By the time many students reach middle school, they no longer have books read aloud to them at home or at school. But research shows benefits of hearing books read aloud, including improved comprehension, reduced stress, and expanded exposure to different types of materials.
For five minutes of each class period, I read aloud to my middle school students. I’m often asked how I “give up time” each day to read, but the five minutes are a gift to my students. Spending this time each day enriches the classroom community, allows me to share a love of reading, enhances my language arts instruction, and exposes students to new authors, genres, and themes.
During daily independent reading, students choose a book that is both interesting to them as individuals and appropriately challenging for their ability. Reading aloud provides an opportunity for students to experience a shared text together.
When choosing a book to read aloud, I look for books that represent diversity in a way that counters stereotypes and provides opportunities for students to develop compassion and understanding for others. As we read and discuss these powerful topics, students develop common connections and have an opportunity to practice civil discourse. Blended, by Sharon Draper, provides an opportunity to discuss code-switching, divorce, racism, police prejudice, and the biracial experience. Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate, tells a beautiful story through the eyes of a tree and provides an opportunity to discuss religious tolerance, Islamophobia, and friendship.
Scheduling read-aloud time for the last five minutes of class means that students walk out of class talking about the book and wondering what will happen next in the story. The suspense facilitates excitement around reading and engagement in the content for the entire instructional block.
Reading aloud allows me to model reading strategies. I ask questions, share my thoughts, and make connections between the text and other texts, as well as cross-curricular content. The book Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, provides an opportunity to connect to both science and social studies curricula. Throughout the novel, River, a Kentucky coal miner’s son, deals with the devastating environmental and human impact of mountaintop removal. Meena, an Indian immigrant, helps her mom prepare for the citizenship test and reflects on what it really means to be an American.
Using examples of the writer’s craft provides mentor texts for students in context. For example, while students are crafting their own memoir, I may stop to point out the sensory details the author uses and then allow them to discuss how that approach might be applied in their own writing. Students also have the opportunity to practice listening skills during this time. I approach it with them as a time for mindful listening and focus.
Reading is fun. It allows us to experience other worlds and situations. Reading has the power to open hearts and humanize those who are often dehumanized. Reading the stories of others can help us to better understand and reflect on our own stories. Helping students find a love of reading sets them up for a lifetime of learning.
Reading each day to my students reinforces the value I place on reading and gives me a consistent opportunity to show my enthusiasm for books. It also provides some students an opportunity to enjoy a book without struggling to decode words. Careful selection of books also allows students to be introduced to new authors and genres.
Novels are my most common selection, but I also use picture books because they increase students’ exposure to diverse themes and characters as well as provide an opportunity to interpret and discuss pictures as text features. Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, uses beautiful language and vibrant illustrations to spark conversations about social responsibility, socioeconomic diversity, and finding beauty in our everyday lives. The Sandwich Swap, written by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, provides an opportunity to discuss how much everyone gains when we take the time to learn about each other’s cultures and beliefs. Illustrations can be useful for comprehension and engagement by middle school students.