I had a substitute teacher in my 2nd grade classroom a bit ago, and in her end of the day written note was the comment, “They sure talk a lot during the story time.” I had to laugh. It’s taken me a long time to foster the kind of talk around a picture book to which she was referring. It makes it difficult for substitute teachers unfamiliar with the read aloud structure, but provides a great opportunity for language development, and this year especially, some great student writing.
A long time ago I found out that it doesn’t benefit the language learners in my classroom if I make them hold their comments and questions until the end of the story. Reading the story without interruption may provide a more continuous story thread, and there is something to be said for this, but for the child who is struggling to share in English, it’s virtually impossible to try and remember a comment until the end of the story
What I love about read alouds is the opportunity the story provides my students to connect to their own experiences, or to travel outside of their own lives, or to learn about a new concept. Granted, the book is not a lived experience, but given the confines of my classroom, it is, in many instances, the best I can offer my students.
What the substitute teacher didn’t realize was that “allowing” the students to talk about the book as it was being read provided so many opportunities for the students. It provided a chance for everyone to hear about each other’s personal connections, opportunities to clear up any misconceptions held by a student, define unfamiliar vocabulary, and jointly explore the wonderings of the 7- year- olds I live with each day. The conversation also provides a chance for oral rehearsal of ideas., which may then find their way into student writing.
“Let’s Get a Pup!” Said Kate by Bob Graham has been a recent book used as a read aloud that brought out some terrific student stories. It is the story of a young girl who, after the loss of a family cat, convinces her parents into going to the pound to look for a new puppy. Many students in my class have dogs, and the pet origins are varied. This book provided the needed vocabulary (in context) to talk about all the animals at the pound, what it’s like to get a chosen animal home, and the ensuing changes in household routines and relationships.
We read the book, and talked and laughed about it as it was being read. They asked questions to clarify, I watched faces for confused looks, and then stopped to clear up the confusions. I explained unfamiliar vocabulary, and they shared how the text related to their pet experiences. They talked with partners about their pets, and then pulled out their writer’s notebooks and wrote. Each student was invested enough in that piece of writing to take it through revision, editing and finally to publication in a special hard back book school project.
When my students and I talk about a book as it is being read, we are building and maintaining our classroom community. They have a chance to learn and use new vocabulary in context, talk about books in authentic ways with their peers and with me, and then use the words and ideas brought up in those conversations to help them as they write. Sharing a book through a read aloud in my room is not a short, quiet experience, but it is completely worth the time and vocal music that ensues.