Reading Aloud

Read Alouds


Read alouds may be the reason I was ever drawn to teaching to begin with.  Some of my fondest memories as an elementary student are those of my teachers reading books to me.  I distinctly remember Mrs. Gregory reading The Boxcar Children to my second grade class, and Mrs. Lyerly’s voices for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever made it one of the most entertaining reads ever!   These are the moments I anticipated most even in my high school years when I envisioned my future career. According to Gay Ivey, most middle school students also refer to teacher read alouds as their best reading experiences (Ivey, 2003).  I thoroughly enjoy reading to my students.  The thrill of choosing a book that will keep them hooked is something truly inexplicable!

No educator would argue the benefits of student read alouds.  In every classroom I’ve ever interned or observed, teachers have dedicated daily time to read to their students.  And in each classroom, students have automatically become engaged and excited about the reading.  Whether students move onto a rug around a rocking chair or they stay seated in their own seats, their body language suggests total interest and intrigue in the subject at hand.

Reading aloud is an extremely versatile activity.  While we most often rely on our favorite novels (in the intermediate grades) to spark interest during this time, newspapers, informational texts, picture books, and countless other types of texts can be utilized during this time.  In fact, we should be using diverse types of literature.  If we can introduce students to different types of texts through read alouds, they may be much more likely to pick up different types of books for independent reading (Ivey, 2003).  According to Heisey and Kucan, students who are presented specific science concepts through instruction with read alouds show greater understanding of these topics (2010).

Why are these moments so monumental within a classroom?  Why do students consistently reflect on books teachers read to them as favorite memories?  As more experienced readers, teachers are able to impress their own sophisticated perceptions into their reading of the text.  This allows students who have yet to achieve these reading levels opportunity to experience text in the more refined way the teacher sees it (Ivey, 2003).  One student put it simply, “They use their hands and get into it.” (Ivey, 2003).  I love this explanation!  We can truly create the drama reading has the potential to unveil before our students’ eyes using read alouds.

I can reflect on my own experience with Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  As I read through the story on my own, I enjoyed the book, but there were some unfamiliar words and names I had to “guess” at.  I read it fairly quickly, and probably didn’t allow myself to appreciate the pauses deliberately created by the author.  However, to hear Gaiman read selections of the book himself, I experienced it in a totally different way!  First of all, the British accent makes all the difference!  Gaiman used very dramatic pauses to accentuate the suspenseful moments of the text.  I chose to listen to chapter seven, part two, where Mr. Frost’s true and evil identity is revealed and all of the Jacks show up.  It was wonderful to hear Gaiman’s depiction of the voices of each character.  He was truly able to use his understanding of the characters (which was exact considering he’s the author) to inflect his voice in a way that showcased their individual personas.  I wanted to keep listening!  It was a really powerful experience as an educator.  This certainly helped me realize how important it is to read aloud with true appreciation for the author’s choice of words and syntax.  These individuals write their stories or their texts with conviction and intentions that are very specific.  If the characters are “singing” on the page then, by gosh, I should sing to the class!  This is certainly something I will share with my students, especially since I have a couple students who are currently reading this book.

I’ve just begun to read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate to my class.  This is the perfect time for some “fun” reading, and also some integration of research.  We’re using the Internet workshop to practice research skills and compare Ivan’s life to that of gorillas in the wild.  Questioning during my read alouds comes fairly naturally to me.  I enjoy analyzing the best places to pause for reflection or predictions while reading.  I’ve used the Text Talk program created by Beck & McKeown several times, and try to model many of my questions on these.  However, I know I fall short with the variety of informational texts I read.  I’m using this opportunity to practice that.  A website about gorillas in the wild is certainly informational, and yet a non-traditional type of text.  By reading information on the site aloud and juxtaposing it with the novel about Ivan’s life, I am able to model different types of reading and analyzing texts.

I’m so excited to have a week dedicated to reading aloud!  It is always wonderful to see reminders of how important and influential this time can be, along with models of how extremely fun it is!

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Wonderstruck: I Poem for 2 Voices

*This didn’t paste in the two column format.  I’m going to work on fixing it!  Please bear with me!*


I am Brian.



And we are connected.



I live in the 1970s.



I wonder if I have a father.



I hear out of my good ear—well, I used to.



I see the wolves chase me in my dreams.




I want to have my mother back.




I am alone.



Similarly, we will find an escape.




I am Rose.


And we are connected.




Whereas I live in the 1920s.



While I wonder if I’ll ever escape my lonely world.


But hear nothing, which doesn’t mean I long for nothing.



