Sometimes we don't think we should read aloud to middle school students. We tend to think that middle schoolers are too old to be read to. We think that because they are capable of reading on their own, they won't enjoy being read to anymore.
In my experience and based on research, that just doesn't bear out. Middle schoolers actually love being read to.
So why should we read aloud to middle school students? Research shows that there are benefits to reading: expands their vocabulary, teaches life skills, increases comprehension, stress relief, exposure to more genres, encourages dreaming and creativity, teaches them what reading sounds like, and develops a love for reading to name just a few of them. We can find so many benefits of reading aloud to middle school students.
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What the Research Says About Read Alouds
PBworks conducted a survey of middle school teachers' read aloud practices that you can access here.
The chart below summarizes the information that was gleaned from that study.
The study confirms that reading aloud to students is very common through about 5th grade, almost universal. But once students enter 6th grade, that number starts to drop off. And by high school (not featured on this chart) reading aloud is almost nonexistent. The top reasons for this were that they thought the students were too old or that there weren't enough hours in a day.
Also notable, English/Literature Arts teachers almost all read aloud to their students. Among their top reasons were to promote a passion for reading, modeling fluent reading or pronunciation, and enhancing comprehension.
The Benefits of Read Alouds
Research shows tons of benefits to read alouds. And I will not be able to talk about all of them. But here is a list of the most prominent benefits:
- Expands their vocabulary
- Exposes them to literature above their reading level
- Teaches life skills
- Increases comprehension
- Stress Relief
- Exposure to more genres of literature
- Encourages dreaming and creativity
- Teaches them inflection
- Shows them what a love for reading looks like.
Let's take a look at the details of each of these points.
1. Expands Their Vocabulary
Studies have shown that one of the best ways children learn new vocabulary is to hear it being used in correct context. That makes reading aloud to middle school students a perfect atmosphere to learn new vocabulary.
And one of the best ways to promote this is to choose books that are just slightly above your students' reading level. Also, make sure the kids have the opportunity to ask you what a new word means if they don't understand it in context. You won't want them to interrupt your reading but you can have them write down the words as best they can and then ask after you are finished reading the chapter. Adding this on as a 5-minute discussion at the end of the read aloud will allow you to teach new vocabulary words to the whole class that they initiated!
2. Exposes Them to Literature Above Their Reading Level
Many students in upper elementary and middle school can comprehend pretty well and have a pretty good knowledge set. But their fluency in reading hasn't quite caught up to where their brain capacity sits.
This makes read alouds to middle schoolers a perfect way to help them continue to grow in their knowledge without being hindered by their reading difficulties. And this could make your students that are having difficulty in their own reading still develop a love of books and reading without the frustration of trying to get through it themselves.
3. Teaches Life Skills
When we read aloud to middle school students about events that changed the course of history, or inventions that created a new world, kids can be amazed at how the world constantly changes around them.
But maybe an even more important lesson here would be the life skills that they can learn from characters that faced difficult or even impossible situations. Or they could learn valuable life skills just from the relational dynamics in the books that you are reading. Every chapter of every book gives us the opportunity to impart some relational knowledge to our students that will improve their knowledge of life skills.
And generally speaking, middle school students love discussing these things because it makes them feel like they are relevant in a world that feels like it is swirling around them.
4. Increases Comprehension
As teachers read to their students, students are hearing word patterns and context that can only expand the knowledge they already have.
And then discussing what was read, whether in formal classroom discussion time, or casually during informal times, only reinforces comprehension and learning of new concepts.
If you are reading a book that is holding your students' attention, they will be more invested in it, which allows them to comprehend more of the story. And it is also building their listening skills!
Plus since you have common ground with the story, it will be easy to direct conversation to ways that show their understanding of the material and allow them to communicate their understanding and opinions back to you.
5. Stress Relief
For just a little bit of time everyday, your students can listen to the story you are reading to them. It will take them to another world, and maybe escape some of the difficulty they are facing in their own world right now.
And that will allow them some relief from stress, whether it is difficulty at school, at home, or anywhere.
Reading aloud to students can provide stress relief in a number of ways. Maybe the plot solves an issue that has been weighing on them in their own life. Or it could take them to a far away land that allows them to live in fictional blissful ignorance for a few minutes every day.
Or it could be inspiration for a change for the better that they are going to make in their life.
The vast majority of time, teachers have no idea what stressors are affecting their middle school students. So picking books that you know are going to help to relieve whatever it is they are going through is golden.
On the flip side, be careful not to choose books that could exacerbate those stressors that they aren't telling you about. I know, you kind of need to be a bit of a fortune-teller here, but if you know a lot of the things that normally get under middle schoolers' skin, then you already know what to focus on and what to stay away from.
6. Exposure to More Genres of Literature
This is one of the easiest things a teacher can do. We all know of books that we know the kids would absolutely love. But we also know they aren't necessarily going to pick it up and read it themselves. So this is our opportunity to expose them to something that we know they are going to love. They just don't know it yet.
