This is a guest post by Carrie Mage, a high school teacher of ELs from Ontario.

One, among many practices I have noted that we can lose sight of as educators of students in the upper grades, is the benefit of the read-aloud to secondary school students (in my board that includes students from approximately 13 to 21 years).  Sure, we have students read pieces, or even engage in a class novel at this stage, but do we truly allow our older students to fall in love with literature? Do we model what good reading and phrasing sounds like (so important for our ELLs)?

During the first week of school this year, when I looked out at a sea of new faces in the room and saw them looking back at me with a “wait, what?” look as I held up a picture book, I explained to them that I will be reading aloud to them every day in class, and that this book was simply one of many.  

I reminded them that it was an adult that wrote the book!  I reminded them that the artwork in the book is done by someone who is passionate about bringing the author’s words to life, and finally, I asked that they be patient with me as I try some books out over the next couple of weeks and will be asking for their feedback in selecting new titles.  

By day six (week two), there was no further need to convince them to listen to a story, in fact, they asked for it, “You will read a story to us today, Miss?”

Convincing Older Students that Picture Books are Cool!

I read the book The Name Jar in the first week as I had a new student join our class from China, and she was interested in an “American style” name over her Chinese name. In fact, she had already chosen an American name before she arrived in my class.  

The Name Jar is about Unhei (pronounced Yoon-Hey) leaving all that she knows in Korea to move to the United States.  Before leaving, her grandmother gives her a wooden block with her name engraved on it in Korean. When Unhei comes to the U.S., she is very anxious about starting school.  Her first interaction with the other children on the bus isn’t a good one as none of them can pronounce her name. They start making fun of her name which makes Unhei feel terrible.

She decides that she wants to give herself an American name and looks for suggestions from classmates.  The name jar gets filled with American names suggested by her classmates. She reads many of the names, but doesn’t feel comfortable with any of them.

During this time, a young boy, Joey, befriends Unhei and helps her to appreciate her name.  In the end, Unhei finally decides that she likes her name (which means grace) best of all, and teaches the class about her name and how to pronounce it.  Joey truly shows great friendship throughout the story by accepting Unhei’s name.

We started reading aloud with the goal of simply enjoying a story someone in the room could really relate to.  After we finished, my newcomer from China told me that I could call her by her Chinese name – Haiyi – if I wanted to, and of, course I agreed (as long as she demand my pronunciation improve over time).  

I guessed she picked an American name because she wanted to fit in and she recognizes how difficult it is for us to pronounce her name properly.  After reading The Name Jar, she still wanted to be accepted, but acceptance now meant acknowledging her Chinese name.   

Would this conversation have happened without this picture book? Perhaps, but it was a gentle, subtle way to get students to think deeply.

Why Do Read Alouds

I begin read alouds by telling the students why I chose the book.  In the case that a student has chosen a book for read aloud, they share why they want it read.  Below are the reasons we choose a book for read alouds grouped under two categories:

Reading reasons:

  • Fosters a love of reading
  • Models reading for pleasure
  • Raises the comprehension
  • Provides an opportunity to hear a text read fluently
  • Provides text-to-self-text-world connections
  • Invites students to make predictions and inferences

Language reasons:

  • Provides opportunities for authentic talk
  • Teaches words in context, not in isolation
  • Builds connections to other content areas
  • Gives students a solid example of phrasing
  • Creates a safe environment, which reduces the affective filter (Krashen)
  • Exposes students to various genres of writing
  • Builds rapport between teachers and students

One of the main reasons to do a read aloud is to raise the comprehension level of ELs.  If we simply ask students to read to themselves, not everyone is on the same level, so they’ll have different levels of comprehension, notice different things, and finish at different times.  However, when we read an article aloud during the first reading, we can use clues as we read to help raise the level of comprehension.  In subsequent readings, students are given a chance to read independently, but to foster a discussion, we read aloud at least once at the beginning.

I begin with picture books because they are highly visual. It makes a read-aloud go smoothly when you do not have to stop to define words or provide context when a picture can do that for you.  After all, this is about fostering a love of reading!

One of my first read alouds this year and one of my favorite picture books is Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree.  This book is all about a tree, that wanted nothing more than to see a boy happy.  The “boy” in the book comes to the tree all throughout his life, asking the tree for what it can give to make him happy. For example, he tells the tree he needs money, so the tree offers her apples to sell at the market to make money.  The tree never asks for anything in return. By the end of the story, the tree is just a stump, as the boy has taken everything she had. Near the end of the book, as the stump sees the boy(now an old man) approach her, she reminds him she has nothing left to give. The boy said he just needed a place to rest.  A stump is a great place to sit and rest, and the tree was happy.

