The Read Aloud Challenge for All Ages

We didn’t have television in those days, and many people didn’t even have radios. My mother would read aloud to my father and me in the evening.

Beverly Cleary

How often do you read aloud to another person? How often do you sit and listen as others read to you? It seems like such a simple activity, but one rich with meaning and connection. Some do it often with their children. For others, it might be reserved for an occasional public reading of an author, or perhaps reading to an ill family member or friend. What might happen if you expanded this practice, making it a more regular part of your life? Following is a life experiment to explore that possibility.

There is a solid body of research that supports the practice of reading aloud to children, even from birth. Reading aloud builds vocabulary by exposing children to words beyond what they might otherwise hear in their home environment. Every new book and author expands the listeners opportunity to learn and explore the sounds and eventual meaning of new words. Reading aloud nurtures literacy skills like an overall familiarity with the written word, exposure to different forms of syntax and storytelling, and comprehension. Creating these special moments with books is also a powerful way to nurture a love for the written word. Beyond this, and certainly just as important as the rest, reading aloud is a beautiful opportunity to build and enrich the connection between the reader and the child.

For an in depth exploration of the power of reading aloud, go to ReadAloud.org.

The value of reading aloud to children is hard to deny, but what about reading aloud to other people in our lives? There is something intimate about reading to another person. There is a shared connection to the story, but also a connection between reader and listener. Reading a book can be an entrancing solitary activity, but its communal capacity offers plenty of magic as well.

Some of you might be part of a book club, a writing group, or a formal writing course where public readings are part of the rituals or practices, but many of us rarely experience reading aloud as adults. This simple challenge is an opportunity to change that, to explore and experiment with the nature of communal reading.

  1. Find a willing partner or group of people who are open to joining you for this challenge. Explain that it will require meeting and setting aside 15-30 minutes a day for 5 consecutive days (or whatever timeframe and consistent schedule works for everyone involved).
  2. Pick a chapter, portion of a book, short story, article, collection of poems, or something else that you want to use for the experiment.
  3. Block off the time on your schedule and arrange a pleasant place to meet or gather.
  4. During the scheduled time, silence phones, and remove other potential distractions.
  5. Get comfortable, enjoy a little small talk, but then start reading. You might want to take turns reading, or perhaps there is one dedicated reader. Experiment to see what works best for you and the group.
  6. As you have time at the end, you might learn that the reading spurs conversation. If not, there is no need to force it. Just enjoy the time together.
  7. Dedicate time to recording some of your thoughts, feelings and reactions throughout the week. Was it awkward at first? Did that change? What did you notice about yourself as a reader or as a listener? What sort of connection did you experience with the book, with the reader, with other listeners (if you did this with more than two people). What was your overall experience?

Tips:

  • We read aloud slower than when we engage in silent reading. You can expect to get through about 2000-2500 words in fifteen minutes, so you are unlikely to make it through an entire book during this experiment. Choose something that you can enjoy, something short enough that you can complete, or something that allows you to explore a significant part of the work.
  • Experiment with the length of time, taking turns readings, and other parts of the activity to discover what works best for you and the group.
  • As with any experiment, your time for reflection is important. Consider how this experiment might influence the role of reading aloud in the future.

Books are mute as far as sound is concerned. It follows that reading aloud is a combination of two distinct operations, of two ‘languages.’ It is something far more complex than speaking and reading taken separately by themselves.

Maria Montessori

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