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Reading Aloud: Does it Work?

Almost as old as communication itself, the spoken word clearly resonates with learners.

The power of the voice.

“When you hear the beep, turn the page.” Can you still hear that friendly narrator’s voice from the read-along storybooks of your childhood? That’s the kind of lasting impression it makes.

Walk into any church, synagogue, or mosque, and you’ll hear the sacred texts being read aloud to the people gathered. Could the congregants not read the scriptures for themselves? Of course they could, but that’s not the point. The written words are proclaimed to the faithful. That’s how it’s been done for millennia! Early humans could only communicate with each other vocally, like other animals. But since the dawn of writing, the written word and the human voice can now work together to convey messages and impart knowledge. It is one of those traits that makes us, well…human!

How it impacts learning.

With children, the importance of this voice-word interplay as part of their cognitive development and reading ability can hardly be overstated. Countless studies have concluded that children are given a vital leg up on literacy when books and other materials are read aloud to them, whether it’s by their parents or teachers.

In a classroom environment, reading aloud to children as they read along helps them learn new words, reinforces their word recognition, and ultimately increases their vocabulary. All the while, they’re engaged in the group activity, focused as part of their peer community, and picking up valuable comprehension and communication skills. It also helps that they’re listening to your voice—honing that important skill of attentiveness, lest they miss anything.

According to Education World, these benefits are “ true of students at all age levels”—even in secondary, post-secondary, and graduate levels!

Some ideas to get started.

Kaplan Early Learning offers a wealth of ideas, as well as research demonstrating the effectiveness of read-alouds, on their website. Benchmark Education has some solid resources, with a particularly strong focus on the methods and structure of read-alouds. Education World also presents a good rationale for reading to your students, in addition to some great ideas for books to read and focus on with them. Finally, a report from Reading Is Fundamental offers great insights into reading with children from infancy up into the primary grades, stressing how “the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”


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