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5 Keys to Unlock Read-Aloud Success

Why Read Aloud?

Simotas_Reads_to_Students_at_PS70When I first taught kindergarten, I read aloud The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The kids in my class loved it and we spent hours discussing caterpillars, eating habits, stories, and Eric Carle. Luckily for me, the third-grade teacher down the hall, probably tired of hearing me read the book aloud again and again, offered a wonderful list of books to read aloud. The list included fiction and nonfiction. To this day, I’m grateful (as I’m sure my students are, too!) to this teacher. Over time, I’ve learned from first-hand experience how important a read-aloud is.

Research supports the importance of read-alouds for developing fluency, background knowledge, and language acquisition. Allen (2000) reminds us that those same benefits occur when we use read-alouds beyond the primary years. Read-alouds are one classroom practice that students never outgrow.

As a working author, I’ve spent time researching and thinking about what makes a good read-aloud and how to ensure everyone has the best read-aloud experience. Typically when writing, I read aloud what I have written. A read-aloud has often served as an excellent editor. It’s a good habit for kids to use when they write. Here are five key things I suggest to do for an exciting and meaningful read-aloud.

Language Lessons

Often we’re caught up in the world of reading, and that means many different things, from students reading “on-level” to passing tests. We can forget that in order to be a good reader, we have to understand language. To understand language, three things are happening:

Read Aloud Web Diagram1

A read-aloud offers many opportunities for language “lessons.” Students need to think about the story, the word choices and language the author uses, and be able to make meaning, understand the function, and identify the purpose of the language in the story or article. This means we need to have book talks. Whether it’s a literature circle, discussion during a read-aloud, or critical thinking time where students analyze, evaluate, and respond to a book, time spent discussing books is critical to the read-aloud process.

The Joy of a Read-Aloud

One of my favorite books to read aloud is Sarah, Plain and Tall. The story is heartrending, the language beautiful, and the characters indelible. To me, there’s not a wasted word in the book.

Think of your classroom as a large book club. The members are all on different reading levels, have different interests, and the process of reading means unique things to each member. A well-planned read-aloud is a great way to level the playing field and provide support and scaffolding for all your members.

Recommended Read-Alouds

Grades K–2

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

Grades 3–5

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Middle School

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

High School

Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neal Hurston

Explore Caldecott Medal and Newbery Medal winners (and the honor books!). These include authors such as Roald Dahl, Patricia Lauber, Toni Morrison, Walter Dean Myers, Cynthia Kadohata, Lenore Look, Allen Say, Amy Tan, Nicola Campbell, Tim Tingle, and Joseph Bruchac. Also talk to your librarian for recommendations.


Allen, J. (2000). Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Photo credit: By Samdarche (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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