I was pleasantly surprised that my high school students clapped at the end!   Books such as this always elicit conversation, which I generally begin with, “Did you like this book?  Why?”. In this case, I knew they really enjoyed the book, so, “What did you like about this? Why did you clap?”

My class last year loved the read aloud, Wonder. I fully intended to read only a few chapters of that book (as to expose them to more literature without being caught up in one book for too long), however, we got so into it and we read the entire book!  Having had that experience, this year I projected onto our Brightlink smart board (we are blessed in our board that all teaching spaces have these!) and showed them how Amazon makes book suggestions. By typing in the book title, Wonder,  “Customers who bought this book also bought” came up……and several books appeared, one being The One and Only Ivan.

This Newbery Medal award receipt, written by Katherine Applegate is about a gorilla, Ivan, who lives in a small enclosure in a mall for over 20 years of his life.  This story is largely based on the life of a real gorilla named Ivan. Have a look at this video of the real Ivan.

I gave them the background as to why this book interested me so much. I told them a story I saw on the news, of Harambe (the silverback gorilla in an Ohio zoo, circa 2016, who was euthanized.  A young child got into the gorilla enclosure and Harambe, being curious, became very rough with the child and zookeepers worried about the child’s welfare, and therefore made a very difficult decision). We then, based on that story, did an “Agree or Disagree” (students go to one side of the room if they agree , the opposite if they disagree) using the question, “Did the Zookeepers make the right decision by euthanizing Harambe?”.  As we talked it out, more and more,students asked if they could go to the middle of the room, and this is where they learned what the phrase (idiom) “sitting on the fence” meant :).

I also told them about my own experience visiting the Toronto Zoo several years ago with my daughter, then obsessed with gorillas due to her infatuation with the Disney movie, Tarzan (about 13 years ago) and how I was disturbed to see two, very sad gorillas, in captivity.  More conversation ensued and we were having some pretty heated and somewhat controversial discussions about parks like Marineland (Niagara Falls’ version of Sea World). Finally, we all agreed to give this book a try!

Now as I approach the end of The One and Only Ivan, students are already thinking about what we should read next.  Many tell me they are sad the book is coming to an end and look forward to the movie release, when they can say, “I’ve read the book already.”

Things to consider while conducting a read aloud

There are two camps on the “rules of read aloud”, one being, do not interrupt, stop, explain or ask questions, it is about enjoying a book!  The other, is the interactive read aloud. Valentina Gonzalez (@valentinaESL on Twitter) shares a blog about the interactive read aloud and you can find it here:  Interactive Read Aloud .  My approach to read alouds follows more the interactive style, as these students are learning English, they will require vocabulary support, gestures and frequent check-ins for comprehension.  There are times when the students “turn and talk”, “think-pair-share” or even just raise their hand.

Of the many things that you can do during a read aloud, things you may try are:

  • Project a photo
  • Use lots of gestures
  • Stop for comprehension check-ins
  • Change your voice to match a character
  • Be vulnerable (some books can elicit emotions)
  • If there are pictures, be sure the students can see (walk the room)
  • Have students infer the meaning of idiomatic expressions 
  • Check in on a word to be sure your students know what it means
  • Keep tissues close in case of the above (just trust me on this one)
  • Read at a slower pace and be sure to pronounce words clearly and carefully, especially for students at earlier steps to English proficiency
  • Substitute words on the fly (so you don’t interrupt the flow of the story)
  • Allow them to use their phones to translate a word (write it on the board if you need to)

I’ve become quite skilled at word substitution while reading aloud to support comprehension, and when I can’t, I head to the trusty brighlink to Google an image to support understanding.  There is no point moving forward if some of your students will struggle to follow the story!

I am careful to use gesturing to support comprehension of the story.  I try to mimic what Ivan and the other characters do. Stella, the elephant has a very sore and swollen leg as a result of being chained up, so I limp, wince or grimace as she does in the book.  I have seen some administrators walk by my class while I am engaged in read aloud, likely, wondering what the heck I am up to. Just recently, I banged on the glass by the classroom door (as Ivan did to get the attention of a human on the other side of his “domain”) and scared the pants off of a student passing by.  I held up the novel, and with a thumbs-up, he went on his merry way.

During dialogue in the book, I am sure to change my voice to match the characters’.  Ruby, the new baby elephant, I imagine has such a cute voice, so I do my best to re-create the character as if she were in the room.  

Some Surprises Come About

Literature is powerful, and its reach may extend beyond that of your wildest dreams.  

I recall last year while finishing a chapter of the book, Wonder, one of my students (21 years old at the time) staged a protest!  He began to negotiate with me! If I read just one more chapter, he would work much harder in class that day!

