Nuts and Bolts of the Read Aloud in my Middle School Classroom

Reading aloud to my students daily is one of, if not the most, important aspects of my classroom.  I extoll the virtues of classroom read alouds to anyone and everyone who will listen, yet I realized I never broke down the nuts and bolts of it here on my blog!  Recently I have received a few emails seeking the answers to questions like, how do your read-alouds work? About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class? How much time do you spend per week on it? What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook?  Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests? Does your school implement standards based report cards/grading?

 

How do your read-alouds work?

I read aloud to my class every.single.day.  Yes, there are days when it feels like a pain because we are pressed for time or the schedule has been changed.  But I refuse to shortchange my students when we are deep into a novel!  And if I ever feel like we truly don’t have time that day, my students make sure that we make the time (usually by begging)!  

I begin the school year with a read aloud on the first day of school.  From day one, my students see that I value reading and I value reading together as a community.  Those first days of school are always crazy- assemblies, extended class periods, getting to know you time, learning the ropes, and all that.  Well, that usually makes for lots of downtime.  Instead of doing silly bulletin board activities or useless worksheets, we read together.  It sets the stage for a great year!

When I read to my students, it is usually at the end of our period together.  I set aside about 15 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) to read each day.  My students stay at their desks  because we don’t have the time or space to move around- 6th graders are pretty big.  They just close their binders, put down their pens, and settle in for a relaxing few minutes.  I read and every so often stop to think aloud.  These think alouds might model a reading strategy or share a response I have to the text.  At other times they will elicit responses from the kids.  But I try not to spend too much time talking because that takes away time we could spend reading.   

I usually read between 1-3 chapters per day (depending on the book and chapter length, of course) and I try to leave my students at the end of a chapter.  If I can’t do that, I leave them hanging at a point when the time/action moves forward in a chapter.  This means I usually dedicate at least an hour to the read-aloud each week.  And honestly?  That hour is time that is usually lost otherwise because it’s “extra” or left-over time when we transition or the schedule changes or we have an extra 5 minutes here or there.  Learn to use time to your advantage!  

 

About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class?

Depends on the book. ;)  On average, I read about a book per month to my class.  Figure that most books are between 150-250 pages, and I read 10-20 pages per day.  This year I did read Chains and The Underneath to my class- each ran over 300 pages. These took slightly longer to read but were well worth it. I make smart decisions about the books I share with my class and that means trying to stay away from huge tomes. If a book is too long my students lose interest because it ends up being spread over 2 or 3 months. That’s just too long. Plus, I want to expose them to a variety of genres and authors through our read alouds and I can’t do that if we spend 3 months on one book.

 

What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook? 

I DO NOT grade the read alouds.  Read alouds are my way of modeling reading for pleasure, introducing my students to new genres and authors, and modeling my think alouds.  If I graded them, students would see them as work.  And I am trying to train lifelong readers, not academic-only readers.  However, I do grade reading.  The most important assignment I give is letter-essays.  Each student writes me a friendly letter, once every 3 weeks, telling me about the reading they are doing.  And then I write back.  If you aren’t familiar with letter-essays, you must check out Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers.

I also give alternate assessments. I’ve gathered these from a variety of sources, such as Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6. While it says grades 3-6, I think you could easily use many of the ideas up to grade eight.  I also give a monthly reading log that parents have to sign, which is worth 20 points.  If students hand it in on time, they receive a 20/20.  One day late is 15/20.  Two days is 10/20.  I do not accept it after two days.  (The reading log is something I struggled with- I don’t necessarily agree with them.  However, many parents asked for them and it appeases them.  For my kids, it’s no big deal because reading becomes an integral part of their life and daily routine within a few months.  They leave the log at home, mom or dad signs it, and they bring it back the day it is due.  A quick, easy grade and it forces them to be responsible!)

One of the best decisions I made was to grade based out of total points. Because I grade with a rubric 90% of the time, this makes it easier to get final grades. Each marking period is worth a total number of points (say 200) and I add up the points each student received. Then I divide it to get their average. For example, if a student received 165 points out of a possible 200, they would receive an 83 for the marking period.

 

Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests?

Simply put, yes.  Each year I do two whole-class novels: Tuck Everlasting and The Giver. Both are required by the district. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, I use the novel as a means to teach my students how to annotate text. (Inspired by Monica Edinger ).  We read Tuck early in the year and annotating is a skill my students have very little experience with up until that point.  However, it’s a skill that will serve them well.  I treat the novel as a read-aloud but we annotate the text together and individually.  Because they are so familiar with it, my students are tested on the novel.  However, the test is short answers and an essay, not multiple-choice questions that they would just memorize.

