The Read-Aloud Handbook – Chapter 1: Why read aloud?

Published July 8, 2013 by Mrs. Malo

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At a cottage in Muskoka this week, I enjoyed sitting in a screened porch looking out over the lake, as I read Chapter 1 last night.  I enjoyed reading the introduction a few days ago so I had no trouble getting in to the book.  Prior to starting I made sure to first read with my girls – Kaitlyn a chapter from The Wide Awake Princess and Eileen a story from her Cars anthology.  Michael was not sitting for a story last night but I was not too worried. There are a few distractions here at the cottage and at home where he can pick one of his hundred own books he always brings a book to “Family Reading Time”.  Trelease often writes of making reading enjoyable for children and this can’t happen by ‘forcing’ them to sit and listen to a story, to me that seems counterproductive.

Trelease starts chapter 1 with statistics, there are a lot of statistics in this book and a lot of research.  The first shows the decline in the number of students who read for pleasure as they age.

“We have 100 percent interest in kindergarten but loose three-quarters of our potential lifetime readers by the time they’re eighteen.”

Trelease has a a good discussion on his thoughts on electronic reading – tweets, email, facebook etc.  His points on vocabulary are important and became more concrete when you see the table on page 18 comparing the number of rare words per thousand in different forms of oral and written communication.  This kind of sums of the content of this chapter.  Trealease goes from discussing the reading problem, discussing what needs to be done to fix it, and then finishes with discussing why this is important (background knowledge and vocabulary).

Key thoughts that jumped out at me and what is rolling around in my head:

  1. The opening stats discusses not only if children are reading but what they are reading.  It states that children are reading less magazines and newspapers than they are books.  Do I need to have more varieties of print in my classroom?   I have a bin of magazines (Chirp and Highlights) but do I need to have enough variety.  Maybe I need to have a bin/area for ‘environmental print’.
  2. We read the newspaper online in our house – is this good enough modelling for our children?  My husband gets one magazine (The Economist) in print and the girls each get two magazines but we don’t have any print copies of the newspaper. Is this something we need to reconsider?
  3. I don’t need to abandon what I am doing now in my class, I just need to re-jig a few things. “You need the combination of know-how and motivation (pg. 10)
  4. Background knowledge!!! As a parent this is the one area I feel very confident, our children have lots of experiences and adventures but I teach children from a diverse SEC group that don’t have as rice of background experiences
  5. Types of vocabulary, I found the illustration on the different types of vocabulary on page 14 very helpful – listening vocabulary, speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary, and writing vocabulary.

Final favourite quotes from chapter 1:

The one prekindergarten skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure, is the child’s vocabulary entering school.  (page 15)

The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. (page 16)

The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words but by how many rare words we understand.

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3 comments on “The Read-Aloud Handbook – Chapter 1: Why read aloud?

  • Good summary. The part about rare words was really interesting to me. It connected with something a colleague mentioned last year about the level of vocabulary in our kids. Many are from lower socioeconomic homes and don’t have lots of background knowledge. I am more determined to read aloud and to use a variety of vocabulary words to build both knowledge and working vocabulary.

  • My favorite quote (or one of them) is: ” It’s not the toys in the house that make the difference in children’s lives; it’s the words in their heads” I will be determined to read abundantly to my students and grandchildren. We always read to our four children-and continued with our son to 4th grade. BUT had we have known I would have continued well beyond to read aloud.

  • Great points on electronic reading. If children see us read newspapers, magazines, and books on a computer or tablet, do they realize we are reading quality information or just surfing the net? In the past, we’ve always heard that it helps when children see us reading and writing, but when much of that is done electronically, does it have the same impact?

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