Teachers at every grade level and in every classroom teach reading comprehension almost every day. A primary teacher helps first-graders decode simple text and become independent readers. A middle-school math teacher walks students through the steps of solving word problems. High school history teachers discuss historic documents and artifacts with their students. In almost every school setting, students work with text. One of the most powerful tools a teacher can use when teaching literacy is to read aloud to students on a regular basis.
Reading Comprehension Benefits
Students learn how to read by reading, but they learn how to read fluently by listening to fluent readers. If students’ only encounters with reading are solitary, they may not comprehend anything beyond literal facts. Hearing a story, however, lets children focus on its flow. They are free from wrestling with words they do not understand and can instead engage the material more emotionally.
Teaching reading comprehension should not involve simply reading a story from the basal and answering the publisher’s questions. One of the most effective ways to model close reading is to “think aloud” during a read aloud. Using this strategy, the teacher reads a word, sentence or paragraph and then stops reading to pose a question or make a connection: What does that word mean? What was the author thinking? That happened to me once! The teachers do not ask the students to participate; rather, this approach models the teacher’s thought processes. Students see firsthand how a good reader successfully makes sense of a text.
One of the key benefits of reading aloud to students, especially in content areas, is that it stimulates curiosity. Reading fiction or non-fiction about a concept or historic incident is more likely to pique students’ interest than a more academic textbook.
In addition, carefully scheduled read alouds can give students background knowledge about a topic before they begin studying it in earnest. Students depend on this background knowledge to make sense of new materials. If they cannot connect new information to something they already know, they are less likely to retain the new material. Reading aloud can make new topics and issues accessible in a way that focuses on the information, not on their reading ability.
Since a substantial amount of teaching reading comprehension involves vocabulary acquisition, reading aloud can introduce topical words students may not have heard before. When they hear words for the first time in a casual setting, students can ask questions, receive answers and participate in conversations.
The independent reading level of many students may lag significantly behind their comprehension of advanced vocabulary and concepts. They may not be able to recognize words and read them on their own, but they have no problem understanding what the text says. By hearing more advanced texts read aloud, students gain access to information that interests them but may be beyond their reading level.
Primary sources, such as original letters and documents, are valuable keys to understanding historic events and scientific discoveries. They are, however, often written in archaic language. By reading aloud, with inflection and explanations, teachers can use primary sources to enhance lessons with authentic information.
Research is clear about the social-emotional benefits of reading aloud, especially at the infant and preschool levels. However, the same is true for other ages as well, including high-school and college classrooms: reading aloud gives students a sense of comfort and acceptance.
Whether reading aloud after lunch to help second-graders settle down or reading the Declaration of Independence to bring real-world context to a history lesson, reading aloud is one of the most effective strategies for teaching reading comprehension. According to the U. S. Department of Education, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children…. (Reading aloud) is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”