The Giver is also a district requirement.  My students read it individually, and we discuss it together.  I do read certain chapters aloud, because the novel is difficult.  Again, the students are tested but the test consists of short answers, explaining the importance of quotes, and an essay.  There are also a few multiple choice questions.  

I know it seems like giving a traditional comprehension test/quiz goes against everything I believe in.  However, I have to prepare my students for middle school, where comprehension tests and quizzes are the norm.  And in high school.  But because my students are growing as lifelong readers, the tests and quizzes aren’t an issue for them.  I also make sure that I have enough alternate assignments in my gradebook that one test won’t hurt their grade too much if they don’t test well.  

As for grammar, I teach it within writing workshop as much as possible.  I also use Story Grammar for Elementary School: A Sentence-Composing Approach: A Student Worktext and Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext a lot. I don’t give a lot of straight grammar tests but I sometimes give grammar quizzes.

 

Hopefully, this helps someone out there who wants to begin sharing read-alouds with their class.  Now is as good a time as any to start!  Questions?  Comments?  Ideas?  Leave them in the comments!

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32 Responses

  1. Thank you for this wonderful break-down of your system, it sounds wonderful.

  2. do you do voices? you must be a beautiful reader to keep middle-schoolers engaged while you read. Enjoyed this!

  3. Love this! I haven’t post yet about my reading aloud The Underneath, but it worked out beautifully (even given their youth).

  4. [...] Me.  A sixth grade teacher after my own heart about this is Sarah at the Reading Zone who has a terrific post up today about her reading aloud beliefs and [...]

  5. Thank you for this! I’ve been doing read aloud with my 8th graders. I gave up with my 7th graders because a bunch of them saw it as a chance to goof off and get out of doing work. I’ve gotten my 8th graders hooked on Margaret Peterson Haddix, though!

    I’ve been doing reading logs every week. I like your idea of once a month. What does your log look like?

    • I just use a plain-old reading log that I found online and personalized a bit. It has 20 spaces, and each day asks for the title read, pages, minutes spend reading, and a parent signature. In all honesty, I’m not picky with it. The log is really just to appease some parents who don’t believe their kids will read without it. I know it isn’t harming my students and they are reading anyway, so I make it as simple as possible.

  6. That was great … Thanks!

  7. I’m so glad you do all this with your 6th graders! Too often, language arts takes on a different look in middle school than in elementary, and I always thought that was a shame.

    Have to ask — is your time with them a reading block or a writing block or a language arts block?

    Totally on the same page with you in grading!!

    • Karen-

      I currently have a 2 hour language arts block that I teach 2x each day. But next year I am losing it. :( Instead, I will have 4 1 hour periods for language arts. It’s going to be a huge adjustment.

  8. Sara, thanks for such a comprehensive post! I found your blog via Monica Edinger’s post. I will definitely share your ideas with some of my middle school colleagues.

    One resource I think you and your students might enjoy are the YA podcasts created by pre-service teachers in Robert Rozema’s classes at Grand Valley University – http://odeo.com/channels/179903…just in case there is a day you need to rest your voice;-)

  9. I will send this post to a new grade 6 teacher in my school. She is not (horrors!) a reader herself but I have been trying to get her to read consistently to her students. I believe all ages love to be read to- you just have to find the right book. If stuck, ask your teacher librarian- we’re there to help!

  10. The best decision I’ve made all year is to switch from Reading Response Journals (Atwell’s letters) to our classroom blog:

    http://blgginwithyournoggin.blogspot.com

    My kids I and now have an ongoing, running conversation about books, reading and their lives. I assess their comments based on three criteria the kids developed: 1. thoughtful comment 2. At least 5 sentences 3. Best/First draft. A point a piece. Grades are based on a scale. Ex. 10-15 points a week = A.

    The best parts: kids enjoy it WAY more, kids are writing much more frequently, kids are writing much, much more content. They get to see me as a reader, we continue class conversations online, I can generate conversations that transition to class and the world may join in. Parent, friends and siblings have all found interest and time to do just that.

    I’d love to share more with anyone who might be interested.

    • Andy – If you are still out there, please contact me about your blogging with students. I’d love to hear more about that! Thanks!

      • Andy,
        I also could not access your blog, but would love to learn more about how you introduce the blog to your students, instructions, content…Thanks!

    • I clicked on the link for http://bigginwithyournoggin.blogspot.com – it told me the blog was no longer working – I also want to know more about setting up the blog to work with my students instead of the reading log.

    • I would like to hear more about your reading blog for your students. I have been using Rading Response letters for several years after reading Nancy Atwell’s work. I think my 5th grade students would enjoy blogging about the books on the computer, so I would appreciate any insights.