However, I see my mother’s face on posters and on the screen, but never at home, next to me.


Yet I want to break out of this prison my mother and father keep me inside.



I am leaving.


Similarly we will find an escape.


I always ask questions, but forget I can’t hear the answers.



I pretend to know where I’m going in New York, but really I just end up there by chance.



I feel relieved to have a friend in Jamie.



I touch the glass around the Gunflint, Minnesota diorama.  The wolves are so real.





I worry about how my family back in Michigan must feel since I just left them.



I cry when I remember the fantastic times my mom and I had, and I realize we won’t have them ever again.



I excel at keeping my memories in my museum box.




I am finding hope.



And we both are finding the missing pieces.



On the other hand, I always long to be able to ask questions.




While I can’t even pretend to be happy in this house alone.



Yet I feel abandoned by my parents, and desperate to find my brother, Walter.



While I touch the museum floor as I try to hide in the exhibit.  Could I possibly know now how deep my connections to this place will go?




Yet I worry about whether I will ever really belong somewhere.




But I cry when I learn that I’m not the only deaf girl in this world!



Whereas I excel at making small models of buildings, a skill I grew well in my years trapped at home.


I am finding peace.


And we both are finding the missing pieces.



I understand that the wolves haven’t been chasing me—they were leading me.



I say the name “Danny Lobel” and know that I say the name of my father.



I am as mystified as a charmed snake when I find my long-lost father.




I dream of the wolves—not as scary creatures any longer, but as the art my father created the summer he met my mom.



I try to comprehend the majesty of the Panorama.



I hope that this blood of artists and curators is part of me, too.



I was once lost and alone.



I am home.



And most importantly we have found our family.




While I understand my son left a legacy.




Yet I say the name “Danny Lobel” and know the pain of losing a child.



Whereas I am as thrilled as a child on her birthday when I find the grandson I’ve known I had lost.




But I dream of being together with my son and his son, a world we will never know.


Although I try to comprehend the wonder of this little boy, who’s traveled so far to find me.



While I hope that I can show him his father’s art and curatorial desire.


Whereas I was once missing part of me.



I am complete.


And most importantly we have found our family.

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Ben Wilson and Rose Kincaid share two stories that seem very different to begin with, but slowly intertwine to share the same ending.  The book Wonderstruck is told in a different way than any other book I’ve ever read.  Brian Selznick strategically tells the stories of both of his main characters, Brian’s with words and Rose’s with pictures.

When I first began reading, I thought I must just be totally ill prepared for putting a story with pictures.  Of course, this is an activity I’ve done many times as a teacher, a prospective teacher, and with my students.  However, I felt like I was getting the Rose’s whole story wrong for a while.  When I finally reached the illustration that proves she is deaf, it all started to really fall into place for me.  Rose is a young, deaf girl growing up in the 1920s, who comes from a broken home.  Her mother is an actress (during the time when silent films transitioned into “talkies”), and her father a doctor.  Rose’s parents think it’s unsafe for a deaf girl to be out in the world, and she is therefore basically trapped in her house.  Eventually, she runs away to her brother, Walter, who works for the American Museum of Natural History.

Brian’s story is set fifty years later in the 1970s.  He has just endured the tragic loss of his mother, who was the librarian in his small Minnesota town.  Living with his aunt, uncle, and cousins on the same land that his own house is on, Brian finds himself in his mother’s old bedroom one stormy night.  He finds some secret treasures, including the book Wonderstruck with a mysterious note inside.  Assuming he’s found a clue about his father, Brian tries to call the phone number on the note.  While making the call, his house is struck by lightning, which comes through the phone and leaves Brian deaf.  From the hospital, he runs away to New York, trying to find the missing pieces to the puzzle of the Wonderstruck book.

The two stories collide when Brian’s new friend Jamie introduces him to the wonders of the Museum of Natural History.  He also finds the Kincaid Books store, which just happens to be owned by Rose Kincaid’s brother.  Through an interesting turn of events, the two meet and discover their connection through Danny Lobel, Brian’s father and Rose’s son.

As I read this book, I learned much about myself as a reader.  I physically felt the change in my mind as I switched between Brian’s story and Rose’s story.  I literally narrated Rose’s story in my head!  As I started to make connections between the two of them, I would say, “Aha!” out loud!  I quickly thought of ways I could share this reading with my students.  Because of the illustrations, it might be a difficult book to share as a read aloud.  However, I want my students to be introduced to Selznick’s ingenuity.  I could certainly use this as a book talk with them.  I’d love to use it for a mini-lesson on making connections or inferences, because it lends itself so well to that!  I know our library has a copy of his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I think I’d like to bring both books in and ask students to tell whether they’d be interested in reading them based on the outside of each book.  I know I’ll get mostly no’s because the books look so thick.  Then I can pass them around, much like Dr. Frye did in our class meeting, and have them discover the treasure inside!

