In elementary classrooms all across America, teachers read books aloud to students to build their interest in reading. “Read alouds,” as they are frequently called, also may help students learn vocabulary words and improve text comprehension, but there is surprisingly little scholarship on the impact of read aloud practices when implemented in real classroom settings.
A new study from the Elementary School Journal fills that gap. The experimental study examined the impact of using a systematic approach to reading fiction and nonfiction books to students in first-grade classrooms. The authors of the study compared the comprehension and vocabulary retention of students whose teachers had read texts aloud, following a specific method of instruction, with those teachers who had not.
The systematic approach consisted of the following: Teachers in the “intervention” group were asked to walk students through the thought process of understanding a given text and provide explicit demonstrations and concise summaries of the stories. After showing them how to read and comprehend the text, students were gradually given responsibility for comprehension tasks. Teachers structured their read-aloud lessons with a before-, during-, and after-reading section, to prepare students for the text and then reinforce what they had learned.
On the whole, students in the experimental read-aloud group outperformed students in the control group. Read-aloud intervention had significant effects on students’ narrative retell and vocabulary outcomes, especially for students at risk for language and literacy difficulties.
The authors of the study conclude that read aloud practices can have a positive impact on higher-order skills such as comprehension and vocabulary, and recommend adopting a structured approach to read alouds in elementary education, with before-, during-, and after-reading components. By planning their read alouds ahead of time, teachers will be able to demonstrate the necessary steps to deep understanding of a given text and guide their students to read and comprehend texts on their own.
Baker, Scott, Lana Edwards Santoro, et. al. “An Evaluation of an Explicit Read Aloud Intervention Taught in Whole-Classroom Formats in First Grade.” Elementary School Journal 113:3. March 2013.