This year, while reading The One and Only Ivan, one of my most recent arrivals said that her father works evenings and she does not see him that often, so she calls him every evening on his break.  She explained that part of their nightly conversation is around the read aloud. Her father asks her what Ivan and the others were up to that day.

I’ve seen students laugh, and most recently (spoiler alert), cry, as I read (and yes, I have been known to shed a tear much to the delight of the students).

One of the students, on Friday, said they looked up the book and discovered it is currently in post-production but the release date is TBD.  The movie will have Angelina Jolie voice the character of Stella the elephant, and Danny DeVito as Bob (a very opinionated stray dog, and buddy to Ivan).  I was sworn to promise that if it came out before the semester ends, they get to watch it! You can check it out here at Imdb .

The Power of Literature in Bringing Us Together

Reading aloud to my students has had some unexpected (positive) ripple effects.  One of my students stated that her science teacher said he was “sitting on the fence” with respect to an issue in her class, and her being new said to me, “Ah Miss, I was wonder why he says he sit on a fence because why does he do this when he can sit on a chair? Now, I know what it is means!”

If you have ever thought about trying daily read alouds, whether that be picture books, articles, novels (or part thereof), I say, go for it!  This worthwhile experience is now something I cannot do without. Let me know how it goes and if you have any great read aloud suggestions, please share them with me! @highlandmom.

Speaking of bringing us together, check out Global Read Aloud @globalreadaloud , a terrific opportunity to connect with classrooms all over the globe for read alouds and various activities that come from them.  So fun!

[updated November, 2018]

The Quick Write

In my classroom, following read aloud, we engage in 10 minutes of silent reading.  Books for silent reading come from our weekly trip to the library. We are fortunate to have a public library connected to our high school.  I truly believe that a trip to the library teaches skills that can be used throughout life. Since the students go to a library filled with books, dual language books, books on CD, etc., they have the freedom to choose what they want to bring back to the classroom for the week (with parameters).  

Each student comes to show me their selections so I can review the choices for “not yet” or “let’s try”. Some want to choose books that are at a frustration level of English for them, so I act as a check-point. We try to choose a minimum of three books, one for now, one for when you’re done, and one for a break from the others.

While students are reading, so am I.  It is very challenging to avoid the temptation to catch up on an email or two, or even do some marking, but modeling reading is one of the best ways to get them to read.

My check-ins on their reading are very informal (as to not disturb my readers).  This is where the Quick-Write comes in.

Following Silent Read, comes the Quick-Write, a time for students to write about what they have read (either how they felt, what they predict will happen, or even a re-tell).  Students are given three minutes to write. While students are writing, I am writing on the front board (about my read aloud) to model an example of what a Quick-Write can be. I try to vary my responses in that one day I may talk about how what I read made me feel, and the next, a retell.  Sometimes, I use my sample to do a mini lesson on say contractions or compound words for example.

In the past, I had students simply log the titles they read, once a book was completed.  I saw it as a means of celebration (“Lok how many books I’ve read”). Over time, I have found this to be a complete waste of time!  They didn’t seem to care about the number of books, or titles, it was just something they had to do. What they want and what they respond to is an audience and active participant in their reading. They want a reaction.

Quick Write reading logs

Each week, I collect the Quick-Write books, read their entries and respond thoughtfully to their writing.  I ask questions for clarification, I correct very specific errors (not all), and sometimes I share a personal note, but the one thing they look for, every time, are the stickers! I am sure to put a sticker in their books. Such a simple gesture, but they love it.

For the teacher to consider with respect to a Quick-Write reading response:

  • Always respond to their writing, even if just a few words of acknowledgment.
  • Correct specific errors if among the errors a student makes is not putting a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, correct that error only.
  • Give time for Quick-Write every day following silent reading.
  • Allow first language words as substitutes. You will figure out the message!  It’s about communication of ideas and thinking.
  • Meet with students about their Quick-Writes and celebrate the gains you see.
  • Allow pictures in place of words for students who do not have their first language proficiency in writing.
  • Remind them it’s not about the quantity of writing. It is about sharing ideas and thoughts about their reading.
  • Do a Quick-Write as they do to provide a sample (from experience, be clear to them that they are not to copy your Quick-Write).


My name is Carrie and I’m in my tenth year in ESL with my school board in southern Ontario.  I teach two classes of ESL (high school) in the morning, and then switch hats and work in the afternoons as our board’s ESL Consultant.

This is my first ever blog post!  I will admit to being somewhat intimidated, however, when the opportunity to collaborate with Tan presents, one must throw caution to the wind, and at least, give it a try. Tan has been working on me for a while to blog and I have (reluctantly) agreed to for the reason noted above.  Disclaimer: I am NOT a gifted writer!