I imagine they will have much the same reaction as I did at first.  When we passed the book around back in January, I thought it would take me (as an adult) at least a week to read the book.  A fifth grader, I guessed, would take about three weeks.  After I finished the book in two days, I quickly realized my students could read this thing in much less time than I had thought!  And I know some of them would absolutely love telling me what Rose’s story was by narrating the pictures.

This book has such a feeling of hope to it.  As you read, you are always slightly apprehensive of what might happen next, but mostly hopeful about how much closer it will bring each character to his or her goal.  When I finally read the exchange between Rose and Ben that began to reveal the connection of Danny, I had tears in my eyes.  Of course, I’d been thinking this was going to happen for quite a while, but I was just so relieved to know that Brian finally had some answers and some family!

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Donor’s Choose request

Donor’s Choose Request


As a fifth grade teacher in a rural North Carolina town, I educate students of almost every different background and socioeconomic status you can think of.  Students come to me working at nearly every academic level imaginable, and I am responsible for their growth and achievement.

In as many ways as possible I try to motivate students to achieve their best in every subject area, but my passion is reading.  I know the value of a good book, and I know how much the ability to read can help one with.  However, I also know that to become better readers, students must spend copious amounts of time reading at their appropriate levels.

How do you tell an eleven-year-old boy the informational text on monster trucks he has is too difficult for him?  How do you convince and eleven-year-old girl that the 200 page novel her friend read will be too hard for her?  How do you explain to either of these children they would be better suited choosing from the easier chapter books or picture books in your library?  I haven’t quite perfected that part, although I may have an idea.

Electronic readers conceal the size of the book a child reads.  No one else has to be aware of the title, the number of pages, or of the colored dot that labels the book level.  Students can use eReaders not only to read books, but also to interact with them through highlighting and making notes.  If so desired, these notes can then be shared with classmates.

Through the source of digital books, students will not have to worry if someone else has checked out the last copy of a book they want in the library.  There are plenty of affordable or even free books to choose from at every level imaginable in the electronic libraries.

For these reasons, I am requesting six Kindles for my classroom.  I currently have thirty students, and this would make a ratio of one Kindle per five students.  I believe the use of these devices will provide the encouragement some of my pupils need to move forward in their reading ability.  This will allow them to read what they need to read without fear of embarrassment, and it will also give me the freedom to create libraries for specific students.

Thank you for your consideration and your help as I try to help my fifth graders achieve greatness.

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Independent Reading

Independent Reading


For the most part, Moss’s and Young’s instructions for effective independent reading strategies did not fall on virgin ears.  These are things I’ve certainly heard before throughout my time as a student in this program.  However, with all of the information concentrated in one place, I quickly realized how much further I have to go in my reading instruction.

The most applicable techniques I found were those for keeping student accountable while motivating them at the same time.  Moss and Young provided such great examples of ways for the kids to take ownership of their independent reading.  Book talks, shared reading, and individual conferences are just some examples.  I want to become an expert at these things!  Certainly I’ll need to model them first, and many times, but I KNOW my fifth graders can handle these kinds of presentations.

We are quickly approaching the most stressful point of the year with End-of-Grade Tests and the endless test preparation that inevitably leads up to it.  I have already decided to be sure that some version of SIRT comprises the majority of my reading block during this crazy season, and that the EOG review (which I’ll be required to do) is a small snippet of our time.  I’m anxious to see how that goes over!

The greatest challenge for me will be to clean up my classroom library.  I definitely have PLENTY of books, but they are ALL out on the shelves currently.  I suppose I’ve always known that I should circulate the titles periodically, and I’ve always known they should be displayed cover-side out, but I haven’t been putting this into practice.  According to Moss and Young, using these techniques will keep my kiddos more interested, and hopefully more motivated.  Of course, along with these things, I’ll be sure to promote and advertise certain books or genres for the week, or month, or whatever time period works.  This is the area I will have to work the hardest and change the most!

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Independent Reading Instructional Plan

Moss, B. & Young, T. (2010). Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


Allington, R.L. (2006).  What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs.  Boston:  Allyn & Bacon.


Instructional Plan—Independent Reading


Independent reading cannot be left out of the equation of reading instruction in the classroom.  We should be providing our students ample time to read from self-selected texts so they are able to implement the strategies we teach.  Allington even suggests students should receive up to ninety minutes of independent reading time during the school day (Allington, 2006).

