sections of the shared reading text as well. Teachers may pique student interest for upper grades by simply reading the first chapter of some grade-level appropriate books. After reading three to four chapters from four different novels, students can select the title they want to continue reading independently or in a book club.

It has been suggested that children in school should experience at least five texts a day. This could include anything, including a poem, a picture book, a chapter book, or an article. A daily read-aloud in math, science, social studies, language arts, and social-emotional learning can help achieve this goal, which helps children become interested and excited about reading in every grade level at any age.

Do you have a passion for literacy and helping students develop their reading skills? Explore our variety of available literacy and reading programs and enroll today to advance your career!

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