  11. I enjoyed reading this post so much that I decided to also post about read alouds in my room:

    http://snapshotsofmrsv.blogspot.com/2009/04/read-aloud.html

  12. This is such a useful post! I’ve included it with this month’s Cornerstone Accolades.

    http://thecornerstoneforteachers.blogspot.com/2009/05/cornerstone-accolades-april-2009.html

  13. I’ve read aloud a dozen or so books (some multiple times) to my gifted 2nd-6th graders. Right now I’m reading a book that has been an all time hit–even though I read a bunch of other great books. I’m reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to my 6th graders and they absolutely LOVE it–they only come once day a week so it takes weeks to read a book and we are trying to finish by the end of the month.

    Last week they wouldn’t let me stop and I read for an hour and 15 minutes!! One of the things I do that the kids really like –I read really fast, I don’t use voices but I use inflections and pauses that keeps the kids engaged.

  14. Thanks for this post!

  15. Thanks so much for your post! This is my third year out of the classroom. I am now at a district level as an Instructional Technology Specialist. I have taught 2nd, 4th, and my last year 5th grade–andd in every grade–read alouds was the most important time of the day for my students as well as myself! I relate so to you telling how your kids would beg if there was no time for it–mine did too! I believe that all students should be read to EVERYDAY no matter the grade level! A powerful way for teachers and students to connect among many other things! Thanks again! I miss having students! I read to my adult students in training sometimes!

  16. Yes! My 6th graders love to be read to! It is an important piece in a balanced literacy program. Thumbs up to all teachers that take the time to read to adolescents. They love it even if they try to act cool and disinterested.

  17. Thanks for posting about your read-aloud. I went from teaching first grade to sixth a few years back, and I was hesitant that my 6th graders would think read-alouds were for babies. Was I wrong! They absolutely love it. Sometimes I look out at the kids as I’m reading and wonder if they’re into it, but if I try to skip even one day of read-aloud, they’re all over me about depriving them of the story! Even if I only have five minutes, I take the time to read at least a few pages.

  18. Wonderful article on students activities in classrooms! I know of a great website which promotes classroom management. Once you register free you can get a free e-course and ebook on classroom management. Also you will get a free newsletter on behaviour needs.

  19. [...] NYC. A brutally honest and amusing tale of two students who absolutely ruin a guided reading group.Nuts and Bolts of the Read Aloud in My Middle School Classroom by The Reading Zone. A wonderful Q&A that is perfectly detailed and provides much-requested [...]

  20. What do you read the first day of school? I teach 7th grade and I am looking for a short book to read aloud on the first day of school. Do you have any suggestions?

    • You might try reading the following books, as they are shorter in length than most for 7th graders, plus they are fun reads:

      The Year Money Grew on Trees – 250p
      Storm Runners – 160p
      Closed for the Season – 192p
      On the Wings of Heroes – 160p

      Happy Reading

      Cheryl Garrigan
      The Children’s Hour

  21. I ran across this and want to offer a different opinion about read alouds. My child is a terrific reader who does not enjoy read alouds. This happens to him in two classes. For him, the books go on forever, and he looks around the room and many of the kids aren’t paying attention. I wonder how well the students learn to read when so much is read aloud to them.

    I would rather my child be allowed to sit in the library and read on his own than go to classes where books are read aloud to him. Reading test scores in his school have not improved for the grades where reading aloud happens so much.

    I do believe some students like the read alouds, in part, because they don’t have to do anything. I also suspect many students know the teachers like them and flatter the teachers so the teachers like these students better and overlook the students’ indifference during the read alouds.

    • Mary-

      Thanks for your thoughts! I, much like your child, struggle with read alouds. It’s the reason audiobooks rarely work for me as an adult. However, there are important reasons for your son to experience read alouds. Read alouds provide an opportunity for the class to experience a common text, usually at a level that is above their independent reading level. Or, it may be from a genre they normally avoid. Students learn to listen, an important skill in all subjects but especially in world language classes.

      I do agree that teachers should not be reading every book aloud. Read alouds should never take the place of independent reading! Your son should have the opportunity to read widely for his own pleasure. Read alouds are an important piece of any reading/content area class but they are just that- a single piece. And the best teachers do hold students accountable for the content, if not directly.

      As for students not paying attention? That happens in the best of classes. But don’t be so sure that they aren’t paying attention. Students in my class were encouraged to doodle during read alouds (research shows it improves recall). They could take notes, or just close their eyes and listen.

  22. [...] addition to the article, I found some more information about reading aloud.  This blog post from The Reading Zone explains how one teacher uses read alouds in her class.  I think she teaches elementary school, [...]

  23. […] Reading aloud to my students daily is one of, if not the most, important aspects of my classroom. I extoll the virtues of classroom read alouds to anyone and everyone who will listen, yet I realiz…  […]

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