This reading should allow students time to read at their independent or “recreational” level (Moss & Young, 2010) so that they are reading over 95% of the words accurately and at a reasonable rate.  The main benefits of reading independently are :

  • increased vocabulary
  • building background knowledge
  • increased fluency and comprehension
  • higher reading achievement
  • greater motivation to read (Moss & Young, 2010).


According to the research of Nagy and Anderson, students need to learn an average of 3,000 new words per year.  Teachers cannot possibly teach this amount of words within a school year, so children are dependent on their individual reading to glean so much of this necessary knowledge.  A wide range of reading not only exposes children to new words, but it can possibly provide multiple exposures for deeper knowledge (Moss & Young, 2010).

Individual reading certainly provides the reader with greater background knowledge of various subjects.  When the knowledge is drawn upon in an instructional setting, comprehension will be more sufficient than that of students without any prior knowledge of the subject.  This can easily be evidenced by my personal encounters with reluctant readers who have a focused passion in a given area.  Often these students have read every book in the library on said subject (even though they are not avid readers), and when we encounter this subject in our studies, these students could basically teach the class!

Time to practice reading at an independent level builds reading fluency (Moss & Young, 2010).  The amount of time they are able to spend reading greatly influences their fluency with words.  This, of course, makes sense because students are coming into contact with words more and more often if they are reading large volumes.   Each encounter provides more context to use for identifying the word.  For this reason, comprehension is also increased with wide reading.  In light of our current age of high stakes testing, it is enlightening to know that “amount of reading is a strong predictor of reading comprehension, outweighing even intelligence, economic background, and gender (Moss & Young, 2010).  Also, as my time in the Appalachian reading program has certainly taught me, the better a child’s fluency, the better their comprehension because they have released more of their focus to attend to meaning rather than to decoding words.  Because students should be allowed to select their own reading material (with some guidelines), they are more eager to read.  This increases the interest in reading even outside of school.

Teachers should not simply turn pupils loose to simply read any book they choose, but rather they should be involved in the decision-making process and they should help students set a purpose to read.  Without some type of accountability for their reading, students may “fake read” and therefore show little progress in reading achievement (Moss & Young 2010).  Teachers can use some of their reading instruction time to educate students on how to choose appropriate texts.  They should also provide students with set purposes for their reading, so that students are able to apply this practice to their reading outside of school.


Creating the Space

The classroom library should be inviting and intriguing for students.  They should feel comfortable thumbing through the books, but they should also experience some type of structure to help them make choices.

Libraries should be set up to highlight the best features of different books.  Cover art should not be hidden from view, causing students to have only the book spine to look at.  Shelves should not be so packed with books that the pupils are unable to see each one.

Students may also be provided with comfortable seating arrangements for this area if space allows for it.  This can be an inviting place to simply relax with a book and read during Supported Independent Reading Time, or SIRT (Moss & Young, 2010).  However, students may also bring books back to their desks to read, which may work better for classes that are exceptionally large (like mine).


Creating the Collection

The books housed within the classroom library are, of course, the most integral part!  This collection should include a wide variety of texts that can reach even the most reluctant readers, and all at varying levels as well.  An interest inventory is recommended to survey the class and find the topics each student will be interested in.  Once this inventory is complete, the collecting of books should begin.

A good library collection will house a variety of genres.  While most teachers tend to gravitate toward quality fiction texts, we should not leave out the appealing informational and nonfiction reading that is available these days (Moss & Young, 2010).  Teachers will very likely find that many of their students (boys especially) have interests that could be piqued easily with nonfiction books.

In my opinion, graphic novels are one of the greatest tools available to reach reluctant or struggling readers.  When I read books of this genre, it almost doesn’t even feel like reading due to the wonderful graphics and small blurbs of wording on each page.  These seem to be a must for libraries as well.

Of course, high quality fiction will always have its place in our classrooms.  As teachers we must put aside our own preferences and branch into each subgenre of fiction.  Realistic fiction, historical fiction, and science fiction should all be represented (Moss & Young, 2010).

Based on my own students’ interests, I know my first need is a variety of books about sports and athletics.  Starting with some biographies of famous athletes, and also incorporating nonfiction or informational texts on how to play or the history of different sports.  I can certainly also use novels that tie the games into their plots, such as Free Baseball by Sue Corbett, A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Green, or Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

The books within a classroom library may address many interests, but they must also address diverse needs.  No classroom is full of students on the same reading level, and very few classrooms are compiled of students on that specific grade level.  Therefore, our collections must be tiered to the multiple levels of reading ability within the room.  This ensures that each student has something to read that will be on their “recreational” reading level for independent reading.


