Research has shown that reading aloud to kids greatly increases their love for literature – but unfortunately, making time for “read-aloud” has been pushed off the table for many teachers. It can be understandable, what with all the demands for other things that have to be taught. But even though I feel this tug myself, I know the power of the read-aloud in the classroom first-hand. And because of that, I won’t ever stop reading aloud to my 5th-graders.
Read-aloud has been my favorite part of the day, ever since I was a student teacher. The first time I realized that the classroom was utterly silent, with twenty-two pairs of eyes trained on me, awaiting every word I read – I knew it was magical. Even now, when I allow my students to draw at their desks while I’m reading to them, there are still those moments of complete captivation, where they forget about their drawing and they look up to hang on to the next part of the story. And of course, my favorite is to stop on a cliffhanger, and hear their cries of “No, don’t stop!” Or “just one more chapter!”
That’s when I know the power of read-alouds is real, and that it must be continued. Not only that, but each book that I read aloud to them becomes a shared experience for the whole class. We are taken on a journey through the book together, and even if I’ve read the book dozens of times, it always takes on a different shape when I read it to a new group of students. Sometimes we’ll even watch the movie after we finish the book and compare the two, having spirited discussions about which was better.
I have slowly been learning over the past few years the best qualities of a read-aloud. Certainly you could read aloud any age-appropriate book to kids, but there are certain books that make better read-alouds than others.
Probably the most important aspect of any book that I choose to read aloud to my classroom is that it’s a well-crafted book. I want them to hear rich language, diverse themes, deep characters, and strong writing. Not only is it modeling to them the best kind of literature, but it’s also more pleasing to read out loud.
Additionally, since kids can understand books read to them that are higher than their reading level, this gives them the opportunity to hear vocabulary and sentence structure that they might have trouble reading on their own.
The books should be somewhat well-paced – too much exposition at the beginning, and they quickly lose interest. I do love a suspenseful read-aloud, but books that have intricate stories of themes the kids can identify with are just as meaningful. They also lead to profound discussions as a class, which are another favorite part of read-alouds for me.
I also like to use read aloud books as a chance to introduce my kids to genres or types of books they might not choose to read on their own. Every year in my independent reading requirements, the students are challenged to read books from eight different genres to help broaden their horizons. This year, as I’m planning out my read-alouds in advance, I would love to read aloud one from each of those genres as a great example to them. This, of course, is ambitious, since we only got through five books last year for read-alouds (and one was incredibly short!), but that is my hope.
So, with that in mind, here are my current plans for read-alouds for this year – some of which I have read to my class before (and know they’re winners), and some of which I’ve just read to myself, but have a gut feeling they will be well-received.
Science Fiction: The City of Ember
This is the only book that I’ve read aloud every single year to my class, and they love it. It is the perfect book for them to make predictions about, especially since it isn’t revealed till much later in the book the actual setting of the story – they have to figure it out based on clues.
The story is set in the future, where there is a community of people who live underground in the city of Ember. About 240 years before, there was some kind of world destruction happening (you find this out in sequels & a prequel to the book), and “The Builders” sent a group of people to survive in an underground city. However, after many years have passed, nobody in the city knows that they live underground – all they know is that their city is falling apart and the electricity they depend on to survive is dying out. The main characters of the story, Lina and Doon, two twelve-year old kids, have to figure out the puzzle to get out of Ember and save everyone else in their town.
This one has a movie made out of it, which I’ve watched for the past couple of years with my class, but it has many differences from the book – which the kids love pointing out.
Fantasy: Ranger’s Apprentice – The Ruins of Gorlan
This was a book I’d been wanting to read for several years and didn’t get to it until last year. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to read it aloud to my class – and they loved it, just as I did. Not only is it filled with action and adventure, but the characters learn lessons about character and nobility, which is needed in more of today’s kids’ books.
The setting is an imaginary kingdom where an evil warlord is planning his revenge attack. Most of this first book centers around a teenager named Will, who has been apprenticed to one of the kingdom’s rangers – those who use stealth and skill to surprise and outwit their enemies. Eventually Will and his ranger master must set out on a quest to track down and kill two beasts called the Kalkara – but it’s only the beginning of what will turn into a great war (hence the nine books that follow in the series!)
Warning: there are a few instances of “damn” and “hell” in the book, which you might want to be aware of if kids are reading the books independently. As a read-aloud, it’s quite easy to skip over or change those words.
Historical Fiction: Refugee
One of the most gripping and meaningful books I have read this year, Refugee is the exact kind of book that will open kids’ eyes to other people’s stories. It follows the stories of three different kids who are refugees at different times in history – Josef, in 1939, a Jew fleeing Germany; Isabel, in 1994, fleeing Cuba on a raft in the Caribbean; and Mahmoud, fleeing Syria in 2015. Every chapter focuses on a different person’s story, leaving the reader with that nail-biting suspense that moves them forward in the book.
It is real, without being too graphic, and the stories are beautifully told – in a way that encourages empathy for the plight of refugees everywhere. I have not read this one aloud to my class yet, but I’m excited to share it with them this year.
Realistic Fiction: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
After the heaviness of the refugee topic, we will probably need a break for something a bit lighter, and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is exactly the delightful book for that. I just finished reading this book, although I had had it recommended to me earlier this year. It depicts the life of the Vanderbeeker family – mom, dad, five kids, and a few pets – living in a brownstone in Harlem, New York. Their landlord, reclusive and bitter Mr. Beiderman, has just told them that he’s not renewing their lease, and the five kids set out on multiple plans to change his mind.
This story paints a cozy picture of a tight-knit neighborhood, where everyone knows each other, as well as a family warm with love, even if they’re a bit tight on economy. Each one of the kids has a unique personality that you will love getting to know, and you find yourself rooting for them to stay in their home. This is another one I haven’t tried out on my class, but I think we will find great enjoyment in this story together.
I have a couple other ideas for Mystery, Informational, Biography, and Poetry, but some of them I need to read first before settling on them. Chances are we might not get to those genres, but I might choose some shorter books (or picture books) to fill in those genres to make room for the longer books mentioned above.
Other favorite books I’ve read aloud to my class before include Peter & the Starcatchers; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Number the Stars; Old Yeller; and The One & Only Ivan. I wish I could read them all to my class every year, but I do like to try out new ones from year to year to see how well they work as read-alouds.
If you have favorite books that would work well for 5th-grade read-alouds, please share with me – I always love getting great suggestions!
And now that tomorrow is August 1st – I am officially back in teacher planning mode. Only 29 more days till school starts – and as I always say, I think it will be the best year yet.
Favorite read-aloud resources: Sarah Makenzie and her website and podcast called “The Read-Aloud Revival” and Donalyn Miller’s books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.
All images from Google Images.