Read-Aloud Favorites: A Source for Enriching Students’ Knowledge of the World and of Language

    by Elfrieda H. Hiebert | March 22, 2013

    TextProject has relaunched Read-Aloud Favorites. Educators and parents can now search our outstanding collection of trade book recommendations for read-alouds by grade level, genre, topics, and format.

    Read-Aloud Favorites are an essential component of TextProject’s mission of providing appropriate texts for struggling and beginning readers. The Common Core State Standards bring increased focus to what it is that students are learning in schools and what they need to know. Through read-alouds, students can be introduced to topics and genres that they might otherwise not be able to read independently. Background knowledge and vocabulary (the words that are used for concepts) combined are the best predictors of students’ comprehension. Strategically chosen read-alouds are a critical arm of a curriculum that assists students’ development of vocabulary and concepts for the topics of complex texts.

    Books in the Read-Aloud Favorites portfolio have been chosen to ensure that both world knowledge and literary knowledge of children are enhanced. What follows are the principles for choosing read-alouds that underlie the selections of Read-Aloud Favorites (including the books that will continue to be added to the database).

    Ensure that read-alouds have compelling language. As teachers read aloud texts with memorable language, phrases and expressions become part of classroom talk (e.g., “Millions and billions and trillions of cats” from Millions of Cats). And, yes, there are informational texts that meet this criterion (e.g., “Seasons melt into seasons on her parents’ farm” from Through Georgia’s Eyes).

    Ensure that narratives chosen for read-alouds have a clear message and fit into themes. Narratives document the human experience—dilemmas, choices, and challenges told by contemporary authors and authors whose books have been read by generation after generation. The focus in selecting narratives for Read-Aloud Favorites has been on texts that show critical insights about friendships, families, and interactions of individuals with the world around them.

    As Figure 1 illustrates, read-alouds of narratives should include a variety of genres. This figure pertains to K-1 but the categories apply across the elementary school. As they hear contemporary and classic stories, children are being introduced to a host of characters. Some of these have stood the test of time (e.g., Gingerbread Man, Ferdinand), while others are endearing from the point of introduction (e.g., Olivia).

    Narrative Text graph

    Figure 1: Examples of Narrative Texts

    Ensure that students’ background knowledge in content areas such as science, social studies, and mathematics is also extended through read-alouds. Figure 2 illustrates just a few of the many outstanding texts that deal with topics in history, math, science, geography, and music/visual arts for young children. Titles for books appropriate over the elementary school are many.

    Reading aloud informational texts lays a foundation for students’ life-long engagement with texts as a source of knowledge and enjoyment. The past two decades have seen a blossoming of texts for children that convey information in domains of history, physics, ecology, biology, and much more. Many of these texts are appropriate for read-alouds in that they have compelling language and compelling content.

    Informational Text graph

    Figure 2: Examples of Informational Texts

    Develop background knowledge t by reading aloud books that have interrelated content. Rather than reading a single book on the orchestra (e.g., Zin, Zin, Violin), additional books such as The Philharmonic Gets Dressed and Ah, Music can create a strong foundation of knowledge about orchestral music.

    Select books that students would otherwise not read themselves. Use read-aloud time to select non-instructional texts that students can’t read independently. Read-alouds are not a substitute for students’ reading of texts that are part of the instructional program. Rather, read-alouds are a complement and elaboration of the curriculum. Knowledge is the commodity of the 21st century and the selections in Read-Aloud Favorites recognize the need for students—especially those who depend on schools to become literate—to gain knowledge in schools.

    The underlying goal of a read-aloud program should be to expand students’ exposure to books of compelling content and beautiful language. Read-Aloud Favorites are offered as a support for teachers in achieving this goal.