Never too old: Reading aloud to independent readers by Donalyn Miller

Guest Blogger  //  Feb 11, 2016

Never too old: Reading aloud to independent readers by Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller, a teacher, author, and friend of Scholastic, stopped by to share her thoughts on why reading aloud to kids of all ages is so critical.

I almost didn’t recognize her. With flat-ironed hair and makeup, Madeline did not look like the gangly sixth grader with frizzy red hair who I remembered from my class four years ago. “Hi Mrs. Miller,” she said, “I am assigned to your room today.” Participating in Writers’ Day at a local intermediate school, I was asked to teach two rotations of writing lessons to budding 5th and 6th grade authors. High school volunteers, like Madeline, were paired with teachers to help with crowd control and work with the younger kids. I laughed, “I hope you don’t mind, but you will have to listen to me read the same story twice today.” She smiled, “I don’t mind. I don’t think any teachers have read out loud to me since I was in your class.”

Writers’ Day was successful and I enjoyed reconnecting with Madeline, but I thought all the way home about what she told me. When does reading aloud to children end? When we are confident they are reading well on their own? When we cannot snuggle and hold them on our laps any longer or comfortably arrange them in a circle on the floor?

I often hear teachers bemoan the lack of class time for reading aloud to their students, but read alouds remain a vital component of children’s literacy development across the grades. The read aloud is the gift that keeps on giving—leading to student gains in vocabulary (Beck & McKeown, 2001), comprehension strategies and story schema (Van den Broek, 2001), and concept development (Pinnell & Fountas, 2011). If assemblies, testing, or other infringements shorten our class time, I make sure that I read to my students every day, no matter what else I cut.

Instructionally, reading aloud books, poems, articles, and short stories to students provides teachers endless opportunities to highlight great writing and model reading strategies, but reading aloud provides other benefits to young readers.

Reading aloud builds community. 

Shared experiences create memories that connect us to each other. Reading aloud books with children offers these unifying moments. While reading together, we laugh and cry together, comrades on the same journey. My students are a reading community, bonded to each other through the books we have shared. These connections last long after the book ends.

Reading aloud exposes children to books, authors, or genres. 

When choosing books to read aloud, I often pick books with the goal of leading my students to more books they can read on their own. Perennial favorites include authors like Gary Paulsen, Katherine Applegate, Deborah Wiles, and Jacqueline Woodson. Students beg for more books by authors I introduce during read alouds. Read alouds are perfect opportunities to expose students to genres they often avoid like poetry, biographies and nonfiction, too. You don’t have to read the entire book to entice readers, either. Frequently, I will read the first chapter, a two-page spread, or a few poems from a book, then offer the rest of the book to students for independent reading. The book rarely lasts until the end of the day before an eager reader claims it!

Reading aloud supports developing readers. 

Realistically, no book fits every reader. Read alouds are a perfect replacement for whole class novels, which can exclude readers who cannot independently read the book. Reading aloud removes roadblocks to comprehension like unfamiliar vocabulary and contextualizes words developing readers do not know. Listening to a fluent reader gives students a reading role model for their own oral reading skills, too.

Reading aloud reminds children why they love reading. 

Reading aloud reminds children that reading is pleasurable, an activity they enjoyed before reading turned into a school chore. Early in the year, I ask my students to bring in their beloved picture books (Thanks to Janet Allen for the great idea!). Sitting cross-legged on the floor, we revisit classics like Green Eggs and Ham and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Seeing lanky middle school boys clutching Tacky the Penguin—eager to share it with their friends— is heartwarming and magical. I share my childhood favorites like The Story of Ferdinand and The Little House, too, and we discuss why these books are still special to us.

Whether you want to renew your commitment to read alouds or celebrate the importance of reading aloud with your school community, I encourage you to participate in World Read Aloud Day on February 24, 2016. Lit World, a literacy non-profit founded by Pam Allyn, began World Read Aloud Day to “spread awareness about the profound academic and social impact of reading aloud to children every day, and to celebrate the joy, connection and community that we create when we share stories aloud.” Join the movement!

Ways you can participate in World Read Aloud Day:


Donalyn Miller is an award-winning Texas teacher and author of several books on engaging children with reading including The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn is the co-founder of the community blog Nerdy Book Club and co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat #titletalk. Her articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as Education Week Teacher, The Reading Teacher, Educational Leadership and The Washington Post. Donalyn serves as Scholastic Book Fairs’ Manager of Independent Reading and Outreach.