By Barbara Gottschalk
Countless research studies have told us that reading aloud to students is effective. Why, then, do teachers feel like it is “one more thing” they have to “fit in”? Gina Odren at Susick Elementary in Troy, Mich., is an example of a teacher who uses picture book read-alouds very effectively, even at the upper elementary level.
Nearly half of Odren’s 4th grade students are English language learners (ELLs), but many are at higher proficiency levels—so they don’t need intensive pull-out sessions with me, Susick’s English language acquisition teacher. Instead, I sometimes push in to Gina’s class to support her ELL students, and that’s how I know about her great daily read-aloud routine. Like all well-done read-alouds, the goal is to get students excited about reading, but Odren’s routine also gives students practice in the four language domains—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. And because she uses picture books, it’s accessible to students at all ability levels.
Odren chooses books carefully to introduce a variety of genres, highlight specific reading strategies, and reinforce topics from science and social studies. What’s more, she often uses additional visual support to help her ELL students, such as a video read-aloud of the same book (but for a different purpose), a related video clip, or Google images. After students have listened to the book and had a chance to talk about it with their classmates, they write about it in their reading response notebooks. Odren carefully models writing the responses at the beginning of the year and then gradually releases responsibility to the students. I often see students using their notebooks to make connections about authors or books: “Oh, we read a book by Eve Bunting before!”
Odren has tweaked her read-aloud routine into one of the most ELL-friendly techniques I’ve seen in a general education classroom. It gets results, too. Here are two responses from a long-term English language learner, one when he first came to Gina’s class and one from just a few months later.
This student’s improvement is a good reminder for teachers—even teachers of older students—that the daily practice of reading aloud picture books to students can work wonders for their writing, speaking, listening, and reading!
Barbara Gottschalk is an English language acquisition teacher at Susick Elementary in Warren Consolidated Schools in Troy, Mich.