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The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Secondary Students

the benefits of reading aloud to secondary students

The Benefits of Reading Out Loud To Secondary Students

The practice of reading aloud to students becomes increasingly infrequent as students move up in grades. Reading aloud is for children, we think. We’ve convinced ourselves that reading aloud takes away from rigor and intellectual advancement. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Therefore, while reading aloud is often associated with young children and elementary classrooms, the benefits of this approach to literature and other texts know no limits. The truth is, reading out loud to (and with) your students has a number of benefits, from stimulating meaningful conversations to modeling comprehension strategies. Additionally, reading aloud improves student comprehension and helps bridge the learning gap for struggling students. (I could go on and on.)

Let’s face it. The (unfortunate) truth is that the average student’s interest in reading drops as they reach the secondary classroom. Additionally, in terms of ability, literacy rates are dropping overall. More and more teachers are struggling to engage reluctant readers. To support struggling readers. To combat the surge in students mindlessly scanning the pages as they “read” the material at hand. I’m not saying reading aloud is a cure all. However, it certainly can help address some of these struggles.

Research Supported Evidence

I’ll admit it. My choice to read aloud to my secondary students stemmed from selfish reasons. Simply put, I love reading and I didn’t want to miss out on sharing the experience with my students. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit reading aloud helped quiet my worries about those students who I knew weren’t reading at home.

But, as I learned over the years, there was a method to my madness! It turns out incorporating read alouds in the classroom has been proved effective and valuable by some good old research.

While reading aloud is a staple in any elementary classroom, the benefits in the secondary classroom are just as great. According to the research, benefits include increased literacy, fluency, and comprehension, as well as increased accessibility to the material for all students, regardless of their reading level. (Can I confirm these results in my own classroom? You bet.)

But even those benefits are just scratching the surface of what’s possible when you incorporate reading aloud in the secondary classroom. 

The Many Benefits of Reading Aloud In The Secondary Classroom

Some literature is simply meant to be read aloud (think plays, like The Crucible). Other times reading aloud can help students really get into the drama (think, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery).  In other instances, reading aloud allows you to guide students through a rich text (take The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye, for example). It also opens the door to guiding emotional yet essential conversations about important topics and themes, such as society (think The Hunger Games) and identity (like with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).

Regardless, no matter what the text or its purpose is, there are many benefits both you and your students can experience when reading aloud.

Increased Vocabulary And Fluency

How many times have you skimmed over a word because you simply don’t know it? *Raises hand.* We’ve all been there. And our students have, too. In fact, students tend to ignore unknown words when reading independently. In many cases, an overwhelming and unfamiliar vocabulary can be a total turnoff and distraction to students.

On the other hand, they can pick up on new words, hear their pronunciation, and understand their meaning in context when we read aloud. Besides, listening to a teacher read aloud is far better than reading the dictionary, no? While both may very well improve one’s vocabulary, I’d prefer the former.

Similarly, reading aloud to our students can help them understand fluency and tone. They can gain an appreciation for how these, combined with pacing, can enhance a story. While many students may not understand what the term “fluency” means or why it’s important, they will experience the benefit as their teacher reads with accuracy and proper pacing and expression. By reading aloud to your students, you are modeling what fluent reading sounds like, giving them something to strive for when reading independently.

Increased Comprehension, Regardless Of Reading Level Or Interest

Students come into our classrooms with a wide range of reading levels and interests. They are likely to be far more reluctant to read  (let alone understand) a text above their reading level or outside of their interest. Aside from those challenges,older students tend to be more reluctant to read, period. Of course, this can make teaching a real challenge. However, reading aloud can be a great way to surpass those boundaries.

Just because a text is above a student’s reading level doesn’t mean they cannot understand it. Similarly, just because a student wouldn’t pick up the text on their own, doesn’t mean they can’t grasp its meaning. By listening to you read the text aloud, students can focus on their comprehension, not decoding words or deciding if they want to read or not. Instead, you can guide them toward understanding by asking meaningful questions, encouraging annotations, or simply giving them the space to think critically about the material at hand.

When you read aloud with your students, you create a community experience. Some students might find they have more in common with a character than they would have assumed (especially since they might not read the text on their own). They might understand a perspective they would have never been exposed to otherwise. Additionally, comprehension is the first step toward higher-level thinking, such as critical thought and textual analysis. Therefore, as they listen to you read, they can put their energy and effort toward thinking about the text.

Increased Teacher Guidance and Modeling

We consistently remind students to be “active readers.” Yet, many students are left scratching their heads, wondering what the heck that even means. Reading aloud is an excellent opportunity to show them what it means. Therefore, when reading aloud, teachers can model good reading practices.

As you read, pause to model imperative reading comprehension and analysis skills. Afterall,  following teaching a new skill or strategy, it helps students to see it in action. Therefore, reading aloud is a great resource when teaching and reviewing strategies like activating prior knowledge and making inferences.

Additionally, teachers can model various interpretations of a particular section of a text. Not only will this help students understand the versatile nature of literature, but give them permission and freedom to consider their interpretations rather than always seeking a particular answer. By taking this approach, you’ll help build confident readers. 

Increased (And Meaningful) Interaction With The Text

Listening to a teacher read a text simply isn’t enough. (And totally misses the point.) It’s crucial for students to play an active role in their education and, when it comes to reading, that means interacting with the text. Don’t settle for passive listeners. Instead, encourage students to engage in meaningful discussions as you read. Invite them to ask questions, make connections, and share their reactions to the text.

