Reading Aloud Builds Better Writers

I’m consulting in a local school today where I’ve been working with the staff since August rolling-out interactive read aloud.  Every two months the interactive read aloud text set reflects a particular social issue.  Today we’re preparing for the voice/silence text set, which teachers will begin in April.   Each teacher, in grades K – 5, needs approximately three 30-minute sessions/week to get through each of their text sets.  The books they read aloud during interactive read aloud are supposed to be in addition to the read alouds they are doing in other content areas. This means students should be hearing books, articles, and poems read aloud throughout many parts of the day.  Does this sound time consuming?  It is.  I know it’s challenging because I taught in a school that had a school-wide interactive read aloud program, reading workshop, and writing workshop for two years.  It’s hard to squeeze multiple read alouds into the school day, but I believe it is a necessity.

Last week I began rereading Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne R. Dorfman and Rose Cappelli (Stenhouse, 2007) in preparation for the graduate course I’m teaching this summer.  On pages 37 & 38 of Dorfman and Cappelli’s book, they quote Carol Gay’s article from The Elementary School Journal entitled “Reading Aloud and Learning to Write.”  Gay published her article in 1976, but what she wrote then still holds true today.  Here are two excerpts from Gay’s article I wanted to share with you:

  • Reading aloud is inseparably linked with learning to write.  If elementary school teachers fail to read aloud to their students often, regularly, and for reasonably long periods of time, those students are going to be severely handicapped in learning to write (87).
  • Only by hearing good literature can a child come to realize what it is and to understand what writing has to offer him — an opportunity to describe, define, and perhaps understand his world (93).

Gay’s assertions reminded me of a point I want to drive home to my grad students when I teach the course on using children’ s literature to teach writing later this year.  It’s a necessity to read aloud regularly to students since the act of reading aloud is the major pathway to increase students’ success as writers.  Purposefully selecting texts that can be beloved as read alouds and revisited as mentor texts helps students to become the kinds of readers and writers who are enamored with and by books.   Furthermore, if our ultimate goal as teachers of writers is to help our students self-select mentor texts, then it’s necessary for us to use rich literature daily, if not multiple times during the school day, to inspire our students.

Some questions to think about:

  • How much time do you spend reading books aloud in the service of writing workshop?
  • How many times do you read a book with your students before you begin using it in writing workshop?
  • How many uses do each of your mentor texts have?  That is, do you use a book for more than one purpose?
  • Do your mentor texts function across units of study?
  • How have the mentor texts you’ve used so far, this year, helped your students define, describe, or understand his/her world better?

If you want more support on weaving read alouds across your curriculum, then check out Laminack and Wadsworth’s book Reading Aloud Across the Curriculum: How to Build Bridges in Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies (Heinemann, 2006). For more information about ways to use social action concepts as springboards into richer read alouds (i.e., similar to the work I mentioned above), then check out Bomer & Bomer’s book, For a Better World (Heinemann, 2001).