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Automatic English For The People

Friday, March 10, 2006

Read-Alouds: Not Just For Children

by AJ

My most powerful elementary school experience (ala Jim Trelease):

Fourth grade. Ms. Milam asked us to put away our books, sit quietly, and listen as she read. She took out a novel and showed it to us. Title: The Hobbit.

I knew nothing about the book... but by page two, I was hooked. The book seemed amazing to me... what an incredibly interesting, magical world. Over the course of the year, Ms. Milam read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers to us. We didnt have time for The Return of The King... a maddening situation for me. I tried to read it myself immediately, but couldnt get through it. I eventually reread the entire series a few years later.

Ms. Milam’s read-alouds hooked me on reading. While I enjoyed reading, it wasnt until her class that I became a gung-ho independent reader. I began to pester my mom for books.. a habit she happily indulged. I plowed through the entire Hardy Boys series... then switched to various fantasy and science fiction books.

Many years later, I was not surprised to discover the research on free reading and read alouds. Looking back, I realize that most of my vocabulary and grammar ability came from the reading I did on my own. In fact, I rarely read required books or textbooks.. usually resorted to Cliff Notes. Nor did I pay attention to (or understand) HS grammar teachers.

I teach adults. But I am now using Ms. Milam’s approach. Everyday, I read aloud to my class. I read them a chapter from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Like Ms. Milam, I try to read dramatically. I attempt to convey the emotions of the characters and situations.

After doing the read-aloud, I return to the text to answer questions. We discuss difficult sections/words. Lately, Ive been rereading the chapter with the entire class.. with all of us "reading dramatically". Then we listen to the audiobook.. with the author reading the same section (again, with emotion).

Its gone surprisingly well... better than I expected. Students' comprehension is steadily improving. They also seem to be enjoying the story. And why not? Its a fun book.

Too often, we make the mistake of underestimating adult students. We assume we must always be "serious" with them. We hit them with "serious" articles and "serious" literature. We seriously analyze intricate grammar rules. We assume they wont like read alouds, stories, drama, games, or other "kids stuff".

But we are usually wrong. Adult brains are not so different than children's. They too respond to great stories, colorful images, movement, novelty, play, and fun (god forbid).

And so... consider read-alouds with your adult students.

But please,.... choose something fun!

San Francisco, CA

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