Think about the life lessons and imperative discussions literature begs us to have. Reading aloud makes room for these topics in real-time. It’s okay to pause and let students interact with the text in these meaningful ways. Truthfully, these moments led to some of the best organic and robust discussions in my classroom over the years.

Reading aloud gives us a unique and important opportunity. Our secondary students face a variety of life decisions, emotions, and issues at this age. They might be facing uncertainties about the world around them or struggling to find their place in it. Discussing these thoughts in the context of another person or fictional plot provides a safe place to have these imperative conversations, diving deeper into the text and their own experiences.

Overall Enjoyment

We’re constantly competing for students’ attention. Texting, social media, laptops. Their attention is spread thin. It’s easy for them to want to grab for their cell phone when words are blurring together on the page. However, reading aloud allows students to use multiple senses as they focus on the text at hand.

And who doesn’t love being read to? It’s relaxing. It can take some of the stress off of students as they’re constantly wading through material throughout the school day. So, instead of struggling through complex words or losing their attention, they can focus on the words on the page while hearing them spoken aloud.

As a result, they’re more likely to recognize and appreciate the overall art of storytelling and pick up a thing or two they might have otherwise missed. (My students might miss the emphasis Holden puts on “phoniness” in The Catcher in the Rye. But Once I point it out, it stands out like a neon sign.) It’s a win-win!

The Benefits of Reading Aloud For The Struggling Student

Spoiler alert: Reading aloud is a great way to close the gap in student ability.

Reading Aloud Increases The Accessibility Of The Material

Today’s classrooms often include a wide variety of students. With that comes a range of abilities. Many students struggle to focus on or make sense of the long, complex texts they encounter at the secondary level. And with standards to meet, teachers face the challenge of bridging this gap for reluctant learners and struggling students.

By reading the material aloud, teachers can reach a wide range of abilities at once. While reading independently might require a variety of texts to be assigned to different students, reading aloud is a great way to have a shared experience for all students. Listening to a text, or even portions of a text helps to make the literature accessible, even to those who struggle to read on their own.

While I read most short stories aloud, there’s not always time to read an entire novel aloud. Carefully choose which parts are most important for student comprehension and choose to read those parts aloud, guiding student comprehension through meaningful discussions along the way. As for the rest of the text, see if you can find it on tape! Again, just because a student struggles to decode difficult words does not mean the concept is above their abilities to comprehend.

Worried about holding students back? No need! If you have advanced students, allow them to go to the library and get ahead or complete extension activities at an accelerated pace.

Tips For Reading Aloud

Plan Ahead.

Reading aloud takes time, more so than silently reading. However, I would argue reading aloud is a more enriching experience. Therefore, plan ahead to know how much time you have to dedicate to reading and discussing a particular text. Trust me. Time always goes by faster than you think.

Review The Text.

Before reading, conduct a quick review to jog students’ memories about what happened previously in the text. This will help them get into the right mindset and prepare to be active and engaged listeners.

Read With Enthusiasm.

Speaking of engaged listeners, avoid the dreaded monotone read aloud. Instead, use this as a chance to show students the power of tone, pacing, and inflection. If you’re really feeling up for it, give each character a distinct voice or let the students step in to read the dialogue.

Chunk It Out.

Many students seem to have the attention span of a puppy these days. (Squirrel!) Don’t expect them to sit quietly and attentively through thirty minutes of straight reading. Instead, chunk it out. Note the places where you will pause and discuss, ask them questions, have them write a quick reflection, or turn and talk with a partner. In addition to chunking it out, these short activities will keep students engaged.

Don’t Just Read Aloud, But Think Aloud.

As you read, be sure to pause and share your thoughts, make connections, and ask questions about the material. Then, you can encourage students to do the same, fostering a foundation for meaningful discussion as you read through the text.

Take Advantage Of The Opportunities.

Reading aloud is an experience that you and your students share. Take advantage of that. Pay attention to their reactions, both obvious and subtle. Take the time to discuss what you just read. Help them unpack the meaning, read between the lines, and connect the text to the world around them. This is where the true magic of critical thought happens.

The Bottom Line About Reading Aloud

Reading aloud is a great strategy in any classroom, regardless of the students’ age or abilities. Reading aloud isn’t juvenile nor strictly reserved for children’s literature. In fact,  reading aloud is highly effective when it comes to more complex texts as well. Will it take time? Absolutely. But, trust me. It’s definitely worth it.

As you read aloud, you’re enriching students’ interaction with and understanding of the material at hand. You’re encouraging your students to partake in reflection and critical thought. You’re creating a shared experience among your students, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities. And in the highly diverse world we live (and teach) in today, what a beautiful thing that is.

And if that isn’t enough, you’ll also engage otherwise disengaged learners and seamlessly support struggling readers. Need I say more?

So, what are you waiting for? Start thinking about how you can incorporate reading aloud in your classroom ASAP! I’m willing to bet it will be something both you and your students will enjoy (and benefit from).

1 thought on “The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Secondary Students”

  1. This is a great strategy to be employed in delivering a lesson for the students for they will be able to actively participate in the discussion of the lesson while the teacher is reading aloud.

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