One of the most satisfying aspects of being a teacher is reading a book to them that they later come back and tell us how it was the best book they had ever listened to!
And you never know what that will spur on in their future with books! You could even cultivate a future famous author!
And honestly, in middle school, most of these kids have no idea what they want to do when they grow up. So to show them something inspirational that hits home for them is an amazing thing.
7. Encourages Dreaming and Creativity
When we read aloud to middle school students, we generally aren't thinking about much more than what are the best books to read to them. Which books will capture their attention? And what is the best way to read to them to hold their attention without sounding too dramatic or patronizing?
The biggest thing is to be natural. Middle schoolers can smell fake a mile away. And if you are doing what you love, it will reflect that to them. They will generally in turn love it as well, even if that particular book is not their favorite.
But almost any book at this age has the potential to encourage dreaming and creativity among your students.
And while you can predict some of the things that will produce this result, other times you will be totally caught off guard when one or some of your students casually tells you how inspirational a certain book or part of a book was. And why they loved it so much!
It is so much fun for me to see what seeds get started in school life and beyond from what we were reading aloud for just a few minutes daily.
8. Teaches Them Inflection and Pronunciation
I was a reader from the time I could first figure out how to read and spell words.
And as I got older it showed. It mostly showed in words that I pronounced incorrectly, even though I was using them in correct context. My friends and family never missed an opportunity to laugh at those moments.
I usually got over it pretty quickly. And also learned how to pronounce those words.
Reading aloud to students will help them make the connection between what they are hearing and what they have previously and are currently seeing on paper.
And while this may not prevent us readers from pronouncing anything incorrectly, it will certainly help!
Also, learning inflection in this way is critical. As students get older, they notice inflection a whole lot more. So middle school is the perfect time to capitalize on this as they continue to practice reading fluency in their own reading.
9. Shows Them What a Love for Reading Looks Like
As I have said numerous times in many articles, middle schoolers pick up on stuff. They know when we are faking and when we are real.
Sharing our love for reading with them is one way that we can show them that reading is not a waste of time.
It is our way to show them that they can see how the world works, good or bad. It is how they can learn about their favorite things. And it is how they can learn about things they never knew existed until you started reading about those things to them.
They can be inspired by the actions of others. And they can be angered by the actions of others.
The point here is that they can learn about all of life through the books that they read and that are read to them.
And that can teach them a lifelong love for reading because of how life changing it can be for them.
But it is difficult to develop this love of reading if they are not exposed to a love of reading from people that love to read.
Seeing a teacher who not only loves to read aloud to her middle school class but also loves to peek in her books for a few spare seconds here or there is inspirational to middle schoolers. Just be careful that your love for reading doesn't supercede their need to be heard to you at specific moments during the day.
If a student approaches you, make sure you are not so engrossed in your love for reading that they feel like you don't want to hear what they have to say.
Balance is key, just like most of life.
Why the Students Love Read Alouds
I think the number one reason students love read alouds is because they just get to chill for a little bit. They aren't having to wrack their brain over some new concept that is difficult for them. And they aren't bored with a concept that they already know in their sleep. And finally, there are no expectations of them. That is kind of rare in the classroom, where some type of productivity is generally expected.
Some other reasons that middle school students love read alouds (in no particular order) are:
- First, they probably don't get read aloud to very often anymore.
- Second, they enjoy listening to stories.
- Third, they love the freedom they are afforded during that time. (I let them sit wherever they want to with whoever they want to--as long as it is not disruptive. They tend to respect the rules because they know it allows them to keep the freedom!)
Best Time to Do Read Alouds
Almost since the beginning, I found right after lunch break to be the best time to read aloud to my middle school students.
They are kinda drowsy and tired right after lunch. And that allows for me to read to them without a lot of craziness or confusion in the classroom. They eagerly sit and listen as opposed to being rambunctious and having large amounts of energy to expel.
On the flip side, I am usually drowsy too and so ready for that afternoon nap that I cannot take. To counterbalance this, I usually read aloud to my students standing at a podium of sitting away from my desk.
I never spend more than about ten minutes reading. Maybe it will stretch to closer to 15 minutes. The goal is to have the students always be begging you to keep reading. But you never do, wink.
Some of My Favorite Read Alouds
Here is a list of my favorite read-alouds so far:
- Detectives in Togas
- From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- The Dawn Treader
- Charlotte's Web
- The Outsiders
- The Giver
- Alice in Wonderland
There are tons more, but these are my favorites. And they are subject to change with the next book!
I have an article that describes 10 of the most popular middle school reading books that you can look at if you click here.
So the moral of the story is: We should read aloud to our middle school students! I know that time is short, but just a few minutes a day goes so far when you do it for a whole year with them. It will not be lost on them. They will remember it for years to come. And it may inspire them to read to their own children, or even their own classroom someday.