Even before children understand the concept of letters and sounds, they’re able to engage with a story through listening. Storytelling isn’t just a way we pass down our knowledge to others, it’s also a critical building block in early literacy development. Research has shown that reading aloud to young students can increase their vocabulary, listening skills, and their ability to recognize words.
Learning Without Tears is proud to celebrate the importance of reading aloud by observing the 14th annual World Read Aloud Day®, recognized on the first Wednesday of February. Launched by the nonprofit organization, LitWorld, the day was created to “honor the power of reading aloud and to advocate for literacy as a foundational human right.” World Read Aloud Day recognizes the art and practice of reading aloud for many reasons.
- It honors the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, which was how people passed stories down through the generations before most people could read or write.
- It celebrates gains in global literacy and seeks to bring greater awareness to literacy inequality. While most developed countries report a 99% literacy rate, the overall literacy rate of Sub-Saharan Africa was just 66% in 2020, according to the World Economic Forum.
- Finally, World Read Aloud Day celebrates the benefits children around the world enjoy by having books read aloud to them. On February 1, the organization will host live and virtual read alouds and other resources.
Reading Aloud Develops Seven Important Skills
Literacy expert Laura Robb agrees that reading to students helps them develop behaviors and skills that can deepen their desire to learn to read and choose books to read independently. Reading books out loud also sparks joy, nurtures children’s imaginations, and helps them create pictures of a story in their minds. When you read to children, you can help them cultivate these seven important skills, Robb said.
- Build background knowledge, as children listen to stories and learn new information.
- Enlarge vocabulary, as children encounter new words that authors use in different contexts.
- Enhance children’s listening capacity, their ability to remember, and think drawing from details from a read-aloud.
- Discover different genres, helping them begin to understand how each one works.
- Increase listening stamina, particularly their ability to concentrate and listen for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Develop an understanding of story structure, such as the beginning, middle, and end of a story, along with concepts like characters; problems, decisions, and themes.
- Enable them to interpret illustrations, a skill that they can then transfer to the written text.
Pam Koutrakos, a recent guest on Literacy Matters with Cheryl Lundy Swift, agrees that read alouds play an important part in a child’s learning. Koutrakos said it’s important to use them for the right purpose and choose the right texts to make them most impactful. Interactive read alouds, she said, focus more on refining comprehension and conversational skills. During interactive sessions, instructors may open the floor for conversation between students as they digest the story. Furthermore, teachers should be intentional about picking books at appropriate grade levels that incorporate the interests of students, too.
Incorporating Read-Alouds in Early Literacy Programs
Learning Without Tears recognizes that children who are learning to read benefit from listening to modeled, fluent reading. We also know it’s important that, when children are learning grapheme-phoneme correspondence, they are presented with engaging stories from which they can gain knowledge. That’s why we include read-aloud resources and activities in our two early literacy programs, A−Z for Mat Man® and Me and Phonics, Reading, and Me™.
- For example, A−Z for Mat Man and Me, developed for students in Grades Pre-K−1, kicks off students’ literacy journeys with the read-aloud book—Mat Man® and the Great Alphabet Parade. In this colorful book, Mat Man cheerily announces an assortment of colorful characters marching in the parade behind him, each with their own connection to a specific letter and exemplar word. Mat Man® and the Great Alphabet Parade further incorporates read-alouds to make connections with the 26 student letter books in the program, each of which focuses on a particular letter. By reinforcing the same exemplar words for both the letter book and read-aloud book, children begin to associate sounds with letters as they build their vocabulary and word knowledge.
Additionally, A−Z for Mat Man and Me includes a read-aloud feature both teachers and students can use to read student letter books. Teachers can project books from their Interactive Teaching Tool in their teacher dashboard to their classroom whiteboards by selecting the read-aloud feature. They can also assign books to students, and using the student app, children can follow the words in the story as it is read aloud to them on a computer or tablet.
- Phonics, Reading, and Me prioritizes phonics skills that can be difficult to learn. By using integrated print texts and digital activities—including read-aloud books—teachers can guide students in Grades K−3 toward reading fluency. Phonics, Reading, and Me includes teacher read-aloud fiction and non-fiction books to kick off each unit and introduce vocabulary words children will see repeatedly in their texts. The books are paired with read-aloud cards that motivate children to think, talk and learn before and after they hear a story.
At home and in the classroom, read alouds plays a major role in early literacy development. It also has the power to transport children into new worlds and spark their curiosity. And as they listen to stories again and again, children gain the literacy skills they need to develop a love for reading and ultimately become lifelong readers.
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