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Why Read-Alouds Matter: Getting the Most Out of Read-Alouds in the Early Childhood Classroom

By HighScope | February 25, 2019

An excerpt from HighScope’s Journal for Early Educators: The Active Learner

Everyone knows that reading is important for young children, and many people think that that’s as simple as opening up a book and reading it to children. However, there’s a big difference between reading a book to children and the interactive reading to a small group that a read-aloud entails.

We’ve asked three early childhood professionals – Stephanie M. Curenton, Rozlyn Grant, and Chris Maier – for their expertise on why read-alouds are important, what strategies they recommend to get the most out of a read-aloud, and what their favorite book for a read-aloud is.

Why are Read-Alouds Important?

Curenton: Read-alouds help children develop vocabulary knowledge, knowledge about print, knowledge of story structure, story comprehension, and knowledge of “literate language” that characterizes written text. Children best learn these skills when the read-aloud is interactive. Interactive read-alouds can be described as reading interactions in which children are fully engaged by asking and responding t questions. Teachers can engage children in conversations about the book at any point during the read-aloud –before, during, or after the reading. The goal of these conversations about the book is to get children to think not only about the text (and/or illustrations) but also about the meaning of the story.

So read-alouds, if they are coupled with conversations, are an important venue for fostering comprehension skills. Like vocabulary and print concepts, comprehension skills are just as important for later reading success, especially when children are in the upper elementary school grades and they have moved beyond “learning to read” and are now into “reading to learn”.

Grant: Reading aloud helps develop the mind and imagination while improving communication, both written and spoken. During read-aloud experiences, children develop a love for reading, understanding that books are powerful tools used to gain information, increase understanding, and provide enjoyment. Interactive reading gives children the opportunity to become leaders in the reading experience by engaging them in making predictions, sharing their experiences, and explaining their thoughts while thinking creatively about what the author is trying to convey through the words written on a page.

During interactive reading, children are exposed to new vocabulary, helping to build their word bank; they practice phonological awareness by reciting rhyming words; they point out familiar letters within a text, eventually helping them to connect letters and sounds; they begin to understand book-handling skills as they observe teachers modeling how to turn the pages of a book; and they practice comprehensions by sharing interesting parts of a story and relating story events to experiences they’ve encountered in their personal lives. For example, while reading a book about a family going camping, a young girl was able to draw from her background knowledge of when her family went on a camping trip. She then became the “storyteller,” sharing her experience of pitching a tent, fishing, building a campfire, and hiking in the woods.

Maier: One important goal of the read-aloud is to influence children’s attitudes and motivation to read for learning and enjoyment. As teachers talk, listen, and engage in conversations with small groups of children, their interests and preferences can be incorporated to accomplish that goal. As a result of these motivating, shared, and enjoyable experiences held in a safe, encouraging small group, children begin to associate the reading experiences with pleasing social interactions with peers and caring adults. Children practice taking turns and listening to other perspectives, and they hear and use language in socially acceptable ways, all the while learning important emergent literacy skills.

Some teachers have also noted that dual language learners, in particular, benefit from small-group read-aloud experiences. The pace and structure provides them with more time and attention to their unique needs. These enjoyable experiences go a long way toward developing positive attitudes and dispositions as children build their English language skills.

Read more in The Active Learner.

Stephanie M. Curenton, Ph.D., is a tenured associate professor at Boston University where she is the Director of the Ecology of School Readiness Lab. She studies the language and literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse children.

Rozlyn M. Grant, M.Ed., has more than 20 years of experience in the early childhood field as a teacher, supervisor, coach, trainer, national speaker, and most recently, director of curriculum and instruction. Rozlyn enjoys engaging with early childhood professions across the country, sharing and gaining expertise.

Chris Maier, Ph.D., leads the Early Childhood Applied Practice Department at HighScope. She has worked in the field of education for 40 years, including as a HighScope Demonstration Preschool teacher, a HighScope Field Consultant, the director fo Oakland University Lowry Early Childhood education Center, and an early childhood education consultant.

Originally published by: Weiner, Marcella F. “Read All About It: Why Read-Alouds Matter” The Active Learner. 2.1 (2018): 10-11.

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In partnership with HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the Exploring Early Childhood Newsletter is a twice a month collection of topical research articles, tips for educators, and unique ways COR Advantage can support the documentation and communication of child development.

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HighScope Educational Research Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, research, development, training, and public outreach organization with headquarters in Ypsilanti, Michigan. HighScope’s mission is to lift lives through education. We are a diverse team of researchers, educators, and passionate professionals who have one thing in common — we share the conviction that all children deserve the highest quality education. We envision a world in which all educational settings use active, participatory learning so everyone has a chance to succeed in life and contribute to society. Visit our website at highscope.org for more information.