The best book they ever heard

Most of us probably think reading aloud is something you do with younger children, but 58 percent of middle school teachers regularly stand and read before classrooms of all ages. Something must be working.

Reading aloud is for little kids, right?

Surely, once a student reaches middle school and can competently work their way through a fairly complex book – navigating the plot, following the themes, unpicking the metaphors – it’s best to just leave them to it? Not necessarily so.

Middle student reading E

There are two good reasons why. The first is fairly straightforward: a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade. They literally will get more out of being read to.

According to Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook: “You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.”

Powerful memories

The second reason why teachers read to students is less scientifically sound, but equally important: because it’s fun. Anyone lucky enough to have had a charismatic (and often mildly eccentric) English teacher who read aloud great books in class will probably still have certain passages soldered into their memory.

waving arms teacher E

And for many middle school students, Shakespeare’s plays are just a blur of words on a page until they start reading them aloud in class. Only once they start rolling the words around in their mouths and actually hearing the rhythms of the language, does the whole wonderful thing come to life.

Time to explain

Teacher Jessica Lahey, a committed read-aloud enthusiast, even allows her seventh and eighth graders to lie on the floor and close their eyes during classes, so they can totally lose themselves in the story. (She readily admits to sometimes getting ‘a little nuts-o’ during her readings, to heighten the dramatic tension.)

It works: her students love books. Another advantage, particularly when covering classic literature, is that she can pause at any time to explain complex plot points her class might otherwise not pick up on.

Perhaps best of all, Jessica’s students can immediately question something they don’t understand, so they’re literally learning as they go along. None of this would happen if they all had their heads stuck in books.

Story time

Research suggests that middle school students show a surge in motivation and interest when teachers read aloud to them. They enjoy it, and it shows.

And clearly, for huge numbers of people this kind of enjoyment continues right through to adulthood. How else do you explain the gazillion audio books that are sold every year? Someone’s buying them.

Audio book E

Just think of all those audio book fans for a moment. A legion of grown men and women, each settling back into a chair, closing their eyes and listening to the silky tones of a charismatic voice telling them a good story.

Where do you think they first got the taste for that?

Book Trust is dedicated to ensuring kids from low-income areas are able to choose and buy their own books. Every child deserves an opportunity to fall in love with reading – and we make that happen.

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