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Listening to Stories: Not Just for Elementary Kids

reading 472Read-alouds are pretty much a daily standard in elementary schools. But in middle school? Not as much.

Melissa Moens, language arts teacher at Crossroads Middle School, in Northview, Michigan, thinks reading aloud to tweens is important— so much so, she makes it a point to read aloud to her seventh-graders twice every week.

In addition to having them read silently for 15 minutes three days a week, Moens reads to them on the days they do not, letting their minds conjure the scenes as she reads to them. On a recent afternoon, she walked slowly around her classroom, doing her best gangster voices to read dialogue in “Al Capone Does My Shirts.”

As Moens read, her students did crossword puzzles with vocabulary words from the book. A few sat on the floor along a classroom wall, legs outstretched.

It wasn’t always obvious they were listening until Moens stopped reading and asked questions, which she did often.

“That word, ‘beckoning,’” she said. “What does that look like, to beckon?”

Several hands shot up instantly, as they did when, moments later,  she asked about the word conniving.

Afterward, she read the line “My voice squeaks high like a rodent’s.”

“What is that?” Moen wondered. Several students answered in unison: “Simile!”

Results of a study published in 2013 showed the impact of read-alouds on sixth-graders’ reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Authored by Jennifer Kohart Marchessault of Grand Canyon University and Karen H. Larwin of Youngstown State University, suggested the practice “can expand students’ exposure to reading materials, even materials above their instructional level, by utilizing their listening skills. When the students’ only task is to listen to the material being read, not worrying about pronunciation, taking turns reading, etc., comprehension becomes the end result.”

Moens — who has been teaching middle school for 15 years, plus two years as a reading specialist for grades K-8 — sees even more benefits. She said students build vocabulary and develop empathy. As with the current book, she also finds ways to “sneak in ‘teachable moments’” and mini-lessons that demonstrate how active listeners can be.

Reading aloud, she said, “opens up so many opportunities for great conversation, and this age is the best age to discuss some really important topics that may otherwise be difficult to approach.” Through the character whose sister has autism in “Al Capone Does my Shirts,” for example, “we have started talking about the (autism) spectrum and what that means.”

“My main reason for doing it is the hope that it helps develop and instill a life-long love of reading, just through the act itself,” Moens said.

Excerpted from “Listening to stories: not just for elementary kids” in School News Network online. Read the full article.

Source: School News Network | Listening to stories: not just for elementary kids, https://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org/2019/04/16/listening-to-stories-its-not-just-for-elementary-kids-anymore | © Kent ISD, Grand Rapids, MI

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