Read Alouds for Writers

For students, a read aloud is a serious tool. It is a source of building community, language, literacy, and much more. Read alouds offer a lot for the growth of a reader, but they offer much more than we think for writers, especially writers who are also EALs (learners of English as an Additional Language).

If the intentional daily practice of writing helps to grow a writer, and oral rehearsal is an important part of the writing process, then isn’t a read aloud the perfect combination of all that a writer needs?

The Invitation to Imitate

Sometimes, I invite my students to imitate my behaviors as I read aloud. However, I’ve had moments when I simply stop right in the middle of a read aloud to consider what I am about to ask of my students, seconds before it comes rolling out of my mouth.

When we imitate, we imitate language, reaction, response, and dramatic acting. Having kids repeat what you say is inauthentic, but an invitation to test what a story sounds like, feels like, and looks like is different.

Read aloud time in our classroom is sacred time. I love read alouds and so I teach my students to love them, too. Besides helping to build classroom community, read alouds create a human to human connection. It is an invaluable opportunity for the practice of metacognition, language, mindfulness, creativity, and authentic responses to books and other humans. These skills are important for both reading AND writing. The read aloud is an authentic and human story telling experience. Our brains are wired for stories.

The Research

According to research shared in an article by Psychology Today, “Oxytocin is a neurochemical in the brain that Zak says gives the “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. In his research he has discovered that:

  • If you develop tension in the story you will sustain attention.
  • If you sustain attention, then it is more likely that the people hearing the story will start to share the emotions of the main characters in the story.
  • If people share the emotions of the main characters, then they are likely to mimic the feelings and behaviors of the characters when the story is over.
  • Listening to a character’s story like this can cause oxytocin to be released.

And if oxytocin is released then it is more likely that people will trust the situation and the storyteller and more likely that they will take whatever action the storyteller asks them to take.

At the start of the year, many of my EALs hold back from these opportunities to imitate or respond orally to a story. They wait and observe the waters before dipping their toes into the physical or oral response to a read aloud. Often, students begin by sitting quietly. They are often much too shy and work to keep any possible attention on them at a distance. If they are given enough authentic opportunities to laugh, react, smile, enjoy the drama, argue respectfully within a safe environment, they will jump into reacting along with us and that leads to powerful conversations.

Jumping into conversations is an important move for EALs. Those critical thought provoking conversations and language naturally seep into their writing, in deep authentic ways. In the classroom, we learn to grow language, our first language and our additional language. People often ask teachers of EALs, “How do you teach EALs English?” The best answer I can give is simply… good practice. Whatever is good purposeful practice for monolingual classrooms is good practice for classrooms with EALs.

Here are some other ways to invite and support students, especially EALs, into the experience of a read aloud for the benefit of reading AND writing:

  • Give students sentence stems or sentence frames on cards that they can easily pull out when needed.
  • Model, model, model. Everything.
  • Do not force participation. Instead, encourage it by lending support and encouragement.

What good practices do you share with your students to help them grow as writers?