Reading Aloud at any age is beneficial to everyone involved.
We often see the President going into a classroom full of first or second graders to read aloud a story. Elementary schools invite guest readers to come in and read aloud to classes, especially during March is Reading Month activities. Parent volunteers may sign up to take turns coming in to read aloud their child's favorite book to the class. But, we rarely see or hear about this happening in the upper grades.
Why? Do we think that older children would not enjoy a read aloud? As an adult I enjoy being read to, why would I think that a 10 or 13 year old wouldn't enjoy it, as well? There are benefits of read alouds at all grade levels.
Most teachers are familiar with the reasons to read aloud in the early grades. It introduces students to books, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and more. But, we don't think about the benefits of reading aloud in the upper grades. Students in upper grades have similar benefits from read alouds in addition to hearing proper fluency and new vocabulary, they are also exposed to texts and concepts they may not choose on their own.
Jim Trelease is an expert on reading aloud to children and the author of The Read Aloud Handbook. He says, “A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. All kids like to be read to. Period.”
Reading aloud in the upper grades should stretch the students vocabulary and introduce or practice figurative language and narrative techniques. Choose a text a grade level or two above their level. This gives students the opportunity to experience tougher texts.
I can remember being read aloud to in the 10th grade. The book was "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The symbolism in the book was above my naive and literary inexperienced mind. I learned a lot in that class about narrative technique. So much so, that to this day I do not remember much about high school, but I remember reading that book.
Whenever possible allow students to mark the text. If they have a copy of the read aloud, they are able to follow along and not only hear the text, but also see how it is written. If marking in the text is not an option, try post it notes. Students can interact with the text by marking where they have questions, their thoughts about the text, or if they agree or disagree with what was said.
When reading aloud to a class you need to read with expression. Nothing is worse than listening to someone read in a monotone voice. Watch some videos of others reading a loud. Listen to an audible book. You will hear all kinds of different approaches to a read aloud. Notice what you like and dislike about each approach and decide what you need to do in order to be more effective in your read aloud.
For me, I do not like to read the book ahead of time. I am more authentic in my reactions to a text and my struggle. It allows me to engage my students in the book more when I am "learning" with them. If I want to have students use a part of the text for a specific purpose, I may look for a pre-written teacher's guide to the book or I will skim the text for specific elements I need.
15-20 minutes is a good time limit for a read aloud at any grade level. You do not want to spend your entire class period reading. Not only will your voice become tired but your students will become tired as well. In order to keep the class engaged set a time limit and stick to it. There are days when we discussed a lot as we read and then there were days when I would limit conversation so that we could complete a certain number of pages that day.
There are hundreds of books that make good read alouds. Don't overlook the picture books you would normally considered for lower elementary when looking for a text for an older group. Many children's picture books are written at high reading levels and you would be surprised at the different message older students get from these texts.