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Benefits of Read-Aloud With Older Youth

Picture this: a room full of 11-13-year-olds so intent, so absorbed, so engrossed by their Facilitator’s voice that if you muted her momentarily, you could most assuredly hear a pin drop. I promise you that this really happens at OC! What is the secret to engaging a gaggle of preteens and teens, you might be wondering? The marvelous world of good literature, of course! 


Monday Group Tutorial III focuses on Living History, so for each eight week unit of study we include read-aloud every afternoon. We choose books that compliment the hands-on learning we do. During our study of ancient Egypt, we immersed ourselves in the mysterious world of Egyptian Mythology, reading from the book Treasury of Egyptian Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals by Donna Jo Napoli. Reading these treasured stories solidified our understanding of ancient Egyptian culture in a way that nothing else could. During our study of the Lewis and Clark expedition, we read a book titled Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac. This wonderful book told the story of the expedition from both Sacajawea and William Clark’s perspectives as told to “Pomp,” Sacajawea’s son. Each chapter featured either Clark’s or Sacajawea’s voice, and began with either a journal entry from Clark or a Shoshone tale. Again, there has been no better way to truly experience this important time in our nation’s history. 


One of the most treasured parts of the day in Tuesday Group Tutorial III is “Read-aloud” time. We set aside part of each afternoon to share acclaimed literary works with the youth, simply by reading them aloud and reflecting on them as a group. We recently finished reading Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, an intriguing novel that we absolutely could not get enough of. Despite our melancholy over saying goodbye to those lovable characters who feel like family now, we have moved on to yet another fantastic literary piece: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. We have just started it and are already totally enthralled. We have a hard time waiting until the next week to read more! 


The benefits of reading aloud to young children, pre-readers in particular, are well touted, but there are tremendous benefits to reading aloud to older children as well. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade.” By reading aloud to the youth in our program, we get to delve into the experiences, conflicts, emotions, and discoveries of the characters we encounter, affording us opportunities for safe engagement with the intricacies and complexities of the human experience, something that is monumentally important, particularly in a young adult’s life. Not only that; we get to explore literary themes such as love, loss, friendship, coming of age, violence, betrayal, triumph, revenge, and empowerment. These are all topics that might be misunderstood if read by an individual reader, but can be addressed by a read-aloud session since the youth’s listening level is likely more developed than his/her reading level, and, we have time to reflect as a group about what we are reading. 


From a facilitation standpoint, nothing is better than happening upon such things as symbolism, irony, imagery, metaphor, etc., as we read aloud together. Defining such literary terms without a meaningful frame of reference is futile. What better way to learn about literary devices and terms than by reading together the great works of real writers? And what better way to invoke an eagerness and appetite for reading than by sharing our joy and rumination over what we have read together with one another? 


I hope you too have found inspiration here, and will consider reading a book aloud or sharing an audio book with your older youth. I’m hard-pressed to find a better way to explore the world and/or foster empathy than through the examination of beautiful works of literature.