Incorporating the Key Components of the Independent Reading Program

Interactive read-alouds have always been part of my teaching repertoire.  I have always enjoyed choosing a book to share with students and completing activities before, during, and after the reading of each text.  I have students from previous classes come back to me talking about these books, and asking whether I’ve shared them with current classes.  This will certainly remain one of the key components of my community reading time.

However, after reading from the research and suggestions of Moss and Young, I’ve realized that I left much to be desired in the area of independent reading!  Book talks will be such a wonderful way to kick off new read-aloud books, and then students will have my model to follow as I begin to allow them to have their own.  Through peer book talks, I hope to see more motivation to share books among the students in our classroom, and therefore more motivation to read independently without my direct input.

Supported Independent Reading Time will be unsuccessful if students are not provided with accountability and feedback.  I plan to use student conferences along with individual book sharing to keep pupils focused on their reading.  This will also allow me a chance to check the appropriateness of each student’s text choice, and I will use the time to ask him or her their thoughts on the different reading strategies that have helped them understand the text.


Linking Literacy Instruction with Independent Reading

Through whole class minilessons, reading strategies can be easily taught, and then modeled with read-alouds, and practiced during SIRT or Guided Reading time.   Connections to these lessons along with practice can be made in the major content areas taught.  During science and social studies students can use informational text or historical fiction to make connections and to continue their practice with independent reading.


While the overall look of my reading instruction will not make a drastic change, the layout of time spent on reading will take a new look.  I hope to engage the practices put forth by Moss and Young to truly create lifelong readers.

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My Classroom Library

Moss, B. & Young, T. Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading.  International Reading Association. Newark, DE.  2010.


My own classroom library…is it sufficient?


I actually have a fairly extensive selection of books in my classroom.  As far as the ratio of seven books per student suggested by Moss & Young, I am probably in the adequate range.  However, there are most certainly areas where I am lacking.

According to the interest inventories, which I used mainly with my reluctant males but also included some of the girls in my class, I need more books about sports!  I think I found one in my current collection, and most of the guys used P.E. as their favorite subject and want to become some type of professional sports superstar when they grow up.  Luckily, our fourth grade teacher has ordered a collection of biographies of athletes (some of which are women, which seems cool), and she is always willing to share with me.  I think I’ll definitely be pulling those in more, now that I am aware of the serious deficit in my own library.

Also, per the usual, my library is very fiction-heavy.  I LOVE to read novels, and would honestly rather not read informational texts most of the time, and it is totally reflected in my personal collection of books. I like to think that I supplement this with a variety of trade books in my science curriculum, but I know it’s not enough.  Next to sports, the boys who participated in my interest inventories listed science and history as their favorite things to read about.  I guess I have some shopping to do!  I also really want to purchase some more graphic novels to include.  I think these will be a huge draw for the boys, and especially my reluctant readers.

Another thing I’ve really noticed about my classroom library through this reading is that my collection of fifth grade level material is probably too much for most of my students.  Unless their reading levels are significantly above grade level, their independent reading level will most likely be somewhere in fourth grade or lower.  While I do have a pretty good selection of below-level books, I may not have much that would be independent level for readers who are severely below level.  I also just have too many that are too hard for my fifth graders, and probably need to pare down to prevent frustration in attempting to read some of the books!

The responses from the girls who participated in the survey were a bit more unpredictable.  I had one student, who is one of my lowest readers, list Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss as her favorite book.  Her reason, “It is little and funny.”  I have always realized how much of a struggle reading is for this student.  I’m always very careful what books I choose for her during guided reading, and we are constantly working on fluency (and unfortunately seeing very little progress).  However, I don’t think I realized how much her “inability” is causing her to limit her reading choices!  She wants to be a doctor or nurse when she grows up, but also bluntly stated she did not read and home and chose math as her favorite subject because she does not like to read.  I need to do some follow up here to find out what types of books (besides Dr. Seuss) she will be interested in, so we can invest some quality time in text with her.

Another huge downfall in my library, I have all my books out all the time!  Reading our textbook was not the first time I hear that I should cycle books in and out, but it’s just so hard!  How do you just box good books up?!  And how in the world will I choose what should be grouped together?  I suppose it will simply take time and work on my part…hello weekend project!  However, I truly realize that if I can stick to the appropriate amount of reading material at a given time, I will be able to display them in a manner that “shows them off” the best.  The book covers will be able to do most of the advertisement for themselves!

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